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How To Get A Book Published

Updated on May 10, 2011

Understanding the Competition

Before you try to sell your book you need to understand one thing ... millions of other writers want to do the same thing. Unless you can find a way to stand out in the crowd, your chances are very small ... which is why we need to examine the others to know how to make ourselves look better.

We also need to know what avenues are available to us, as many authors will find they will need to chose a non-traditional route to have their words read (at least the first few times). Just remember, we've all stood at the same precipice you are looking over and with a little faith I will show you that you can safely cross over to the other side ... provided you are determined to do so.

Ready to leap across the canyon? Good! Let's start by examining what agents and editors are looking for, okay?

Words are meaningless without an audience to share them with
Words are meaningless without an audience to share them with

The First Step Toward Getting Published

So ... you want to know how to get a book published, eh? Well the first step is to finish your story.

'Huh?'

I know. I know. That one sounds sorta obvious, but tell that to all of the people who are out there trying to hawk half of a written novel, all because they want to know if it will sell before they complete it. Don't do this! 

Why? Don't the greats writers do this?

No ... they don't. Now, that's not to say that someone like Stephen King might approach his agent and ask 'What do you think of a story about gnomes attacking villagers nightly in an indian village as they sleep?'

As Stephen King has a great track record, his agent would entertain the question. You, on the other hand, are the 'yet to be noticed' and do not enjoy the same faith from agents and editors. After all, if you did, would you reading this article?

Of course, there is no shame in being a first-timer ... We all are at one time or another. Besides, you are smarter than the rest of wannabes, as you went searching though the internet to find help and found this article - and help you I shall!

Revise if You're Wise

So, you think your story is finished, eh? Well, it's really not. You see, all stories need to be revised before they are ready to be sold, which brings about the question - how do you revise a story?

As a start, you run the story through a spell checker and correct all of your spelling mistakes. Next, you read your story aloud (to yourself). Yeah, you might look silly doing this, but you want to sell a book, right? Good, then continue on.

As you read to yourself, look at the spelling of each word. Did you find yourself using their when you should have used there? Homonyms (words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and mean different things) can be difficult to spot. By reading through your story slowly you will be able to find and correct these.

Another thing to attention to is how your story sounds to your ear as you read it aloud. If you stumble at any point, then your reader might do so as well. If you find such a passage, rewrite it, then start reading again ... a few paragraphs before you spotted the problem, so as to establish your rhythm again.

All done with that? Good. Now onto the next step ...


Revise Again!

I can hear your thoughts on this one 'Are you kidding? I just got done doing that!'. Well, if you want to sell this story, you'll follow my advise.

What I am telling you is compiled from the success stories of many others. And as they say ... if you want to be one of the greats, then you first need to walk in their shoes.

Will it always be this way? Perhaps, but once you sell your first bestseller you can decide to abandon the tools I will give you. Of course, by then you will understnad it was these tools that got you to the top and that you would be a fool to abandon things that work.

So ... you need to revise again; however, this time your focus will be on story logic. All the while you are reading your story aloud, ask yourself, would this make sense to anyone else? If you question any part of your story then you need to rewrite that part.

Another thing you will do on this revision is determine of your story has a beginning a middle and an end.

'But Yoshi, all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end!'

I nod my head and agree ... After all, the published ones you find in the store do, but there were many written stories that did not include these three elements, and that's why they were never published. This issue is that important that I will break it down even further.

Revision isn't punishment for writing a bad story - it's taking a good story and making it great
Revision isn't punishment for writing a bad story - it's taking a good story and making it great

The Beginning

Your story begins with an event and that event must be the event that places your main character on the road toward resolving an issue (which happens at the end of the story.

'The Wizard of Oz' is a story most of us know. In this story, Dorothy starts out on a farm, finding Kansas to be a bit too confining. Then, a tornado comes and whisks her away, and the story continues from there.

Now, the story could have started at Dorothy's birth, but we really don't need to know anything about this girl to get the story started, other than she feels like her home life is boring and she wants to be elsewhere.

We also could have started the story with the tornado, but we need to know a little bit about Dorothy before whisking her off to Oz. As such, the beginning is just prior to the tornado.

The same goes with your story. It needs to start with the first moment that has meaning to the main character, and this moment must somehow show a problem with the character that needs to be resolved in the end. i.e. Dorothy is a dreamer that wants a better life and doesn't realize she already has it.

The Middle

This is the toughest part to write for any author, as this involves the journey from the beginning to the end. During this part of the book, you will need to challenge your main character constantly without allowing them the opportunity to resolve their issue, as this would then end the story.

i.e. Dorothy meets many new friends along the yellow brick road as the evil witch tries to stop her from reaching Oz. 

We know at this point that Dorothy wants to return home, but the feeling isn't strong enough yet. It's more out of fear of the witch that she wants to leave .. and not because she values her home above all else.

The cat and mouse game continues on, until Dorothy and her friends meet with the wizard.

The Ending

This is not where Dorothy defeats the evil witch (though this does happen here). Instead, this is where Dorothy announces 'there's no place like home', conceding that she has learned that home is better and wishes she could return there. 

The Good Witch Glenda then grants her a pair of magic slippers that allow her to return home, and she awakes to a world that now had more meaning for her ... The End

And that's what a great story is all about, changing a belief or bad characteristic your main character has, which allows the reader to see in the end that they have grown.

What Was the Point of Going Through All of That?

If your story doesn't have a true beginning, middle, and end then it will never be purchased by anyone. It's that important! As such, if any of these three components are missing, you will need to revise again ... but this will be your final revision, so take a deep sigh, finish the task at hand, then press on forward.

So, what is our next stop on the publishing train? Agents and editors!

Getting your book published will often feel like a chess match, where all the queens aren't yours
Getting your book published will often feel like a chess match, where all the queens aren't yours

Agents - Gatekeepers of the Writing World

The title for this section is misleading, as agents truly aren't the gatekeepers, but after dealing with them you might think differently.

The first thing you need to recognize is that writing is not about selling great stories, it's about selling profitable ones. This fact makes many an author sad, as they feel this closes the gate on them. After all, what do authors know of making a story profitable ... they just write. It's the job of the agents and the publishers to make the story profitable, right?

Well ... yes ... and no. You see, agents and publishers (the honest ones) only get paid if your story sells, so if they accept a book they can't sell they do a lot of work and get paid nothing for their efforts. As such, agents and editors are typically looking for a writer who already has a good track record selling books and will favor them over newcomers.


So, You're Saying I Don't Have a Chance?

Not at all. To the contrary, by reading this article you have a better chance than many others. 

You see, many would-be authors don't take the time to understand the business, placing them at a competitive disadvantage. It's all about selling books. If they sell your book they profit - and you profit as well. As such, you just need to learn how to make your book appear profitable to them, and all those revisions you just did (You did them, right? No? Well, you better get cracking then).

Where was I?

Oh yes, those revisions you just did helped make your book more sellable, and we intend to do more to further our odds.

Show agents and editors you have a profitable story, and they will buy ... this needs to be your mantra. So how do we do this?

The Query Letter

If you look up great query letters in Google, you will find tons of sample letters to choose from. Each will tell you a different way to impress agents and editors with your story idea, and it will often seem like they contradict each other.

The benefit of my experience?

Read many examples and take away from them what makes the most sense. Become the agent (or editor) and ask yourself, why do these letters shine above the rest? Ask yourself what is consistent in the way they are presented? Determine what it is agents and editors want.

Of course, I could also tell you, saving you a lot of research, but I still recommend reading the examples.

Quite simply, the Query Letter is all about selling your book, just like the back cover is, when you pick up a book at the bookstore.

And what does an agent or editor want to know? How many words are in the story? What genre is it (sci-fi, horror, romance)? What's it about?

And what's it about is the most important part of your query letter, as this is the point you need to sell, in as few words as possible. You need to tell the agent (or editor) that you have a sellable story. And how do you do this? By writing a few paragraphs that tell them the character's main issue, what they are up against, and what they will need to do to resolve their main issue. That's it! Read any good query (one's that were accepted) and you will see I am right.

Your First Long Wait

Start with querying 10 agents. Forget the editors on the first round, as many agents will refuse to deal with you once you have queried the editors. And why would that be? Because that's who they intend to sell your story to, and if you already queried the editors and failed ... then they are assured of having the same response when they send your story idea to them again. Don;t shoot your soon-to-be agent in the foot.

From there, you wait. Within a few weeks the first responses will come back and many of them won't be good. However, you need to understand that you're the new kid on the block, and these agents are looking only at your idea ... not you personally ... so unless you have an idea that they consider to be something they really want to represent they're going to say no. It's never personal ... always business.

As you see the 'no thank yous' coming in, send out more queries. Keep pressing for a yes, which will take you to the next level - the partial.

They Want to Read Your Story!

Jump up and down and get excited. Someone likes your idea! However, don't break out the champagne just yes.

You see, just because an agent likes your idea, it doesn't mean they will like your story. They will typically request your first 30 pages, though some will request more or less. Send them exactly what they ask for, then cross your fingers.


The Second Long Wait

The agent could have your partial for weeks or months. Some say they can gauge the response by how long they have to wait for it, but that's a bunch of rubbish. It takes as long as it takes, and you can keep querying other agents as you wait for your reply.

If it's a no, then accept it. Your story won't reach everyone on the level you expect it to. And if it's a no with an explanation, run with whatever the agent suggests, as they are giving you excellent advice - then resubmit to that agent.

And it it's a yes ... another dance, and then the request for a full manuscript.

The Thrid Long Wait

This is the most difficult one, as you are almost at the end of the road, yet you have no better odds at this point of finishing your journey.

However, you do know by now that you have written an excellent query letter and that the beginning of your story is sound. If you get rejected now, then you only have the middle and the end of your story to blame.

You also will get more criticism at this level, as agents will see you close to having somehting sellable and will be more apt to offer advice to help you complete your journey. Accept and use any of it you might receive.

A 'no' at this level is very crushing, until you realize just how few authors ever make it this far.

But, of course, you might also receive a 'yes', at which point you now have an agent who will (hopefully) secure you in time with a book contract and have your books placed upon the shelf.

Pennies are worthless on their own, but gain worth in great number
Pennies are worthless on their own, but gain worth in great number

What if All of the Agents Say No?

If they all say no, they you can move onto querying editors. That's what they did before the age of the internet and it's still sound advice ... or is it?

Kinda ... For, you see, the internet brings about another option - self-publishing.

Now, before you get on the bandwagon of publishing it yourself, you need to know one truth about getting your book published

You should never pay to have your book published ... ever! 

Read that line again, as it will save you a lot of heartache, for you see, there are many evil publishers out there (known as vanity presses) looking to separate a young writer from their money. 

If you can't publish and distribute your book for free, then just walk away. I won't bother giving you the names of these vile places. Instead I will lead you to a good example and allow you to take things from there, provided you have already exhausted the other route.

Lulu.com is the current leader of the self-publishing market, and that's because they don't pretend to be something they aren't. Quite simply, they allow you to assemble your book online for free and offer it for sale in their online store. At no point do you pay a fee, unless you decide to buy your own book. And there are others who do the same thing, so you aren't limited to Lulu.

However, one thing you need to know ... going this route will get your book published, but it doesn't guarantee any sales. In fact, Lulu offers so many titles, yours could easily get lost in the shadows. Still, there are some - Like Eragon - that float to the top and then get picked up by a major publisher. Just be honest with yourself if you go this route, and know that this road might be no more productive.

Anything I Can Do to Improve My Odds?

Actually, yes.

If you decide to go the self-publishing route and you really believe in your book, purchase an ISBN number for your book, which allows it to be distributed through normal book channels.

Next, purchase a few copies (no more than five) and ask each public library if they would accept your book for free. That's right ... free! 

Explain that you are a local author trying to market your first book and ask if they have a section for books written locally (some libraries do). If so, they will place your book in that particular section.

Provided they take the book, go back to each library once a week to see if anyone is checking out your book. Provided it's getting a readership you can move onto phase two...

Purchase five more books and take them to your local bookstore. Ask the book seller if they would be willing to display the books for sale and give them this offer. 'If you don't sell these books I will return in a month and remove them at no charge to you, but if you sell these you can keep the full profit and we can work out a deal for more books.

It's a win-win for the storekeeper, with an acceptable loss on your end. And if those five books should happen to sell, you can then calculate out what you would need to earn from each book (to make a profit) and let the bookseller sell for any price above that (which would then be their profit).

Get this working well in one bookstore then approach another one out of town. If all goes as planned, you will soon be selling your book, but not on the scale you want to ... which brings about plan B. 

What's This Plan B?

If the previous plan worked for you, then your book is at least somewhat solvent. As such, you need to get a wider audience. 

Go into a Walden's or some other bookstore chain and ask for your book. Tell then you want to order two copies ... one for yourself and one for your cousin, as you heard it's a really great book!

When the books come in show up promptly, pay for them, and within a few days send a friend in to ask for the same book. This should be enough to prompt their ordering system to order in a few of this title for the store, which will hopefully sell. 

As for those copies that you purchased for yourself ... go back to those local markets (which are hopefully still selling) and sell them off to them at cost (as a thank you for helping you get your book noticed). This will energize the locals to keep moving your book, which should bring in more orders and lower the cost of producing your book (which brings you more profit).

Work it slowly, as the concept is to keep your book out on the shelf long enough to get noticed and to make readers feel it is in short supply. If someone has to wait a day or so for you to fulfill their order, then so be it ... they wait for other books, and will hopefully anticipate waiting for yours.

And if all goes well ... the books will keep circulating until they get noticed by a big publisher, and you are offered a buy out. Take it!

Why? After all, you're making all the profit for yourself. Why add another hand to feed? 

Because you are marketing instead of writing, and you need to go back to writing to make more money. Also, you have become a recognized writer now, which makes the process for the next book a bit easier.

And what do you do with that second book? You start back at the beginning by securing an agent, which should be a bit easier this time around, as you already have a track record for success, you proved yourself committed to selling your work, and they can see a profit in you.

I Could Write So Much More

I could write volumes and tomes on getting published, but all of the information I have from here on out just refines the process I have laid out for you, making it a bit easier to do. And while that might sound like a good thing, it's really not.

For, you see, there are many nuances of 'If this happens you can do that, but only when this and that happen at the same time.' As I'm here to help - not confuse - I have shied away from any tactics such as this. Besides, you will discover all of the special situations as you loop through this spiral.

And what of editors? I didn't even mention how to approach them. 

Well, it's just best you don't, as most of the editors that would accept you at this point would be the small publishers, and this article is all about finding your way to the big ones. Let's face it, finding a publisher that will place your book on the shelf seems great, until you discover they will only sell 500 of your books this year. 

If you want a shot at a bestseller, you need to get your book to a big publisher, and the best routes are finding an agent that believes in you or working the self-publishing angle to get you noticed. Obviously, the agent approach is less time consuming, which is why it is always best to start there.

Good luck with your novel!

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