Last week, I was contacted by a writer with a question.
What’s the process for getting published?
Sounds like a simple enough question. The answers in my head were along the lines of: Don’t. Are you insane? Curb-stomping is involved. Ever see that movie It? It’s like that. You’ll need the blood of a virgin and a pair of newborn calves with twin birthmarks.
The answer I actually gave was closer to: I have no fucking clue.
Which isn’t true, in a sense. I have several short stories and a couple of books under my belt, so I must have figured it out at some point. But, like the walls of the labyrinth, the path changes and it changes often.
The one constant, though, is the query process. If a writer wants to “go traditional,” she’ll need thick skin, a good letter, and knee pads for when the begging starts. It’s a battle that only worsens as time goes on and trends change and the Big Six cling to their ideas of what is “marketable” and “good.”
My mother always told me the key to keeping sane was to pick your battles. The query battle is one I’ve picked for more than five years, and all I have to show for it is this nifty list.
Cathartic, but I’m no closer to signing with an agent.
After a while, I started to realize that I’m just going through the motions. Write book. Query book. Drink. Cry. Move on.
And that’s on a good day.
The bright side, here, is that we’re living in a day and age where there are more than one option for getting published.
Small presses give an author the same treatment, just on a smaller budget. No advances (in most cases), no book tours (unless you do it yourself), but if you find a good one, the editing and cover design will be just as professionally done as something that came out of HarperCollins or Penguin/Random House.
Five or so years ago, self-publishing came with the “terrible book” stigma, the understanding being that a person would only choose to self-publish if their work was SO BAD that no publisher would touch it. Now, that’s not the case. The bulk of self-pubbers are people who have gotten tired of battling the gatekeepers and getting a fraction of a fraction of royalties as a result. They’re entrepreneurs who have taken their writing career into their own hands, working tirelessly to promote their work and their brand, just as any marketing agent would do. Sure, there are awful self-pubbed books clogging the writing pool (dinosaur erotica, anyone?), but there are awful books that come out of the traditional world, too. Because writing isn’t just an art-form; it’s a business, which is how the traditional markets treat the manuscripts they acquire. While agents start by asking, “Do I love this?” In the back of their minds, they’re wondering, “Can I sell this?” And, sometimes, sell trumps love and the result is Fifty Shades of Grey.
But don’t blame them. It’s their job. And if you want to make any money as a writer, you think the same way, right?
“How can I sell this?” might be better. As writers, we tend to lean toward the negative, having been told over and over that if you’re not the best, you won’t succeed. But success isn’t necessarily measured by how many books you sell or your Amazon ranking. I throw myself a party every time I finish writing the first draft of a book because, though it may not be good (yet), I wrote a book and I loved writing it.
Point is, no matter the path you choose, it’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be a battle. So, my advice is this: find a group of writers and cling to them like stink on shit. They will understand you like no one else. They will have been through the trenches and have escape routes and back-up plans written and copied in triplicate. They will damn the senders of the rejection letters and slap you around when you talk about giving up.
They will be the ones that say, “This isn’t working. Try this instead.”
That’s it. That’s the secret. Because when you’re at war, the best thing you can have isn’t a sharper sword or a bigger gun, it’s a friend watching your back.
Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
Picking Your Battles
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.