So, how do you get your work published?
First, again, learn your craft. And that can take a while. Learning to write fiction is a skill on the same level as learning to play the piano. And a literary writer has a skill level akin to that of a concert pianist. It takes the same commitment to learning and practice, thousands of hours of practice! And your early work is just that: practice. It may not get published any more than a pianist's practice sessions would land them a recording contract.
But just as there are opportunities for performance at nearly any skill level for a pianist, there are opportunities for writers at nearly any skill level. And a good creative writing program can speed up the process of learning.
Yeah, okay, so once you’ve learned craft, then how do you get published?
You start by making your manuscript the very best it can be. There is a LOT of competition from other great writers so your work really must stand out. But don’t let that stop you from sending your work out there now. Again, there are competitions and publishing opportunities online and with traditional magazines for writers at all levels.
And I do suggest that’s your starting point. Enter writing competitions and submit to online magazines and literary journals. You want to establish a portfolio of published work to put on your CV when the time comes to apply for a grant or submit your work to a publisher. It's just like any other job: you're building your credentials.
When you enter a competition or submit to a magazine, follow the submission guidelines carefully, and make sure your submission is properly formatted. Here's a blog on How to Format a Short Story Manuscript. Once you're sent that story off, wait. It can take a long time to hear back, especially from a literary magazine as the editors are often volunteers, other emerging writers, like you.
All right, so let's say you've won or placed in a few writing contests and had a few things published. How do you get a book of fiction out there?
I'll take you back to the basics yet again: you must write a truly wonderful and very polished manuscript, to completion. In other words, writers are gamblers. We spend a lot of time working on a project betting that it will find a home in the future. Does it always find a home? Nope. Especially early in your career, as you learn craft, you will face rejection. We all do. But don’t let that stop you.
Okay, okay. So, now you have a book-length project ready to get out there. Again, how do you go about getting it published?
You have two options: you can self-publish or try to get a traditional publisher to publish it. And if you take the traditional route, you can approach a publisher directly, or you can try to land an agent first who will then shop your manuscript around, much like a real estate agent attempts to sell a house.
Is landing an agent better?
Yup. Your agent will get a percentage of earnings from the book, but it's worth it. Many acquiring editors won't look at a manuscript unless it comes to them through an agent. And an agent does far more than just sell your work. Here's How a Literary Agent Can Help from CBC Books. But if you don't land one, don't sweat it. According to TWUC, 80% of writers in Canada are not represented by an agent. Scroll down on the TWUC link to see a list of Canadian literary agents. When approaching an agent, read their submissions page carefully to see how they prefer to be contacted, and make sure they represent work like yours. For example, some agents only handle literary fiction and not commercial. Most want to see a query letter first. You only send your manuscript at their request.
So let’s say you don't have an agent and you want to sell that manuscript to a publisher, what do you do?
Again, you check out the publishers' submission guidelines to make sure that they publish work like yours, and how they prefer to be contacted. Here's How to Find a Publisher. You'll see on this link and those above the importance of the query letter.
Once you've sent off your submission package, you wait. And wait. And wait. Easy, huh? You can send off multiple submissions, by the way, where you mail or email your query letter to several publishers at once. Here's TWUC on how to handle multiple submissions.
How about if you decide to self-publish? How do you go about doing that?
Self-publishing is a huge topic, but you can Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book. More and more writers are choosing the self-publishing route, even writers who are already established with traditional publishers. Self-publishing offers the writer complete control over the publishing process. That's cool. But that's also a lot of work. The self-published writer must take over every job in the publishing house (and that's a lot of jobs).
OR there are now companies that help the writer with the task, but then, of course, you must pay those companies to help you publish.
Still, it's an exciting prospect to self-publish and worth looking into. The quality of self-published books has risen to the point where they are now being considered for literary prizes and attracting prizes of their own. For example, I've judged the Whistler Independent Book Awards and been amazed at the quality of the writing. Successful self-published writers buy the editing services they need, however, and shoulder the cost of publishing the books. And there's no guarantee that a self-published book will garner sales.
Want to know more? Here's Melodie Campbell's primer on traditional publishing, Advances, Agents and Royalties, Oh My! Worth reading as it explains how both the author and agents are paid from the sale of a book.