In the last several months I’ve had maybe half a dozen requests for information from new writers. One and all, they want to know how to become published.
“I love to write,” these emails start, or some variation thereof. Eventually they get to “I want to know how to get published, and obviously you know how, so tell me your secret”, however politely phrased.
I was once there, too; I was once a young woman who loved to write and desperately wanted to be published. I try to be gentle and honest with these people, because once someone was gentle and honest with me.
When I was twenty, I answered an advertisement looking for poets. I sent in a sheaf of my adolescent poetry (which now makes me cringe) and got back a letter praising my work and offering me publication for the bargain price of eighteen hundred dollars. These were 1974 dollars.
Skeptic that I was, I wrote to a reputable publishing house for advice. I chose McClelland & Stewart, because it was the one I knew best. Greg Gatenby was the editor there, and he wrote back, taking the time to educate me briefly about vanity presses. He said, “Get your poems back and go through regular channels.”
I’ve always been grateful to him for that kindness, so I give those new writers my very best advice.
One – Ass in the chair, pointy end of the pen on the paper.
Two – Learn the technical stuff if you don’t know it.
It’s not there to torture you; it’s there to help you convey exactly what you want to say.
Three – Get intelligent, honest critique.
A good writers’ group can do that. There are also people who offer that service for a fee. Many of them, like me, are also writers, and, believe me, we look to others for our critique. I’m currently engaged in rewriting work that was thoroughly critiqued by others.
Four – Research your markets.
Check out writersmarket.com, duotrope.com and a large number of other sources for markets and agents. Read guidelines. Read what the publishers – whether magazine or book – are currently publishing so you can find a good fit. Learn what you need to do to submit stories or pitch them.
Five – Persist. Rejection is a certainty. Acceptance only comes if you keep on truckin’.
A word about self-publishing. The great benefit to self-publishing is that anyone can do it. That’s also its great drawback. If you can’t do a meticulous edit on your own work, if you don’t know when you need to rewrite, if you make any of hundreds of common technical errors, a self-published book may be worse than no book at all. Indeed, even if you are an excellent editor, have made the necessary rewrites and had a grammar-punctuation-and-diction dominatrix vet your work, you will almost certainly be lumped in with those who are not, and have not.
There it is, people – the best advice I can give you on making your way in the wonderful world of writing and publication. The rest is up to you.