Spells for getting published.

December 5, 2014 | By | Reply More

Over in the forum the other day, G.Ahmed asked a great question that deserves a longer answer than a forum post would give, so here it is – his question was “How do books get published?”

This is really an answer in two parts. There’s how it used to be. And there’s how it is now (and increasingly, how it will be in the future).

How it used to be was quite a convoluted chain. As a starting author, your path to publication would usually look something like this:

(1) Write and finish your book over one-to-three years in your spare time.
(2) Buy a copy of The Writer & Author’s Yearbook (or something similar) – this was a dictionary sized beast with addresses and contact details of all the main publishers and markets for writers, including the editors you needed to write to for each genre or non-fiction area. It still exists.
(3) You send copies of your novel’s manuscript to the most likely-looking editors and literary agents in the book. This motley crew were collectively known as the gatekeepers. They manned the ramparts of quality fiction and kept the smelly barbarians on the other side of the wall in the literary wilderness.
(4) You wait. You wait. And then, yes, you guessed it, you would wait some more.
(5)  You receive rejection letters from the editors and agents.
(6) When you’ve collected the complete Pokemon Rejection Set, you go back to (1) and start again on your second book. Rince. Repeat.


How many years did Mr King spend in the literary wilderness?

How many years did Mr King spend in the literary wilderness?

Most writers have about three full novels of garbage inside them that needs writing out before they have mastered the trade well enough to be considered of publishable quality. Of course, there are the rare geniuses and savants whose first novels head straight to the top of the bestseller list, but these people are definitely the exception to the rule. I was in the rinse and repeat cycle for a good eight years.  Let’s fast-forward this sad stage of authorly existence and jump straight to . . .

(7) You’ve written something of publishable quality. Hopefully an editor picks it up – either directly or via an agent who saw something in the book – and the editor loves it enough to want to publish it. As the saying in the Hunger Games goes, May the Odds be ever in your favour. Except they aren’t. A general fiction imprint of a large publisher might receive over 80,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year (of which they can select from and publish maybe three new authors a year).

These hopefuls are usually then read by interns, if they are read at all. But let’s say your book beats the odds and is picked out and selected for greatness. Break out the Pepsi Max, you’re a published author.  In about three years. That’s how long it takes for the manuscript to move through the chain of editors, copy editors, typesetters, designers, sales and marketing people, and finally hit the local bookshop as dead tree.

You can see why this process made most would-be authors give up long before their work ever saw the light of day on a Waterstones or Barnes & Noble bookshelf. It’s why publishing is full of tales about how Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter was rejected by every publishing house under the sun, and only got picked up when they were drinking in the last chance saloon. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this process has been more or less consigned to history.

Here’s how the book publishing lottery works now and in the foreseeable future.

(1) Write and finish your book over one-to-three years in your spare time.
(2) Upload it to Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, the Nook store and lots of other online bookstores as an ebook file.
(3) Your book either sinks without a trace or, far more rarely, goes gangbusters and sells a million copies and then . . .
(4) Lots of print publishers come begging on their knees to you, pleading to be given a chance to publish it in print. Do you say yes, grasshopper?

Of course, this new simple 4-or-3 step process is a gross simplification, and there are a thousand traps on the way and tips and tricks to help you on the journey. I’ll try and cover as many as I’m wise to over the rest of the year.

But the takeaway of this article is that at least now you’ll definitely get your book published. The struggle has shifted from slipping past the gatekeepers, to making sure your work’s audience is larger than your mom, boy/girlfriend, and anyone who reluctantly accepts a copy of the fruits of your genius as their birthday present (when they really, really wanted a VW Beetle, you rotter).



Category: Writer's Dojo

About the Author ()

I have been working as a full-time author publishing fantasy and science fiction novels for HarperCollins for the last seven years.

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