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Becoming a Published Author: Roadmap to Rejection

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Chapter 3: Order of Works

At the risk of sounding like a bad table of contents, the order in which you attempt to publish is rather important. The literary market is so flooded with poorly written, partially written, “ok” written, and newly written books that even the fantastically written ones are playing a rough game of hardball in the fight toward getting noticed.

There is, of course, the option to self-publish, but that route comes not only with the same set of obstacles, but its own unique ones as well. (See my upcoming chapter on self-publishing)

My Mistake:

As another dear writer friend of mine put it when I asked him how far along in his publishing journey he was, “I just wanted to write a book.”

I, too, just wanted to write a book.

Wanting to write a book is an amazing and beautiful aspiration shared by many and accomplished by few. Out of those few who are dedicated enough to finish this daunting task, even fewer are well-written and captivating enough to catch the attention of an agent or publisher.

What I didn’t know going in is that my odds of getting published at a traditional publishing house started at about 1 in about 300,000 (depending on whose statistics you are looking at) and were most likely closer to 1 in 1,000,000. That, coupled with the fact that I had no prior writing experience and no accomplishments to my name put me well into the 1 in 1,000,000+ range, buried firmly in obscurity deep in the slush pile section labeled “no way in Hell.”

What I should have done (And what I’m doing this time around):

If you take no other advice from this book, heed what I am about to say now:

Start. Small.

If you are here writing on Inkitt, then you are already doing it right. Here, you can write whatever you want, post it, get feedback, and improve, all while under the umbrella of possibility that your story will be noticed by the Inkitt gods and be published under their imprint. Also, there are writing competitions here that are based not only off of popularity, but also smaller, privately run ones that are juried, which offer excellent opportunities for detailed feedback and exposure.

(Pro tip/hard to swallow pill: If your writing is not of sufficient quality to win a small-group writing contest, then it is not of sufficient quality to impress a publisher. But this is ok; this is why we continue to practice our craft.)

Then, once you have a few accomplishments under your belt, you are ready to move on to the next platform

Literary journals and small press anthologies are usually more than happy to publish no-name and debut authors, even sans accomplishments, because of the frequency with which they need to print. And they love being able to claim first rights on discovering the next best-selling author. All they are concerned about is the quality of the work being submitted.

In fact, many journals care so little about the history of the submitting author that they will say outright in their submission guidelines that they’ll read your cover letter last and only if they are interested in printing your story—which is the complete opposite if what you should expect out of an agent or publisher (see my upcoming chapter on query letters).

So, say you’ve been working on an amazing short story (5,000 words is max for most short stories), you’re super proud of it, and you’ve edited it to the gills. Now it’s time to run to our trusted friend, Google

Things you will want to research:

1.Genre: You cannot expect a horror vault to print your teen-lit romance, no matter how well written it is. Their acquisition and coordinating editors are already sifting through a full queue of similarly well-written stories whose authors did research their genre properly and will likely receive publication whereas yours will not. If you wrote a great true-crime mystery, then find a journal or press looking specifically for true-crime mystery. Do anything you can to increase your odds of being accepted.

2.Guidelines: Remember all of your elementary school teachers drilling it into you to follow directions? Yeah, here’s where that’s going to come in handy.

What is the word count limit of the journal you are looking at? 1,000? 3,000? 500-word flash fiction? Are they looking for chapters to serialize? Do they require a certain font? Certain margins? Text size? IGNORE NOTHING!

I recently finished submitting The Unnamed to a journal whose guidelines specified single spaced type with a double space between paragraphs, no indents, replace all em-dashes (—) with space dash dash space ( -- ), no ellipses to begin sentences or dialogue, no “S” or “F” bombs except if they are being used in their literal meanings, and American-English on all grammar and spelling.

At the same time, I submitted The Harrowing to another press who wanted double-spaced type, no space between paragraphs, indent each new paragraph but only by formatting said paragraph, not by using the “tab” key, and let the profanity fly as long as it is used realistically.

And you had better believe I followed each instruction to a T.

3.Reprints vs First Rights: This is one I had to learn the hard way. If you want to submit a story to a journal or similar and it has already been posted on Inkitt, then it counts as being previously published and will be considered a reprint. The good news is, this is not the end-of-the-world crisis I originally thought it to be. There are several journals and web magazines out there who are still willing to consider “previously published” stories, you simply have to be specific in searching, “journals willing to publish reprints.” Then, begin narrowing your search by genre, word count, and guidelines.

Not only will starting small-scale help you to slowly build a portfolio of accomplishments, but it also gives you the time you need to grow as a writer. Say your first story doesn’t do well. Why? Were the characters flat? Need more work on showing vs telling? Listless dialogue? Sucky world-building? Whatever the reason, you’ll do better with your next story. And even better on your next. Then, once you’ve stretched your wings a bit, you might go back and realize how cringe-worthy your first one really was (we all have at least one) and re-write it to the standards necessary to attract some opportune attention.

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