If you honestly want to be a published author, then you know there’s nothing more valuable than hard work and research.
Sure, you can be talented, creative, imaginative, thoughtful, provoking, and excited. But none of that is going to publish your book. (I mean, all of those things are helpful if not necessary for writing a book, but what you need in order to publish is the desire to actually get up and do the work needed.
I used to have this fantasy of what an author was: lonely creative butterfly who wrote a spectacular work of fiction, sent it off into the world, and then reaped the benefits.
I was wrong.
I haven’t been published/represented yet, but I’m already aware of the staggeringly difficult world of publishing which in no way meets the expectations of Ten-year-old Rebecca.
Dear past version of Me,
Never quit writing just because it gets hard. Anything will get difficult if you spend enough time on it. Writing a book requires talent, creativity, imagination, thoughtfulness, and excitement. But writing a book that’s worth publishing on the other hand requires hard work, research, endless revisions, self-criticisms, and is almost the antithesis of what you think writing is. Worry not! If you have the stamina, bravery, and stubbornness to write a book, then you can do the hard work required to get it published too!
So, what does it take to get published?
Step one: Write a book.
Step two: Take some time away from the book to gain objectivity.
Step four: Acquire a literary agent by crafting a kick-ass query letter (see the query shark blog for an endless helpful supply of examples and how to improve) and making sure your book is as good as you can get it.
Step five: Work with the agent on the manuscript until he/she sends it out on submission to editors.
Step six: Work with the editor until he/she decides it’s ready to be published.
Step seven: Marketing, plugging, platform-building, legal contracting, etc. (aka, non-writerly things you’ll have to learn how to do).
Step eight: Write your next book. Even if you don’t get to Step Four, you should ALWAYS be writing. Whether that comes in the form of revision, rewriting, starting new projects or picking up old ones, that’s up to you. Besides, if you’re really a writer, you won’t be able to help yourself. Just look at me: I’ve written four books, haven’t published one yet, but I keep going. Why? Because I keep improving. And someday I’ll finally be ready, I’ll find the right agent for the right project, and I’ll be on my way.
A Sad Truth
But not every book you write is going to make it. That’s just the truth of it.
Do you think an artist is going to sell the very first portrait he does? Probably not, because in all likelihood, it probably looked more like a potato. The truth of any art—any skill, really—is that we improve the more we do it. So writing your first book might provide you with a potato instead the best seller you dreamed of. What do you do? Make french fries and start again!
As I recently mentioned in my New Year’s Eve Resolutions post, I used to shrug and frown at the resolutions people made at the eve of a new year.
I used to think the same way about writing until NaNoWriMo walked into my life. Astride with blustery confidence and a debonair, palatable statement, NaNo firmly expected me to write 50,000 words in one solitary month. Now, by the time I learned of NaNoWriMo (my first semester at college), I’d already spent two years of high school writing my first book, The Amateur Witch.
The challenge was exciting, thrilling, and a little bit scary. Yet I took the month in stride, finished the 50k, and by mid-January had a completed 70,000 word thriller, MISTE. And truth be told? I haven’t touched that book since then. It is, in all definitions except literal: a potato.
Sometimes books (and canvases, and poems, and potatoes) get left behind. Just check my resume page where I list the books I’ve written so far and not yet published. And there are plenty of authors who write several books before one gets picked up! The author of Elantris (and other best sellers) wrote twelve books (TWELVE!) before getting a single one published.
I’d wager most authors start their careers with at least one trunk book, or at the very least, they have a drawer of unfinished ideas that began to look too much like potatoes.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
A “trunk book” is what those in the biz call a book that gets put away and left behind.
Producing a trunk book can (and probably should) happen until you’ve written something that you know is worth it. Once you’re confident in its quality, storm every castle you can in order to let the world see what you’ve done.
Someday you’ll be on your way if you’ve got the grit, determination, and passion. You just have to know when to move forward and when to push forward.