With my seventeenth novel, SOUTH BEACH CHICAS CATCH THEIR MAN, about to be released by Simon & Schuster's Downtown Press, one of the most common questions I get asked is "What do I need to do to get published?"
The most obvious answer is that you sit down and start writing your book and surprisingly that is not the answer I would give most beginning writers.
Why? Having started off that way myself, I found that it took me quite some time to learn some very important things about both the craft and the business of writing. Things that I needed to know in order to finally sell my first novel.
So what would I recommend to someone as the steps to take in the road to publication?
1. What genre will your book fit in? Is the book you wish to write a romantic suspense, paranormal, women's fiction, cozy mystery or does it fall into any of the dozens of other genres that exist in the Publishing world?
Why is this important? Unless you are writing literary fiction, it is important to understand the nature of the genre and what is expected for that genre. The genre is shorthand for a certain set of expectations that editors and readers will have about the story. Editors like to be able to say at their editorial meetings "I've got a great women's fiction piece about four friends living in Miami that I'd like to acquire."
Not sure what genre? For a list of sub-genres in the romance industry, check out the list at the Romance Writer of America. For non-romance fiction genres, here's another good spot for you to check.
2. Which publishers would be interested in your book? Go to the shelves of your local library or bookstore. See what books would be similar to what you would like to write. It will give you an idea of what publishers are interested in that kind of work. Open the book and check the dedication or acknowledgements. That might give you a clue as to the editor or agent who bought and/or represented the novel.
3. Check the guidelines for those agents and/or editors. Many publishers have their guidelines on their websites. Eharlequin is a great example of publisher's guidelines. The guidelines will tell you how long the book should be, which editors are interested in acquiring, etc. Unfortunately, the guidelines may also say that the publisher will only accept manuscripts from agents. You can also look at books from Writers Digest and there's a great book by Jeff Herman that I recommend -- Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents.
Once you know what genre you are going to tackle and what the length of the book will be, you can start to "write" and avoid needless revisions because the book was too long, too short, didn't have the right elements for the genre, etc.
4. How do I know that my writing is any good? The next step is to find a group that will help you improve the craft of writing. You may find a critique group at a local book store or library (For example, I host one at a local book store). If the genre in which you are writing has an association, see if you can join. For example, the Romance Writers of America has both a national chapter and local chapters that meet and provide workshops and conferences on the craft. With every book you write your skill as a writer should grow. I find that with each editor with whom I work, I learn something new and valuable that I try to apply to future novels.
5. Do I have to finish the book in order to submit it? In general, editors and agents will like to see complete manuscripts from unpublished authors or even published authors if they are writing in a different genre. This happened to me on two occasions. First when I went from writing contemporary romances to paranormals and again when I went from paranormals to women's fiction. So the answer is generally, "Yes, you should finish the book."
6. The book is finished so how do I submit? See 2 and 3 above. Check the guidelines and understand which publishing houses require agents and which don't. When it comes to both agents and publishers, if anyone asks for money up front, reconsider. Agents and publishers should not ask for reading fees or fees to print your book in general. Some e-publishers will charge nominal set-up fees to print a previously e-published book.
7. The book is finished and submitted. What do I do next? Start another book and get it ready to send out. Publishers like writers who can deliver books on a regular basis. It allows them to build you as a writer. I always have multiple projects in the works even when I am working on a contracted book.
I hope the above has been helpful and if you need any more advice, I have a Resources for Writers section on my site that you can check for more information or just drop me an e-mail by visiting my website.