Oddly, the big moment wasn't when I was accepted by a traditional publisher or when I found an agent to represent me--but when I decided that was the course I wanted to take.
At first I wrote for myself. I didn’t share what I’d written with friends or family—I was really just tinkering with my words, writing to see how far I could take a story. Can I write a poem? A short story? Can I string several chapters together in a coherent way?
When I decided to pursue publication, I became a serious writer. I focused on finishing a book.
Here are some tips to help with your journey to publication:
Read other books in your genre before you write. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t too far out of line with my efforts.
I’d also recommend turning to the community of blogging writers online. They’ll offer encouragement, support, industry information, and technical advice. There are many blogging writers that I link to in my blog’s sidebar at Mystery Writing is Murder that will give you a great starting point.
Get other people you trust to read your book. First readers who give truthful feedback in an encouraging way are incredibly helpful. If you don’t have any family members or friends that fit the bill, you can try online critique groups—you’ll read their work within a certain time frame and they’ll read yours. It may take some tweaking to find the right group. If you Google “online critique groups” you’ll get plenty of hits. I’d stick with a group that writes your genre.
Okay, so your manuscript is in pretty good shape. This means you’ve revised it many times. Others have read it and offered suggestions. You’ve read many books in your genre. Your manuscript doesn’t have grammatical or spelling errors.
Now it’s time to branch out. What kind of publisher fits your needs? A small press? Or something larger? If you’re interested in submitting to a smaller publisher (and there are many out there), then you can frequently submit without an agent.
You can learn publisher guidelines online at publishers’ individual websites. You can also go to your library and check their reference section for a recent edition of Literary Marketplace (which you can also get an online subscription to) or Writers Market.
Found a publisher that interests you? Go to your library or bookstore and read some of their recent releases. How does your book stack up? Do you need some more revising?
Write a clear synopsis of your book. It shouldn’t have teasers, but should concisely tell your story in a compelling way.
Submit your query or your cover letter and first fifty pages. Make sure you’ve addressed your letter to the right editor or agent and have spelled their name correctly. Your manuscript should be formatted to a standard template. Be careful not to use unusual fonts or colored paper or anything unprofessional.
Expect rejections. Hope for the best, but plan for setbacks. If you’re fortunate enough to receive some feedback with your rejections, consider revising your manuscript via their suggestions.
The important thing is not to let your research and work immobilize you—let your research strengthen your resolve to make your book the best it can be…and then submit it.
Good luck with the process!
Elizabeth Spann Craig
Pretty is as Pretty Dies: Midnight Ink, August 2009
Delicious and Suspicious: Berkley Prime Crime, May 2010 (Penguin Books)