If you’re like me, you’ve always been a creative person. As a kid, you had a vivid imagination, engaged in elaborate role-playing games with friends and siblings, and maybe even created stories for the amusement of others close to you. And then one day in adulthood, you concocted the perfect story, decided to write it down, and voila! You just wrote your first novel. Congratulations. You are in the small minority of those who say they’re going to write a book: You actually accomplished it. Now you just get a publisher and sit back to collect the royalties, right? Sorry, friend. Your journey has only begun.
With the release of my third novel soon at hand, I’ll tell you the process was rough. After completing my first novel, The Apocalypse Mechanism, I started researching the process of getting published, and in the traditional publishing world, that means getting a literary agent. I drafted a query letter and began emailing dozens of agencies only to find this nearly impossible. To say that it is exclusive is the biggest understatement in the business. Agents want beautifully written and expertly edited manuscripts to accompany a query letter that is equally so. Some agents are overloaded as it is, get thousands of queries a month, and only have so much time to spend reading yours. So you MUST stand out. Something as simple as a misspelled word or grammatical error in your letter will get your query deleted without further reading. In reality, most agents want clients who have already been published before. It shows that you’re seasoned and that you are good at what you do. But how is this possible without first getting the agent to shop your manuscript around to publishers? You can have articles published in various forms of media, for example. There are also a number of smaller publishers out there hungry to take some of the market share, and they need fresh, new writers who are just happy to have someone take their work seriously.
In a world of vanity and self-publishing, smaller publishers often get overlooked or disregarded as illegitimate, but I can tell you from experience that this can be a great way to get in on the ground floor of a growing and potentially lucrative publishing firm. I was eventually offered a contract for another book I wrote during my futile attempts at getting an agent. Winter Goose Publishing in Sacramento offered to publish The Twenty-Nine in 2011, and in early September of that year, the book was out. They then offered to publish The Apocalypse Mechanism, and by August of 2012, that book was released as well. Small publishing houses are wonderful. The people are very motivated to succeed, care about your success, and allow you traditional, royalties-paying publication as an alternative to the almost certain rejection of the agencies and big houses, as well as the stigma of vanity publishing. So don’t rule out the possibility of submitting directly to one of these kinds of publishers.
With my third book out soon, A Line in the Sand, I can tell you that it’s been a great experience. I’ve had to do most of my own promotion, but even the big publishers make you do that to a large degree. But it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve done multiple book festivals, signings, and speaking gigs where I’ve met so many great readers, had wonderful conversations, and actually have made many friends in authors, editors, journalists, and promoters over the last few years. A piece of advice: don’t give up. Because if you don’t try, you certainly will never make it.