When I was studying for my Master’s degree in writing (between 2004 and 2007), each week we were expected to listen to a lecture, read accompanying materials and prepare approximately 500 words in response to a question or discussion point. In week 11 of The Writerly Self (don’t ask, I can’t remember what the subject was about), we were asked to provide advice to our fellow students on getting published and the following was what I came up with.
Oh, this is just what my fellow classmates need, hearing advice on getting published from someone who has never been published in any significant fashion. But I’ve watched it happen to a few other writers, so I have some thoughts as an observer. Some of them are horribly depressing, but that’s a pretty apt description of the publishing industry sometimes. Nothing about getting published is easy.
*It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Since most publishing houses these days don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts [Boy, how times have changed! LT 2015 insert] and most literary agents are refusing to take on any more clients than they already have [And how some things have stayed the same! LT 2015 insert], it really, really helps to know someone on the inside who can get you in through the back door. If you have a relative in the industry, it’s even better. Anyone who has read Ninety East Ridge by Stephen Reilly, the brother of Matthew Reilly, will be aware of this.
*Getting published has nothing to do with how good a writer you are. It has to do with how good you are at promoting yourself, promoting the idea of yourself as a money spinner, networking, etc. Forget about humility. You have to be your own biggest fan because if you don’t believe in your own worth, then certainly no one else will.
*Expect the worst. That way you’ll either be right – and who doesn’t like to be right? – or you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This advice works for more than just publishing. It’s a motto to live life by. And it doesn’t mean being depressed. It really is just about being realistic.
*Don’t make little mistakes like misspellings, bad page layout, coffee stains on the paper, failing to follow clearly stated publishing house guidelines. There are so many reasons for a publishing house to reject an author. Make sure if you are rejected, it’s for the right reasons.
*Take up drinking or drugs. Every successful author seems to have a substance abuse problem and honestly, I think Stephen King was a much better writer when he was sozzled. Though I’m not sure if it’s better to develop an addiction before or after becoming famous.
*”If you wish to quit your day job and turn to full time writing, work out a plan for the lean times and budget (or marry someone rich).” Not my observation but something that cracked me up.
*Impress now, regress later. George Bernard Shaw said, “The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for a living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.” This also makes the true artist a true asshole and few publishers want to work with people like that, regardless of how good they are. You’ll have plenty of time later on when you’re wildly successful to be a pain in the ass and general boil on the butt of humanity.
*Just because it worked for another author doesn’t mean the same approach will work for you. Everybody knows the story of Matthew Reilly’s self-publishing and subsequent success, but does anyone know of the same thing happening to another hugely successful author? In the end each writer has to find their own way.