Tips For Beginners From Susan Elizabeth Phillips
So many readers have asked me questions about getting their own work published that I’m offering these tips based upon my experiences and the experiences of writers I know. I hope they’re helpful:
- WRITE! Does this sound strange? I’ve been amazed at the number of people who worry about selling their manuscript when they don’t have a manuscript to sell. The first step in getting your book published is to write the book! Editors won’t buy your “good idea.” They need to read the pages.
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Scour your bookstore and library for “How To” books written by reputable agents, writers, and editors. They give lots of tips-sometimes contradictory-but sorting it all out is a worthwhile exercise. Also, become familiar with the current year’s volume of Writer’s Market. It is available in the reference department of any library and is full of worthwhile information, including how to write a query letter as well as preparing and submitting a manuscript.
- JOIN A WRITERS’ GROUP. If you are interested in becoming a romance writer, a membership in Romance Writers of America is highly recommended. www.rwanational.org Local RWA chapters provide critiquing groups as well as a wealth of information. Also, look to writing groups in your local community, but be cautious if you are writing genre fiction. Not everyone in the group may be familiar with the genre, and sometimes you may find members critiquing the genre instead of your work.
- IDENTIFY YOUR MARKET. Go to the bookstores and study the shelves. Become familiar with the best seller lists. This will tell you what types of books editors are buying. Writing is a business. If your book isn’t “like” anything else you see, you may be in trouble. Believe it or not, when editors say they’re looking for something “fresh and exciting,” they don’t really mean it! Although they do like work that is “fresh and exciting,” they also want it to fit into some identifiable marketing niche-i.e. suspense, horror, romance, action/adventure, etc. From a marketing standpoint, it is helpful if you can say you have written a book that is similar to a Dean Koontz or a Jayne Ann Krentz or a Julie Garwood.
- TO AGENT OR NOT? Sometimes it’s easier to find a publisher than to find an agent! There is a great division of opinion on this issue and some of my peers would disagree, but I generally recommend approaching publishers first, simply because I’ve known too many writers who have lost years waiting around to hear from agents. Some publishers, however, indicate that they will not accept unagented submissions. (See Writers’ Market.) If your query letter is exciting enough, maybe they’ll make an exception.
- SHOULD I MAKE SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS? Some publishers indicate they won’t accept simultaneous submissions. If publishers could respond to your query within a reasonable period of time-let’s say two months-I don’t have a problem with this. But it’s not fair for a publisher to indicate he/she won’t accept simultaneous submissions and then sit on your unread material for nine months. (In defense of editors-they truly are overworked.) My recommendation is to go for it! Indicate in your cover letter that you’re making simultaneous submissions and then generate as much action as you can. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Two publishers making an offer on the same book? Believe me, you won’t have any trouble finding an agent who will handle this “problem” for you.
- MISCELLANEOUS: Do I send the entire manuscript? Do I just send a synopsis? What format should I use? How do I write a query letter? Many publishing houses have tip sheets. Write for them. Writer’s Market is also an invaluable source for answers to all these questions.
I hope these suggestions help you on your journey to becoming a published author. Remember, however, that writing may be what you do, but it’s not who you are. You don’t have to be published to take joy in the process of writing. Enjoy the journey!
With my very best wishes,
Susan Elizabeth Phillips