You’ve finished that book! Now what do you do to get that opus into the marketplace and onto the bookshops and cyber-shelves of the world?
The Internet can provide a wealth of information for new writers. In fact you can find pretty much everything you need to know to become a professional, publishing writer right here on the Web, absolutely free.
But you’ll also find a bunch of time-wasting bad advice that can lead you astray. When you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know who to listen to.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list: just a jumping-off place.
A new writer has a whole lot of options–and more are springing up daily. Nobody can say which publishing path is right for you. But we can steer you toward some blogs and websites that might help you decide and suggest some posts from our archives you might find useful
1) Learn about the publishing business
First, remember there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobbyist. You do NOT have to get a book published to call yourself a writer. (Do you have to join the PGA tour to call yourself a golfer?)
But if you do decide to publish, you need to be aware you are entering an industry. Whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, it’s important to know how the business works.
Publisher’s Lunch, the newsletter for Publishers Marketplace, is the place for up-to-the minute news on what’s going on in traditional publishing. You can subscribe here. It’s free (Publishers Marketplace is not.) No matter how you publish, it helps to know what is selling right now, and who the players are.
We also are avid readers of the Passive Voice, which gives a round-up of some of the most important publishing stories of the day (and occasionally runs excerpts from this blog—thanks Passive Guy!) But be aware the comments tend to be weighted toward indie publishing.
2) Get short pieces published first
Think outside the (full-length) book. If you don’t have any stories, poems, reviews or essays in the archives, start writing them. It’s very, very hard to sell one book when you have no track record, no matter what publishing path you choose.
Then when you’re working on your opus—or you’re editing it—you can also be sending stories, poems and essays to journals, local newspapers, blogs, anthologies, contests and websites in order to build your reputation as a professional writer. Again, this is important whether you self-publish or go the traditional route.
But do check to make sure you’re not being taken in by bogus contests and fake anthologies. Always check them out at the Writer Beware blog. Bookmark that one. It’s a must-read for all writers.
For more info about why you should be writing short pieces, check our archives:
3) Finish your book
Don’t waste time worrying about publishing until you’ve got something to publish. Preferably several things.
Beginning authors are urged by some marketing people to start marketing long before they’re ready. Some seem to think authors should start “building platform” in the womb.
We think this is dumb. Learn to write, read informative blogs where you can network with other authors, and let yourself build up a body of work before you start trying to market yourself.
When you’re starting out, it’s better to read blogs than to write frantically on your own. Commenting on high-profile blogs is one of the best ways to get your name known.
Unfortunately, social media is writer’s block’s best friend. Not only is it endlessly distracting, but all the information on writing can also turn you into a perfectionist who keeps rewriting chapter one and never gets on with the story.
There are more great blogs on craft than we have room to mention here. It will depend on your book, genre and writing style which ones will resonate. We have a list of some of our favorite blogs on our Resources page.
Some of our more popular posts on craft are:
If you’re blocked and having trouble finishing and it’s anywhere near November, try barreling through during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) You can get lots of support from these folks. They help you let go of your perfectionism and get that book onto the page. There are now NaNos in the summertime, too.
4) Get your work critiqued
And polished. And critiqued some more. Then have it proofread. If you can exchange proofing with other writers, that can save you a lot of money.
A real-life critique group is great, because authors tend to be solitary and we need some human contact, but there are excellent critique groups online. We recommend CritiqueCircle.com, SheWrites or networking through My WANA, QueryTracker.net, and AgentQuery.com,
But take care of yourself as you’re being critiqued. Realize there’s a little bit of the “blind leading the blind” going on with peer critiquing.
Also, your first critiques can feel like going through a meat grinder. For some self-protection techniques you might want to read these in our archives:
5) Visit lots of blogs, online groups and forums to explore your options.
But avoid groups or forums where everybody tells you you’re a moron if you self-publish/Big 5-publish/small press-publish or whatever. People who believe in one-size-fits all are, um, morons.
You need to choose the right path for yourself and your work, and that’s going to be different for every writer.
Start with this post by Jane Friedman on how to get published. Jane is the former publisher of Writers Digest books and one of the most savvy people in the business. This was pretty comprehensive when she wrote it in 2011, and most of the info still stands. Jane doesn’t post as much as she used to, but her blog is still one of the best.
Former agent Nathan Bransford’s blog is one of the friendliest and most helpful place for newbies, and his archives are gold.
A free site that’s great for Romance writers is RomanceUniversity.
A great place to find blogposts that answer your specific questions is the Writers Knowledge Base, compiled by mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig. And if you’re on Twitter, follow @ElizabethSCraig for the best links to writerly blogs on the Web.
If you’re pretty sure you want to go for that Big Publishing contract, Agent Janet Reid’s blog is great. Ditto Kristen Nelson’s Pub Rants. Also, the archives of Miss Snark are full of valuable information. And if you’re looking for an agent, Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog is a must-read.
For YA and children’s writers, you can read comprehensive agent profiles from Casey and Natalie at Literary Rambles and you’ll also get lots of great info at Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing.
6) Get yourself on social media…slowly
My personal recommendation: start a blog first. But don’t go nuts posting. Once a week or even once a month is OK to start, but the sooner you start one, the better. Search engines take a while to find you and you want Google to know who you are by the time you finish that opus.
A new writer’s blog shouldn’t be about marketing something you haven’t published yet. It should be for networking and making friends. For information on what to blog about you might want to check my post on What Should You Blog About?
For all social media advice, I highly recommend Kristen Lamb’s Blog (She also has great info on craft, presented in a fun, humorous way.) Plenty of bestselling authors owe their success to Kristen.
I also love Molly Greene’s blog for social networking tips.
7) Network with other writers
The writers you meet on your way up are probably also on their way up. This is a business where who you know matters.
A person in your critique group today may be an agent or a bestselling author a year from now. I know many, many successful authors who got their agents through online networking. I know even more who found their designers, publishers, and most avid readers through social media.
You can network on blogs, forums and the many, many booky websites and writers groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, plus the hundreds of writing forums.
BUT: Beware any group where you see snark or groupthink. There is horrific bullying going on in some of these sites. The nastiest seem to be the oldest. See my post on Gangs of New Media.
Absolute Write, some LinkedIn and Goodreads groups, and the Amazon forums are NOT recommended for that reason. I especially warn against the Amazon forums. They are rabidly anti-writer. The self-appointed enforcers will punish you for breaking their murky rules of conduct with all the self-righteous sadism of the Taliban slaughtering a schoolgirl. Don’t go there.
The Amazon forums are not to be confused with the Kindleboards, where writers are welcome as long as they don’t do promotions in a non-promo discussion.
Don’t join more than two or three forums or groups. If you don’t find simpatico folks, move on. This is for making friends, NOT selling books.
Remember you are looking for friendship, moral support and an exchange of useful information.
8) Cultivate a patient attitude
This is a marathon, not a sprint. I know you’re dying to get published, but believe me, it takes time to learn to be a writer. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to learn to do something well, and that sounds about right.
And I’m not just talking craft. You need to learn to take criticism with grace and never let them see you sweat.
If you think your critique group is bad, wait until the Amazon Forum Taliban hits you with 2 dozen one-stars because one of them knows your stalker ex-girlfriend who says you ditched her a week before the prom.
And you DO NOT WANT TO PUBLISH TOO SOON. It’s the number one mistake new writers make.
That includes putting your book on your blog. Blogging is publishing. Lots of impatient newbies decide to blog their rough drafts. You don’t want to do that if you have any aspirations to being a traditionally published writer.
9) Learn to write a great query, synopsis and hook
Anybody wanting to traditionally publish needs to learn to write a query and a synopsis.
And sorry, self-pubbers, you do too. You’re going to be querying reviewers, bloggers, bookstore owners, etc throughout your professional life. You have to be able to tell people about your book in three sentences or less.
Learn this now.
A great place to learn how to query is Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog. You don’t have to send in your own query to be shredded, but you can learn a lot just by scrolling through her previous “victims”.
Another is Nathan Bransford’s archives. Here’s his great post on How to Write a Query Letter.
For an overview of Hooks, Loglines, Pitches check in our archives.
10) Decide what publishing road you want to take and start your career.
If you want an overview of your choices, check out my post on “Who are the Big 6? Answers to the not-so-dumb questions you were afraid to ask”
Then you can take one of any of a number of paths:
* Send out queries to agents if you want to try for a Big 5 contract. Find the right agent to query through AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net. And always, always, always visit the agent’s own website to read the guidelines before you query.
* Query editors at small and independent digital or print presses if you want a publisher but prefer not to go corporate. You can find a list of literary small presses at Poets and Writers and here’s another from Brian Grove’s Perfect Pitch blog.
* Hire an editor and get your book polished up to self-publish. For nuts and bolts info on how to do that, read the archives of David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital. For a list of vetted editors try the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Smashwords is also a great way to get on a number of platforms. And CEO Mark Coker has lots of great info on his blog. He’s super-savvy and 100% pro-author. And people tell me Mark Coker’s FREE book on formatting is a must read for every self-publisher.
11) Learn that rejection is part of the process
Scathing critiques, agent and editor rejections, terrible reviews: every single author who’s ever lived has had to endure them.
Right now, go to the Amazon bestseller list. How many books do you see that you really, really want to read right now? Be honest.
Not that many, right?
Does that mean the other books aren’t good?
No. It means you personally didn’t feel like reading them today.
That’s what an agent does every time she looks through her queries. She has to choose what she personally likes. You could be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but if she’s in the mood for vampire erotica, you’re getting a rejection.
From her. There’s always somebody else.
For some great insider info on what rejection really means, check in our archives:
If you want more info on the care and feeding of the writers’ soul, as well as lots of in-depth information about the publishing process, you might want to spring for a copy of How to be a Writer in the E-Age by Catherine Ryan Hyde and yours truly. Not free. But a bargain at $2.99 for the ebook.
And don’t forget to have fun. Publishing is a journey. It’s important to enjoy yourself along the way.
Oh, and what can you do right now, this minute? You can write your author bio. It will make you feel like a professional and you can have it ready and waiting the first time one of those stories gets accepted.
Here’s our post on How to Write an Author Bio Even if You Don’t Feel Like an Author…Yet.
THE WRITERS TOOLBOX
by Ruth Harris
Even writers just starting out will probably already have at least some of these tools, but there is so much out there on the web with new stuff appearing constantly, much of it FREE, that we want to add a page to the blog to round up what’s currently available.
The tools vary in cost from pricey to moderate (usually meaning around $35 or $40) to modest (under $10) and many are FREE. Most of the paid apps offer generous try-before-you-buy terms and conduct occasional sales or specials. All provide tutorials, on-line manuals, user forums and/or reviews on-line.
The popularity of ebooks and self publishing has also caused a revolution in word processors. They have evolved far beyond the usual spell check and grammar check. Most can compile your book or short story into epub and mobi files and some even give you the tools to create your cover.
THE MUST HAVES:
MSWord is the Big Kahuna, the most basic word processor of all and comes in versions for the PC and the Mac. For years MSWord has been the industry classic: the app editors and agents prefer. Has its lovers and haters but it’s powerful, sometimes kind of klutzy, and can do just about anything.
In addition to all the word processing basics, MSWord can format your book into epub and mobi files for upload. India Drummond, an indie publisher, has created an excellent video tutorial here.
MSWord also provides the tools that will allow you to create your cover. I did say it was powerful, didn’t I? Here’s one on-line tutorial about making a cover in MSWord.
Scrivener comes in PC and Mac versions and is coming—soon! everyone hopes—for iOS. Almost infinitely flexible, Scriv is a must-have for many writers including me. If you’ve never used Scriv, there’s a bit of a learning curve but it’s quite intuitive and very logical once you get the hang of it.The manual is extensive, the video tutorials are excellent and the help forum is outstanding. Keith Blount, Scriv’s developer, often appears to answer questions and his savvy crew is responsive and will walk you through any dilemmas.
Like MSWord, Scriv compiles to both epub and mobi and does it so fast that at first I thought nothing happened and I’d done something wrong. Bottom line: 5 stars all the way.
Other Word Processors
Nisus (pronounced Nice-us, for Mac only) is a less well known but superb word processor, one I’ve used for years. Moderately priced Nisus works well with Scriv, it’s elegant but powerful, very stable, and you can compile your epubs and mobis from within the Pro version. Their user forum is terrific and Martin—I think he’s one of the developers—is there to answer questions and help troubleshoot.
Atlantis (PC oriented) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord lookalike. Comes with a try-before-you-buy offer, offers on-line help and user’s forum. Atlantis can do much of what MSWord does including turn your text into an epub or mobi file.
Google Documents is cloud based, fast, responsive, and FREE. Google docs does its job well and is particularly useful for collaborators who can log in from different locations and work together. Since Docs is cloud based, you get off-site back up along with a fine basic word processor.
Pages (Mac only) is iOS native, a modestly priced ($9.99) word processor to use on your iPad, iPhone, iPod. Pages also compiles to epub and mobi.
In addition to the brand names listed above, there are also FREE word processors available on-line. You will find a round up plus reviews of FREE word processors for the PC here.
FREE for the Mac is a clean and simple word processor called Bean.
You do back up, don’t you? Because if you don’t you’d better start NOW! (For a tragic, cautionary tale, here’s a story from the Kindleboards about a writer whose laptop was stolen from his car recently.)
Dropbox is so ubiquitous and so essential for off-site back up that it’s a must-have. It’s FREE, creates one file in the cloud and another on your desktop as you work. DB also synchs all your devices and works seamlessly with both mobile and desktop apps.
Evernote is a powerful, FREE note keeping app that works on all platforms. Searchable by keyword or tags, includes reminder and web clipping functions, great for keeping research including images, for brainstorming ideas, for parking stuff you’re not yet sure what to do with. Cloud-based, syncs across all your devices. I consider Dropbox (or some form of cloud backup system) and Evernote indispensable.
Blogger Elizabeth Joss wrote a helpful post about how she uses Evernote to get organized and be more productive.
E-BOOK MANAGERS AND CREATORS
Calibre is a FREE e-book manager that does e-book file conversion, synchs your devices and manages your library.
Sigil, another FREE download runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. Sigil lets you edit epub files and comes with an on-line manual and user forum. As far as I know, right now there is nothing similar for editing mobi files which is where Calibre comes in. You edit your epub in Sigil, then use Calibre to convert to mobi.
Jutoh (Windows, Mac, and Linux) is a moderately-priced app that creates ebooks (including covers) in all the popular file formats.
ADD-ONS AND NICE TO HAVE
Name generators come in handy when you’re stuck for just the right name and offer suggestions appropriate for different periods of history, various ethnicities, celebrity baby names and even literary genres ranging from scifi to steampunk to vampires. Scrivener includes a name generator but there are FREE name generators on line—more here. Some also provide random personality profiles to help you along even more.