How To Get Your Book Published
10 Lessons I Learned in Over 10 Years of Trying (And Then Succeeding)
Have you always wanted to write and publish a book, but felt held back? Have you found yourself doubting your ability or losing the courage to pursue your dream? Perhaps, like me, you’ve worked hard on the process for many years, only to find yourself back at square one again and again.
At 40+, after a decade of trying to publish my first book, I figured it was time to finally face the fact that my pursuit was futile. But if I’d given up at that moment, my debut relationships advice book-cum-memoir, I Just Haven’t Met You Yet, wouldn’t be in bookstores now.
If you want to write and publish your book, do it. Here are some lessons to help you cultivate stamina, avoid pitfalls, and stay the course on your journey to becoming an author.
1. Believe in the value of your voice and your story
Resist the urge to measure yourself against other writers. The greatest gift you have is your unique voice and story — that’s what makes you stand out, in a positive way. Build your self-confidence: you have the ability to create a manuscript just as wonderful as that other writer whose work you admire. If you don’t feel secure in your writing skills, enroll in a workshop and soak up the teachings of writers who’ve been successful. Read Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, especially the chapter “Shitty First Drafts.” Remember that writing and publishing a book takes a lot of time and energy. Success doesn’t happen overnight (except for a rare lucky few).
2. Study the form
Anyone can write a book. But writing it well requires mastery of form. If you’re writing a YA novel or a thriller, read as many YA novels or thrillers as you can. If you’re writing a memoir, immerse yourself in those books. Note what hooks you, what bores you, what is made clear to you, what confuses you, and exactly how the writer creates those attributes on the page. Learn about the techniques of pacing, description, and narrative arc, all of which are imperative to effective storytelling, no matter the genre of your book.
3. Spend time writing!
If you don’t prioritize your book, it will never become a reality. Make a daily commitment: write for two minutes, ten minutes, or a half hour —more than that if life circumstances allow, but if not, take what time you have. You don’t have to stay up all night: martyrdom is not a requirement to becoming an author. You’ll be surprised by the way small chunks of writing time add up over the course of a week, a month, a year. While writing my current book, I was working a full-time teaching job and two part-time jobs, and I wrote in the ten-minute breaks I had between classes.
4. Join a writer’s group
If you want an instant community, find a local writer’s group. But be careful— you want a group that isn’t just going to sit around and shoot the breeze while drinking wine. That’s a social group, not a writer’s group. You want a group that is friendly but structured around deadlines and giving feedback, with ample guidelines.
This is especially hard if you’re an introvert, as I am, but it’s key to breaking into the publishing business. I spent several years going to various writers conferences and forums, talking with authors, editors, and agents, learning about how to best prepare my work for submission, how to query a literary agent, and how to tailor my approach to publishers. I gained contacts I could reach out to for advice or assistance. I also learned which agents and editors might be a better “fit” for my particular story and writing style. The more information I collected, the more confidence I gained in how to successfully navigate putting my work out there.
6. Expect rejection, but don’t let rejection stop you
Don’t send out your work before it’s polished. Then, know that rejection is the norm. I have a policy: when I receive a rejection, I counter it by sending out another query. Don’t allow declines to discourage you or define you; rather, let a “pass” make you more determined to find the perfect agent/editor fit for your story.
7. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people
Over the years, I encountered many naysayers, people who told me to stop writing, that my story would never get published. Some people went so far as to shame me for the attempt. What I focused on instead were the messages from those who saw promise in my work. I’m talking about good friends, family, or mentors, as well as publishing professionals. Seek out those people who “light” your path and think of the naysayers as mere bumps on the road to your destination.
8. Think nontraditionally
I mean this not only in the sense of considering nontraditional publishing (self-publishing, for example) but in terms of your overall journey. Perhaps you think you’re “too old” to start writing your book now. That’s a myth that sets us up for failure. Most of my peers found their life partners 20 years ago, but I’m still looking for mine, which doesn’t mean I won’t ever locate my mate (even though it might feel that way some days). It just means I’m on my own path and timeline.
The easiest way to not publish your book is to stop trying. I queried more than 300 agents over the course of many years. I signed with three of those agents (not simultaneously, but for separate projects). In the end, my book was sold after my third agent stopped circulating my book and I subsequently published an essay about my difficulty in finding a publisher. My current publisher read the piece and reached out to me requesting my manuscript. I’d all but given up. Two weeks later, I was offered a book deal.
10. Keep the faith
In the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, ’til it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”