What are the 5 primitive steps to getting published, you ask? Let's first start with a known fact, time changes, people don't. When the first man living in a cave decided to take a burnt end of a piece of wood and press it against a stone tablet, writing was born. Back then, most writing was used as a way to keep an accounting of animals, inventory, debts, and the like.
Then someone, a struggling writer, decided to write one of the first stories ever written, besides those written for the Bible's Old Testament, and carve it into clay tablets in a writing style called cuneiform. The first written language.
That story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, was probably and instant classic. The writer most likely handed out stone tablets of the story to all his fiends and family. In a sense he was the first true Indie published author. He didn't send copies of his manuscript to various publishers. He didn't charge anyone for a copy of his work. Well, maybe he bartered for some Pterodactyl eggs or dinosaur meat for breakfast and supper.
We aren't sure if there was a sequel to his work. It may or may not have been as popular as his first published piece or it may have been lost forever still waiting to be discovered. Kind of like the why your manuscript is waiting to be discovered.
Everybody can tell a story. We do it everyday when we're shooting the bull with friends and family. But telling a story that's interesting enough to get published is a bit more difficult. Especially if you want to have a publishing house put your book out for the masses to read.
Getting your manuscript in the hands of someone who can make that decision isn't easy. So when you do, make sure it's in perfect condition with no typos, spelling errors, or poor grammar. Those are of course, common sense things you should do if you want to get your manuscript read. Here are five steps to help you get your manuscript into the right hands.
1. Word processors are great at catching spelling errors and some grammar problems, but they won't tell you if your dialogue is good, or if your characters haven't been developed enough. Is your character's internal monologue a bunch of drivel or does it fill in where dialogue can't? Did you show or tell your story? Does each scene or chapter lead the story further down the path to resolution?
Before sending your material out to a publisher, have an editor look it over. You can find manuscript editors in the back of writing magazines or the Writer's Market Guide, which you can usually get from your local library. If you can't afford an editor, join a local writer's group and have them critique your manuscript.
2. Once you know for sure your manuscript is ready to be read by a publisher you need to put together a query letter. A query letter has at least seven elements.
1. The hook makes the editor want to read more.
2. The handle helps an editor know the overall theme for your manuscript.
3. A short synopsis gives the overview of your plot, its conflict, and introduces your main characters.
4. Your credentials or qualifications shows the editor you have the knowledge and ability to write on the subject.
5. Include a sentence or two about your previous work. If you have no previous work, don’t mention it. They'll assume you’re a first time author.
6. Tell the editor your genre, (action/adventure, mystery, etc.) your manuscript's title and the word count.
7. Make your closing short. One sentence or two. Offer to send the whole manuscript. Don't give them a choice between several chapters or the whole manuscript.
Speaking of which, as a first time writer you shouldn't query unless you have a finished manuscript.
3. One of the best ways to get and invitation to send your manuscript to an agent is at a writer's conference. Besides learning valuable information about writing, you get to meet editors and agents. So, you need to be prepared to make a pitch about your manuscript. Before the conference you will be asked to make a submission of the work you want to present to an editor/agent.
1. Know your manuscript. The editor/agent will ask you questions about your submission. Don't prattle on. You only get a short amount of time to impress them. Keep your answers short and precise.
2. Don't be the type of person that goes on an ego trip about how great you write. Editors and agents hate that.
3. Your pitch should be a short 2 to 3 sentence blurb about your book. Begin by writing out your plot in detail. Then cut, cut, cut, until you have it down to 2 to 3 sentences. Make sure you've written it in a normal speaking voice not a lecture voice. One way to do this is to read book jackets. They're a summary of a book's plot. Try and write your pitch in a similar way.
4. During the rest of your appointment the editor will ask for more information on the plot, title, word count, sub-plots, setting and other items. Be outgoing, but don't overpower the editor/agent. There should be a give and take in the conversation.
4. The hardest part of sending out your query letters or pitching to an editor is learning to accept rejection. It happens to even the best writers. Don't take it personal. In fact, be ready for it.
5. If on the other hand you're told to send in more, follow their instructions to the letter. Only give them what they ask for. If they ask for the manuscript, don't send them sample chapters and vice versa. Remember to include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and present your package in an neat manner. Double spaced typed pages with proper margins, etc.
Besides the manuscript or sample chapters, include the following.
1. A cover letter that reintroduces you to the editor. It should include information about your submission, such as, genre, title, word count, etc.
2. A one page synopsis. Think of this as an expanded pitch, were you get to add more detail about your characters, plot, and so on.
3. For fiction a synopsis is usually enough, but some editors may want to see a chapter outline of your manuscript. This is usually an automatic item for a non-fiction book, but every editor is different. Write one to two sentences for each chapter describing briefly what the chapter is about.
If you'd rather not jump through the hoops that traditional publishing houses want you to, you may want to be like the writer of Gilgamesh and go the Indie route. I'll have more on that in the future. Remember, writing is not enough, you must also read to improve your craft. A great and cheap place to do that is at your local library or one of the soft chairs at Barnes and Noble.