I've been getting a lot of messages lately from other writers who want my advice on how to get published. As much as I would love to make a personal connection with everyone who picks up my book, I simply don't have the time to answer all of my emails. And this is one of those questions that can't be answered quickly. So I thought I would tackle this subject in one blog post, and I will also add this to my FAQ page.
Disclaimer: I am only one author, and I only know the route I have taken. There are many varied routes to publication. I cannot cover every opportunity or possibility in this blog post. But I can tell you how I did it, and offer you my best advice.
So, back when I started having kids I decided I needed a creative outlet. And writing was it for me. I started writing poetry and stories for children. I submitted them to magazines and started getting paid for my writing, which was a heady and rewarding experience. Around the time I had three kids, I started imagining my ancestors' lives, and I saw in my imagination what looked like movie scenes. But I was making up the movie. This, I thought, is how I would write a novel. But I would have to go to graduate school and be taught how to write a novel. So that's going to be a future dream.
But the dream wouldn't leave me alone, and it didn't want to wait for some future time when my kids were grown and I could go back to school. So I started dreaming of writing a novel...now. I loved the Regency era, so I started writing scenes of a hero and a heroine in Regency times. It was completely disjointed. There was no plot. I doubted I would ever finish it. But I grew to love my hero and heroine so much that I couldn't give up on their story.
So, three years after starting my book, (and after taking a year and a half off while I was pregnant and in the newborn stages of my fourth child) I signed up for a writers conference. It was a five day conference with a morning group workshop and afternoon classes. For the first time, I let people read my first chapter of Edenbrooke. And then I cried, because someone in my group said it was completely cliche and unoriginal. But I dried my tears and went back the next day, and the next, and I learned everything I could about writing and publishing and I made great friends who also dreamed of being published. And it was the best thing I could have done for my career.
About four months after attending the conference, I finished my first draft of Edenbrooke. I knew it was bad. Really bad. So I put it away and worked on other writing projects for a few months. When I looked at Edenbrooke again, it was with fresh eyes and I was able to make some revisions to it that I felt helped it a bit. I went to more writers conferences. Then I started researching agents and sent out query letters. They were really bad query letters. I couldn't find a good way to describe my book. But despite the bad letters, a few agents requested my full manuscript. And they all said that they loved it, but.... The "but" was different for each of them, but the main, common complaint was that they didn't think they could sell it without sex in it. And I wasn't willing to put sex in my story. However, one agent gave me some very valuable feedback, and with her feedback I was able to revise my story and make it much stronger.
A year had passed in querying and being rejected by agents. I was ready to put Edenbrooke away for good and write something else. But, as a last-ditch effort, I submitted Edenbrooke to Shadow Mountain, which is a small, regional publisher that does not require an agent for submissions. They loved it and offered to publish it. I took their offer to an agent I had met at a writer's conference and asked her if she would like to represent me. She read Edenbrooke in one night and called the next day to offer representation.
I couldn't be happier with my agent. My publisher took my baby when nobody else wanted it and gave it a great home. I think of this as a stepping stone in my career. A place to begin. I hope that my career will be long and fulfilling.
And here is my advice, in a nutshell:
1. Chase your dreams, even when they seem impossible.
2. Act like an author. (Attend writers conferences. Be social there. Learn as much as you can. Make as many friends as you can. Get involved in the writing community through following authors', agents', and publishers' blogs. Find a critique group you can join. Make time to write every day. Let people read your stuff. Ask for feedback.)
3. Try, try again.
4. Don't collect rejection letters. I did that for a while, and it was just not helpful.
5. The best advice I received (and it was at a writer's conference!) came from Martine Leavitt: "If you believe in God and you want His help, don't write on Sundays."
6. Read good books in the genre you're interested in writing in.
7. Try, try again.
8. Chase your dreams, even when they seem impossible.