Situation 1: A friend of a friend’s gardener–who is a great guy, I’m told–wants to publish a book. He doesn’t know how to do it. Can I help him?
Situation 2: A teenaged daughter of a colleague of my husband has been writing. She would like to meet with me to discuss her work.
Situation 3: An important business person, the colleague of a colleague of a former editor of mine, would like to have a phone conversation with me about her publishing trials. When can she call?
Situation 4: An acquaintance asked that I read his entire manuscript, and attached said script with his request. Is it ready for publication? he asked.
There are other examples, but you see the trend. They all want something. It might seem like everyone wants something different–a critique, an opinion, advice–but I think it all comes down to the same request. I was published. They are not. They want to know The Secret.
Do I really know anything more than others who’ve been swimming in the I-Want-Publication pond? I don’t think so, no. But if you want to know the secret of publication–at least what I think it is–then I’m happy to tell you.
First, though, I’m going to tell you what you already know.
You write a story. It’s fresh. It’s fabulous. It’s well edited–VERY well edited. This process can and probably should take much longer than you’d like. When you have a book contract, your real editor will undoubtedly find dozens more clunky phrases, but you don’t have to worry about that quite yet.
Get a few outside opinions. Maybe you have a trusted critique group; if so, use it. Maybe you’ll hire an independent editor. Unless you are exceptionally talented and confident in your work, you will probably benefit from fresh eyes. Reflect on whatever critique you receive. Does something noted resonate with you as true? Rewrite, edit and polish as needed.
You find a top-notch agent. If you have a great book, this shouldn’t be hard, should it? But it can be if you’re not looking in the right places. Hone in on the pith of your story. Search Publisher’s Marketplace and other resources like the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents tome to find quality agents who’ve sold in your wheelhouse. Attend conferences to learn firsthand what specific agents are looking for. Study up on how to write a great query letter. Write it. Polish it. Polish it again. Submit.
Now here’s the secret: You need to repeat each of these steps until you succeed.
Writing is hard work. Rewriting and editing is hard work. Finding the perfect agent is hard work. But if you’re committed, you’ll do it.
You’ll study your craft.
You’ll create a writing habit.
You’ll make sacrifices.
You’ll have revelations.
You’ll start a file for your rejections.
You’ll start to receive personal rejection letters.
You’ll entertain better ways to tell the tale.
You’ll edit again.
You’ll keep polishing.
You’ll keep querying.
You’ll grow through the dark moments of the soul that may come to call.
You’ll start another story, and repeat the entire process for IT.
You’ll stay committed to the end goal, despite weeks, months or years of close calls.
And that’s it. The secret to success is a willingness to evolve and press on despite failures–dust off your ass, try again. It’s understanding that there is no one person–not a published acquaintance, a fabu agent or even an editor–more important than you and your dogged determination. Because no one but you can have the foresight of your success, and no one but you can drive your future to make it happen.
Write on, all!
Photo courtesy Flickr’s wheat in your hair