Jan 05 2010
This is the second article in a series. Please see part one here.
9. Getting published is really, really hard. Publisher’s assistants at major publishers go through hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts a week. Out of every thousand or so manuscripts, they’ll probably send on around five to an editor for further consideration. That means PAs reject about 99.5% of manuscripts. Of the five surviving manuscripts, usually one or two will eventually be offered contracts.
10. Publisher’s assistants do not have the time to pore through each manuscript. They are not on your side. They have to get through hundreds of manuscripts each week and the only way to do that is to throw out manuscripts as fast as possible. Most manuscripts do not survive to page two. If something does not make sense on page one, they will throw away the manuscript long before you’ve explained what is going on. The story absolutely needs to be clear and engaging from page one.
11. SPELLING, PUNCTUATION AND GRAMMAR ARE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. They are the difference between conveying that “I am a polished writer that will be easy to publish” and “I am not familiar with basic writing craft.” If your writing has more than a few typos, you are dead on arrival. Even one typo per page would raise eyebrows. Remember, around 99.9% of unsolicited manuscripts get rejected. Don’t give the publisher any reason to drop the guillotine.
12. Publishers select what they think will sell. If you look like you could sell ten thousand copies with a minimum of editing work, they will probably make you an offer. It depends on the work and publisher, but most publishers need to sell between five and ten thousand copies to break even.
13. It is really helpful to establish an audience before you try to get published. For example, if you’ve established a blog that has hundreds of thousands of readers, it will seem more plausible that your book can sell tens of thousands of copies. If your writing is not yet good enough to attract a hundred thousand free readers, it may help to practice more before you try selling thousands of copies. Alternately, get some professional writing experience with a newspaper, a magazine or any other company that needs writers. (Most large companies have offices for marketing/PR/communications/etc).
14. You should know who your target audience is. That will make it much easier for an editor to visualize selling ten thousand copies of your book. Preferably it’s an audience his publisher works with frequently. The most important audience attributes are gender and age.
15. Even after you get published, your publisher won’t do all that much to publicize you. Selling the book is mainly your job. Starting a website is a good first step. For example, you only encountered my writing today because I started a website about how to get published. If you aren’t quite tech-savvy enough to handle your own website, try making a page on Facebook. Just make sure that you update it regularly.
16. Websites are great, but you’ll still probably have to promote your book in person after you get published. Identify accessible sites where you can talk about something interesting, preferably something related to your book. Depending on your target audience, college campuses within driving distance might be a good place to start. If you’re writing a superhero novel, ask any comic book stores near you if they’d let you do a promotional event. You might also find conventions devoted to comic books, fantasy, science fiction or horror helpful.
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