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How I Got Published in 6 (not so) Easy Steps





 

Fellow authors often ask me what I did to land my manuscript in the hands of a publisher. I figured it would be helpful to share my journey to publication—to create a roadmap, of sorts. This is only a guide, of course, since every odyssey varies with the individual taking it. The only thing I can almost guarantee is that it will be an adventurous trek. The route is sure to twist in places, and even double back. There will probably be very steep inclines that take all your strength to climb, but also easy, carefree interludes when you will coast downhill, certain that the writing life was the best choice for you.

Through all the obstacles thrown into your path—the agents and editors who reject your writing (or don’t bother to even acknowledge you), the bouts of self-doubt, and the sense that time is passing you by while you languish in the netherworld of unpublished words—keep a clear vision and follow it in faith.


Below, the steps I took to make my publishing dream come true:


1.      I worked on my craft. This is not easy, and far from sexy. It took me years to become the writer I am today, and it will be years more until I grow into the writer I will eventually be. It’s an ongoing process full of diligence and discoveries. Here’s the secret: This is where you find true joy in the process. Relish living this life, even as you strive to improve. This is how you have chosen to spend many precious hours of your existence.


2.      I understood that this was not a way to make a quick buck. Like me, you may have always known that you could write. Teachers may have pointed it out. Maybe you were that college kid who could whip up an essay the night before it was due and get an A. That’s a good foundation, not a reason to submit everything you write to agents and editors. Getting published is not a literary lottery, where all you need is a dream and a flair for writing. If you think you’ve got what it takes, submit a story or essay to a literary magazine or contest. I submitted a short story to a writing conference and received a fellowship (where they supplied money) to help me attend.


3.      I connected with like-minded writers. At times, writing can be lonely. Early on, I realized I needed the fellowship of other people doing what I do. The truth is, although many people write, not many in my circle do. I sought out friends who were also looking to perfect their craft. Writing conferences provide a great avenue for camaraderie, be it online or in person. Among the best organizations for me: International Thriller Writers (more on that, below), Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. All have conferences. I plan on attending two other well-known conferences for the first time this year: Killer Nashville and Nashville 2024 (bouchercon2024.com). At every conference I’ve attended, I’ve not only learned things, but made friends.


4.      I took advantage of the giants in my field. Many of the best-known crime writers in the world attend ITW’s annual conference. And they want to help authors! Not only did this organization set up an online critique group which I was lucky enough to be admitted to (called Thriller-tique), but they sponsor ThrillerFest, which takes place from late May to early June each year in New York City. Top crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writers convene to offer support to their fellow authors, published and unpublished. They offer classes, seminars, and an activity known as PitchFest, which changed my writing life last year. Set up like a speed-dating event, I was able to meet with sixteen editors and agents for three minutes each to pitch the premise of my completed manuscript, I Know She Was There. Luckily, all sixteen made requests (some enthusiastically, others not so much). The acquisitions editor at CamCat Books was quite interested. CamCat made me an offer shortly thereafter. This may sound easy-peasy. It was not, but nothing worth achieving is easy, right? I practiced my pitch multiple times a day for a solid month before presenting it to agents and editors. Fortunately, published authors volunteer to help each entrant craft the perfect pitch. How cool is that? It helped me so much.


5.      Before I pitched my book, I made sure it was as good as possible. I edited my writing a number of times, shared it with beta readers (those readers you trust to take a look at the earliest drafts), and hired editorial services to help me polish it. I worked with editors from Reedsy.com and The Novelry: Writing Courses. Both were excellent.


6.      After agents and editors made requests, I took my time submitting to them. I’d worked hard on the manuscript, so I wasn’t going to get it hastily into their hands, risking making mistakes. Friends and family told me I was crazy not to get it to those who requested it the very next day, but publishing isn’t like other businesses. The pros want something that is the best it can be. You only get one chance to impress them. Take your time and make sure it’s as close to perfect as you can get. Trust me, they are happy to wait a week or two. This is my most important piece of advice.

 

It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway, no matter how cliché it is) that you can never give up. When those rejections come rolling in (and most writers get plenty of them), cry, scream, go into hiding, snuggle with your pet—whatever you have to do to self-soothe—then open your laptop and get back to work.

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