Monday, December 14, 2009

You've Decided to Try for Publication. Now What?

The biggest moment in my writing career came with the realization that I wanted to be published by a traditional publisher.

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?

Do you need an agent in order to submit to your publisher? Try the listing of agents at and AgentQuery.

Is the agent or publisher reputable? Check sites like Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors to make sure your choices are scrupulous. There are many folks out there who prey on writers.

Write your query for your publisher or agent submission. Check sites like Query Shark, The Rejector, Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, and Pub Rants for advice on writing a sound query.

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)


T. Powell Coltrin said...

Elizabeth, You are always so encouraging AND you are a well of information for writers.

I am working on my first book- ever. My past writing has always been shorts. I must say writing large is overwhelming but I am learning how to master it. But, what seems more overwhelming is the thought of searching for a publisher or agent. I had no idea how to start until I read this post.

Again thanks.- Teresa

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Spot on tips, Elizabeth!

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow, this is almost the exact process I've gone through in the past year! I'm still learning. One of the most important things I've learned is how amazingly supportive the online writing community is :)

JournoMich said...

You are an encyclopedia of knowledge. Thank you for this concise, easy-to-access list of information. You have your own folder in my Favorites list!


Anonymous said...

Great post - so much to learn. Thanks for sharing.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Letting others - even family - read my work was the most difficult step in the process for me. It’s also easy to become discouraged along the publishing path so it’s important not to give up on your dream.

Mason Canyon said...

Another great post with valuable information, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

That "don't let the research immobilize you" bit is the best advice for me, good lady. I tend to over-research. Thanks!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Great thorough tips about the process.
~ Wendy

The Old Silly said...

Having been throught this process I can say you're definitely on the right track. Got this article bookmarked to share with aspiring authors. Good job, Elizabeth, and best wishes - I KNOW you're going to make it!

Marvin D Wilson

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

When looking for an agent, have a look at, too. They list thousands of agents and you can privately track your query efforts in their database.

Unknown said...

Great advice, Elizabeth. I'm still in the tinkering and not sharing stage. However, there is a cozy simmering in the back of my mind. I'm bookmarking this post for later use :)

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

Sane, sensible tips for a chaotic business.


Elspeth Futcher said...

Wonderful tips stated in a clear concise manner. Thank you Elizabeth! There is of course, that nasty necessary first step of finishing the manuscript...ah well.


A Good Blog Is Hard to Find said...

Teresa--I'm so glad! There really is a method to the took me a while to find it.


Jemi--It can make a tremendous difference, I think.

Michele--Hope it helps!

Michelle--You're so welcome!

Jane--That's true. It's easy to get discouraged.


Simon--Too much research can be a bad thing.

Thanks, Wendy!

Marvin--I forgot to say that it *did* work and I got published. Wrote too late last night! I'm revising the post...thanks for the reminder.

Deb--Great point! I'd forgotten that one.

Janel--I'm so excited that you're interested in writing a COZY! Yay!

Malcolm--Thanks! It is a chaotic business, isn't it?

Elspeth--And it can be nasty! :) But fun at the same time.

Tamika: said...

Thanks Elizabeth! I needed the overview. This publication road can be a curvy steep climb.

Anonymous said...

Some good advice - I know that writing the synopsis is what kills me. I'm terrible at it.

Thanks so much for sharing this.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Your point on revision is, to me, a key one. I don't know how many times I thought my WIP was "done," only to find more work that needed to be done. So, don't stop looking and certainly enlist the help of others. Others see things you just don’t see.

Best Regards, Galen.

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Helen Ginger said...

Excellent advice, Elizabeth, and I love all the links!

Straight From Hel

Lorel Clayton said...

You really make it sound possible. Thanks!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Tamika--You're so right. And so many steps on the path!

Cassandra--Synopsis isn't fun. You know, I think I've seen a blog on that recently..I'll see if I can find it. Folks were submitting synopses of well-known movies just for practice.

Galen--Oh, I completely understand. I can't believe the things I just don't see because I've read my manuscript so many times.

Helen--It's kind of linky today, isn't it?

Lorel--It definitely is!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

You've covered all the bases here, great advice!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Elizabeth--Thanks. I didn't realize until I started writing the process down how involved it was!

Carol Kilgore said...

Great post with lots of true information. It's a long road.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks, Carol!

Anonymous said...

Immensely informative!!

I'm linking this as an important article for writers in my sidebar.

Someone said you are encouraging; you are. You offer so much helpful advice in such a gentle voice.

All the best,
Corra :)

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