Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Three Easy Steps to Publication by Jennie Bentley

The other day, while I was avoiding my WIP, I was doing what I often do when in a mindless mood: I was cruising the internet. Somehow I ended up on agent Nathan Bransford’s blog, and from there, via various links and clicks, someone else’s.

This someone else was actually two people, writers who write and publish together. Collaborate, in other words. In honor of their most recent release, they put together this in-depth blog post of what are, in their opinion, the three best things an aspiring writer can do to get published. Here’s the link, if anyone wants to read it for themselves, but for those of you who don’t, I’ll recap:

  1. Get a job in publishing, and while you’re representing other people/rejecting other people’s manuscripts/copy-editing someone else’s book/fetching coffee, you’ll make the necessary contacts to get yourself a publishing contract.

  2. Go to writing school. Specifically, a year-long course at Johns Hopkins specifically for fiction writers, where you can immerse yourself in writing 24/7, and come out at the end A Writer (note the capital letters).

  3. Go to conferences, make all the pitches you can to the attending agents and editors, and make those all-important contacts without which you won’t get published.

Now, I’m sure doing these three things worked for these particular writers, or they wouldn’t suggest that other people do the same things. They surely can’t hurt.

For most of us, though, moving to New York to fetch coffee for Scott Miller isn’t an option. We have jobs and/or careers, spouses and/or children, relatives, friends, pets, and other responsibilities where we are. For those same reasons, we don’t have the opportunity to enroll in writing-school full time, no matter how much fun it might be, or sound like. Going the conference route is a possibility, although it helps if you live somewhere like New York or Chicago for that too, somewhere where conferences are plentiful. If you have to travel to get to them, most of us have to limit that option as well, for financial reasons if not for the other reasons I already mentioned, like families and jobs.

So what do I suggest that an aspiring writer do?

Well, he or she could do what I did. Because, you see, I didn’t do any of the above. By the time I signed my contract with my agent, and then, nine months later, with my publisher, I’d never been to a conference. I’d never done a pitch session. I didn’t know a soul in publishing. To this day, I haven’t met either my agent or my editor. I don’t have a master’s degree in English, or for that matter in anything else, and I haven’t taken a writing class in my life. At least not since high school, and back then I’m not sure I cared. I have a spouse and a couple of kids, a job that is also a career—not in publishing—and I live nowhere near either New York or Chicago.

What I did was write the best book I could. When I thought it was as good as I could make it, I started querying. I went on Publisher’s Marketplace and read the new deals, and wrote down the names of any agents who sold books that sounded like the same types of stories that I wrote. Then I looked the agents up on and Everyone Who’s, and got their contact information. I sent e-mail queries first, to the agents that accepted them, and while I waited for those responses to come back, I typed up the snail-mail queries and got them in the mail. When I’d gone through the first ten or twelve names, I started over. After about four months and forty queries (and quite a few rejections), I was offered representation by someone who liked my book. That was the only reason she offered, because I didn’t know her, didn’t know anyone else who knew her, didn’t have a kick-ass degree or a ton of publishing credits... I wrote a book and a query, and that was all I did.

So although making personal contacts is great, and going to school to learn how to write the best book you can is great, and going to conferences is great (and a whole lot of fun)—I’m not sure it’s the best way to get published. I’m damn sure it isn’t the only way. Instead, I’d like to offer up my own top three things you can do to get published, the old-fashioned way:

  1. Write the best book you can. If the book is good enough, it’ll get there. Probably. If it isn’t, chances are the contacts won’t matter anyway.

  2. Query widely (but only agents who represent your genre; it cuts down on the rejections).

  3. Follow submission guidelines religiously. Don’t give anyone any extra reasons to reject you.

  4. Pray.

OK, so that’s four things. Still, that last one never hurts, does it?

So what about you? If you’re a published writer, what three things—or four, or two—helped you the most on your way to publication? Any tips you can share with the rest of us? And if you’re not yet published, what are you doing to attain that exalted status? How’s it working for you? Have you discovered any good tricks you can share?

Jennie Bentley is the author of the new Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. You can read more about her doings and undoings at