Welcome to part two of my three-part “Now What?” series focusing on different methods of publication. Part one focused on self-publishing. Part two focuses on something more traditional: the publishing house, “legitimate” publication in which a manuscript is submitted and accepted by professional publishers and editors and then printed and sold in stores.
I don’t have as much experience with this as I do with self publishing, but a few years ago I did have a short story published in a literary journal, and before that I had a novel accepted by a very small publishing company. Here’s what I know and some tips I’ve picked up about it:
1. Brace for rejection. It will feel like ramming your head against a wall repeatedly, but it might take a while before you find the right place for your novel. Rejection is not based on the quality of your writing–there are plenty of trashy novels that are horribly written to convince me of that. Rather, it’s based on how well your novel matches with others published by that company. I went through several rejections before my short story was finally accepted, and after looking over why that happened I realized that the other places I had submitted to didn’t match my style nearly as much as the one that had accepted me.
2. Agents are worth it. I didn’t like the thought of finding a literary agent at first, but now I think it’s essential to anyone looking to get taken seriously by a publisher. As a rule, publishers are wary of first-time writers. Your manuscript will likely find its way to a large stack of other first attempts, many of which might not get read at all. You will be in for a long and restless wait, only to get rejected in the long run. Agents, on the other hand, are all about finding new writers to promote and connecting them with the best publishing companies. They’re much more open to your potential and can save you a lot of heartache by recommending your book to a publisher who would genuinely be interested in it. It might be extra work now, but if you get an agent you’ll be glad you did.
3. Have a killer opening. That’s all you’ll need to determine success or rejection in many areas. When my first book was accepted almost ten years ago, the publishers only needed to read the first few pages before they decided it was something they wanted. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed with editing tasks, focus on the beginning of your story and let the rest follow.
Getting published through a traditional publishing house takes a lot of time and effort, and you will likely have to sort through a bunch of rejections before you finally find the company that’s right for you. Do your research, locate an agent who likes your kind of style, and make sure your opening is flawless and gripping. These tips will not necessarily guarantee you publication, but hopefully you have an idea of what to expect before choosing this path as your novel’s destination.
Coming up next is contest publication. Do you have a shot? Are there any good ways to maximize your chances? We’ll find out!