I did a panel at the recent Rocky Mountain Fur Con called “From Writer To Author: Getting Published,” which went okay. At least, it generated good discussion and I ended up rambling on about character wants and stuff. I thought I’d post my notes here for interested people. It includes a rather long quote from the fangs_fur_fey LJ community, because I’m lazy and didn’t want to take the time to say it myself.
The problems most people have with getting published–by a moderated, edited press or journal, as opposed to a “throw whatever online” site–come down to two large areas:
1. Make your writing better
2. Figure out how to submit
So here’s my thoughts on those two:
Making your writing better
1. Learn to read with a critical eye.
2. Read a story twice, first to get the feel of the story, the second time to read it critically and pick out what the author is doing and how it contributes to the overall tone of the story.
As an exercise: pick two of your favorite books/stories from the past year. List three things you really liked about each one. This can be anything—a character, a setting, a twist of the story, the way the author uses language, whatever. Now, for each of those things, take some time to figure out why you liked it. Don’t just say, “because it was cool.” Try to figure out what the author did that made that particular character, setting, language stand out for you. Look at other books with similar stories, similar characters, and compare. Why does one appeal to you more than another? Take those lessons and apply them to your own writing.
3. Read your work out loud to a friend. Reading out loud forces you to consider every word, to hear them rather than letting your mind skim over them.
4. Join a workshop or form a workshop group. Get critiques from people who are actually interested in critiquing, not in either tearing you down without being helpful or building you up without being critical. Learn how to critique: this will help you look at your own work more critically.
How to submit
1. Do some basic research on the publication. Make sure your submission fits their profile and guidelines.
2. Read what else is being published in the field. Your work is going to be read in that context, so you need to understand the context too. This doesn’t mean you have to write something that’s exactly like everything else, or completely different from everything else. Ideally, you should be in the ballpark, but distinctive enough to make an editor sit up and notice.
3. Format your submission properly and follow all submission guidelines. When you think your submission is ready, go back and read the guidelines again with a fine-toothed comb to make sure.
4. BE PROFESSIONAL AT ALL TIMES.
On that topic, a comment on author-editor relationships from Phil Brucato, in the fangs_fur_fey LJ community:
As a professional author, an occasional publisher, a writing professor, and an editor for over five years, I think I can answer your question… though my response might not be the answer you want.
Editors receive massive numbers of manuscripts. In order to process even a fraction of them, they (and/or their assistants) must scan copious submissions, applying a number of criteria(*) to see whether or not the submission in question warrants deeper consideration. This is not an elitist power-trip, but an absolute necessity. After all, even editors need to eat and sleep, and there’s far more to an editor’s job than simply scanning, reviewing and polishing manuscripts!
From my own experience, I can say that barely 15% of submissions get beyond this stage. The majority of submissions are poorly written, grammatically appalling, stylistically unsound, unproofed, badly-printed (if printed at all!), or otherwise violate basic publishing standards. I have no idea whether or not your manuscript fit any of those categories, but the overall rule is usually “If it violates Standard A, B or C, I’m not reading past page 1.” Again, this is simple practicality. An editor simply does not have the time to make personal in-depth evaluations of everything s/he receives. There isn’t time or energy enough to do so!
Beyond that, an editor must judge submissions by other criteria: whether or not the author(s) meet the promise of their premise; whether or not the project holds that reader’s interest; whether or not the proposal fits the plans, needs, identity or limitations of the publishing company; whether or not a similar project is already in the works or on the schedule; whether or not the book is likely to exceed the H-U-G-E costs involved in producing, printing, stocking, shipping, marketing and producing said book; and finally, whether or not the editor enjoys, agrees with or believes in the proposal at all. Any or all of these considerations may derail a book during the reading stage – and believe me, an editor is too busy to keep detailed records about each element of every project that crosses his/her desk, especially at a major publishing house!