At the end of my creative writing workshops, sometimes with only fifteen minutes left of the final class, someone inevitably asks, “So, how do we get our work published?” People also ask this question when they find out that I am the
big-time sm medium-time author of the breakaway, international bestseller moderately successful books See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers and Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel. Depending on the situation, I give one of three answers to this question:
If I’m feeling world-weary and sarcastic, or if it doesn’t seem like the person wants a real answer anyway
“Prepare for lots of rejection.”
For best results, I follow this with a sad-little laugh and well-timed sigh.
If the person doesn’t leave immediately, I often recommend one of my favorites of the 20-or-so books I’ve read on the topic of how to write a book, make it good, and then try to get it published.
The way potential authors react to this type of tip is telling. If they say thanks and make a note of the book’s title, that’s a pretty good sign. If they read the book—or, really, any book—on the publishing process, that’s a good start.
On the other hand, if they quickly explain that they are too busy to read a whole book, that’s a bad sign for their future as an author. It’s also a sign that they are going to want to explain to me how easy it’s going to be for them to write their book once they get started because their life is so interesting that people keep telling them they should write a book!
Then they are going to ask me how much I got paid for writing my book.
Then they are going to ask if I can introduce them to whoever published my book so those people can publish their book.
After that. . . I don’t know what comes after that, because I have already made an excuse to leave the conversation.
If the question seems genuine, the person seems patient, and there is enough time to explain the basics of the publishing process
All the answers in the section above are essentially screening questions.
The publishing industry is filled with gates and the gatekeepers that stand guard in front of them. It can be exhausting. Exhausted authors don’t get to guard many gates, but many authors have learned how to guard their own time and emotional energy.
They already know path to publishing a book isn’t really a path.
The rambling road that may eventually lead to a published book cycles through many rounds of educating yourself about the publishing industry. And a lot of writing. And a lot of rejection.
Then you’ll start over again, learning about the publishing industry.
You’ll find quite a bit of overlap in the advice you get. That’s not a coincidence. The overarching advice authors need to hear is actually simple. Just need to hear it from a lot of different sources over a long period of time. Writing a book is a long process.
Here is my distillation of all the writing advice I’ve ever read, heard, learned the hard way, or some combination of the three
My two main books took a combined 14 years to get from their original sparks of ideas into readers’ hands. I’ve distilled the lessons I learned along the way into a fourteen-day email series for hopeful writers, one for each year.
The result is part creative-writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir of discovering what it takes to build a writing career.
I hope it helps you along your own not-really-a-path to getting a book published.
You can sign up for the series using the form below (or at this link if you’re having any technical difficulties).
Then, prepare for lots of rejection.