Are you a writer? Do you want to get your manuscript published? Make it on to the bestseller list? Here’s the five secrets you need to know to make that happen!
C’mon. You’ve seen that before. You clicked on it, too. Because you are a writer, you do want to get published, and hey, it’d be awesome to be a bestseller. So, off you go to pour over the article, looking for that trick you missed. Trying to figure out what it was you didn’t do that “You Absolutely Have To!”
Nine times out of ten, these things are just ads by other writers trying to get you to buy their book, which you can’t help noticing, isn’t a bestseller. Discouraged, you turn to other articles.
“Five Ways To Catch An Editors Attention!” “Words You Should Never Use!” “The Ten Things No Agent Can Refuse!”
You take notes. You adjust your manuscript. You submit endlessly, and somehow, you don’t catch the editors attention, and the agent refuses you, even though you didn’t use any of the words you shouldn’t have.
The worst part is, you’ve shared your work on places like Scribd, and with writing groups, and you get amazing reviews. People really like what you write, and even ask when you’re getting a book deal. You’ve spent years honing your craft, sharpening your talent, and you know how to write a good book. For some reason, though, you just can’t clear that hurdle of acceptance.
The worst part comes when you happen across the article about how you “Must” rework your manuscript to be part of the current hot trend. Even if the hot trend is space vampires and you wrote a murder mystery. By the time you rework it, the trend has changed, and the story you envisioned is unrecognizable.
And still, nobody will even listen to you, as the rejection letters pile up. You try self publishing as a means to build your brand, relentlessly work social media to an ever dwindling number of followers, and slowly, your dream of being a writer dies under the harsh reality.
All because there are things nobody will actually tell you, not just about the publishing business, but about what it really takes to get noticed.
Now, I’ll grant you, I’m not a bestselling author, but I am a published author, and it took me over twenty years to get there. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about the business, things that nobody will readily admit, at least, not without you paying them a fee for their month long seminar.
Or for them to even talk to you.
So, here it is. The harsh truths of getting published.
1: Agents And Publishers Already Have Ten Of You
There is no gentle way of saying this, but agents and publishers already have ten authors under contract that write the exact same thing you do, and are known. They don’t need an eleventh. Hell, they don’t want an eleventh. That’s why no matter how many of the so called “sure fire tricks” you use, all you get is rejection letters.
Because they don’t need you. You need them, and they know it.
2: There Are No Tricks
No matter what the articles say, there isn’t any secret way of getting your foot in the door. The only way is not giving up. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Keep submitting. That’s the only way. To not give up.
Which isn’t really a secret. It’s just persistence. Which is all it actually takes. Sooner or later, in the course of that, someone will realize that they can make money off you, and that’s what actually gets you published. The moment an agent and a publishing house agree that you can make money for them.
3: Trends Are Bullshit
Ignore the trends. Write what you love, because honestly, for every trend, somebody had to start it. You could be the one starting the next trend, so stick to what you love to write. Eventually, when you are skilled enough, and hit upon a story that the people in power think will sell, you’ll be in.
Plus, you’ll be a trendsetter, and who doesn’t want that?
Well, me, but that brings me to my next point.
4: Forget Being A Bestseller
Most of the books that are on the bestseller lists are there because the publisher paid for them to be there. Look at Twilight and Fifty Shades. Those books are written so poorly, the writing community is ashamed to acknowledge them. Yet, they were bestsellers, and not because they were good, but because the bestseller list is a marketing tactic of the publishing industry.
They buy a books way onto the list.
Now, some authors do earn their way onto that list, but this happens in two ways. The first is luck, and honestly, that’s the best way. It’s the honest way. The second is because the publisher marketed the ever loving hell out of the book, and people bought it because they wanted to know what it was about. This is still better than them just buying a space on the list, which I admit, they only do when they have a bomb on their hands, and they know it.
Just between us, I’d rather not be the author they have to buy a spot for.
Which is to say, the bestseller list isn’t the be all end all. For myself, I’m aiming to be a reputable mid-list author. I wouldn’t mind lucking my way onto the bestseller list, but I’m not aiming for it.
Here’s the thing about mid-list authors. They work. They get published. Reliably. Because they are the backbone of the publishing industry. They are why some authors get all the fanfare of bestseller status, because it’s the mid-list authors who keep the publishing industry running.
You really think publishers wait years for George R.R. Martin because he sells enough books? Hell no. They can afford to wait because he’s good press, and they have a ton of mid-list authors keeping them in business.
Stability as a successful writer is in the mid-list. Plus, you spend enough time there, a bestseller is bound to happen sooner or later.
Now, it might seem like I’m saying to lower your sights, and that’s only because I am saying exactly that. Manage your own expectations, and take the steady work when it comes your way.
Another factor is that it’s a hell of a lot easier to break into the mid-list.
5: Write Short Stories
And that’s how you do it.
Look, I get it, you’re a novelist. You have great stories to tell. That’s wonderful. Good for you. Won’t matter if you never get them published.
Short fiction is where any good writer hones their skill set, and builds a reputation. Like with any job, getting published means you need a resume, and for us, that is the world of short fiction.
Write short stories, submit them like mad. Throw those suckers out there like they are confetti. Because the harsh truth is, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get a short story published than it is a novel. Expectations are lower, the velvet rope is more a piece of twine, and it gets your name out there, builds your resume, and attracts readers.
Don’t submit to places that don’t pay, though. They aren’t the sort of places that are going to help you. Even if it’s just five bucks, go with that over “exposure”, because you are building a reputation as someone who takes themselves seriously.
Believe me, that matters. Agents see that you got a bunch of stuff published at places that don’t pay, and they aren’t gonna think you are a serious writer. They make money when you make money, and they expect to see a list of you making money. That’s what gets you an agent, after all. The ability to make money for them, and “exposure” isn’t going to do that.
6: Know Somebody
This is the only real trick, if you even want to call it that. It’s how both Twilight and Fifty Shades got accepted. The authors knew the right people. You don’t know the right people, and that’s a big problem, because it lowers your chances of getting accepted to almost nothing.
Which is where short stories, again, come into play. They introduce you to editors, who are somebody.
Look, it’s all very simple, and it goes like this. You catch an editors eye at some magazine or ezine or whatever, and they like your short fiction. They publish it, and so you submit again. They like that and publish it. You build a relationship with them. They know people in the business, and bring up your name to those people. Next thing you know, you’re moving up in the world of writing.
Being talented is important. Having skill matters. Knowing somebody, and having them in your corner, trumps both of those. That is just the harsh reality of it all. If you know somebody, even if it’s just somebody who knows somebody else, then the road to getting accepted just got a hell of a lot easier.
Like anything else, the publishing industry is an inside business. They don’t like outsiders. They prefer people who come with a recommendation from somebody who is on the inside, even if only marginally. You want to know the fastest trick to getting published, well, there it is. Know the right people.
Otherwise, spend time building a reputation with short fiction, and keep submitting your novel with the relentless dedication of the Borg. Because there is no other way in the door.
7: You Published A Book. Now Shut Up.
Social media. God, how we have it driven into our heads that our social media presence is integral to out success. Be it self published, small press, or major house, the social media angle is treated like a sledgehammer.
Here’s the thing. Tweeting about your book fifty times a day only pisses people off. Sharing links to it on Facebook every hour makes people drop you. Whatever the social media platform, the more you push, the more people are going to back away from you.
Why? The same reason you back away from that homeless guy when he tries to pick the alien slugs off your face. Because it’s annoying. Do not annoy people. That doesn’t help. It hurts you, and your book.
You want to build a social media presence, then do it by being a damn person. Be someone people enjoy seeing pop up on their feed. Mention your book a couple times, here and there, every few days. But for the love of God, don’t beat them in the face with it!
The people telling you to be relentless on social media, they don’t know what they are talking about. Most of them probably don’t even know how social media works, and those that do, well, they are only trying to get you to follow them so they can pad their own numbers.
Be yourself. Even if you are an asshole. I gained two new followers on Twitter the day I wrote this by being my usual sarcastic, asinine self. Because people respond to honesty. They don’t respond to auto-tweeted spam.
8: Anyone Offering To Help You For A Fee Isn’t Going To Help You
I said in point 6 that you need to know somebody if you really want to open doors. This is true, but it also comes with a big downside. A lot of people know this, and will try to take advantage of you by claiming to be the somebody you need.
It’s pretty easy to spot these people, because their insider help comes with a fee. These people, they aren’t going to help you. They are going to help themselves. You are nothing but an open wallet to them, and they don’t give a damn about whether or not you get your book published.
The thing to remember is that the publishing industry is symbiotic. Agents and publishers make money when you make money. The better you do, the better they do. That’s why they don’t waste their time on people that they don’t think will make them money.
These other people, though, they don’t care if you make money. They are parasites, draining your cash, and giving you nothing in return but the same rehashed “sure fire tricks” you find all over the internet. When you finally realize this, they will tell you that you just didn’t work hard enough and poof off to scam someone else.
They are the televangelists of the writing world. Do not trust them. Do not believe them. Do not give them any money. The only people that are going to help you get your book published are agents and publishers, and the only people who are going to make you a success are readers.
9: Be Patient
The biggest so called secret of being a successful writer lies in learning how to just be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a career. It takes time for people to really warm to you as a writer, and the work you produce.
Word of mouth remains the very best method of growing a readership. This is where social media actually comes in handy, too. When someone contacts you, telling you how much they loved your book, feel free to ask them to write a review on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, or wherever. Believe it or not, those reviews matter, and steadily attract more readers.
It’s takes time, though. Overnight sensations are rare, and usually have the backing of a major publishing house marketing team. If you’re lucky enough to land that kind of a deal, good for you! Rock on! For the rest of us, though, it takes time, and patience is the key.
Most of all, remember to be friendly and engaging with your readers. Not the trolls. Fuck those guys. The readers who like you, and help spread the word. Be friendly, be warm, be responsive, and build a community of people who will support you and your work. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
10: Quantity Is As Important As Quality
You’ll see a lot of people claiming that quality over quantity is what you need. That even if you only write one novel every five years, so long as it’s awesome, you’ll be a superstar.
Tell that to Stephen King.
Look, quality matters, of that, there is no doubt. But it is in quantity that you make your living. The more books you have out, the better the chances of getting noticed, and the better the prospects for a steady income. That’s just basic math, folks.
Personally, I’d much rather be a good writer who produces two books a year, than a great writer who had one monster hit. You can tell me I’m not ambitious enough all you want, but seriously, which takes more actual ambition? Writing one bestseller, or twenty solid mid-list hits in ten years?
Be a good writer, but a good writer who produces work. Let the literary greats do their thing. Do yours. After all, the goal here is to make a living off your work, not to be remembered for being a one hit wonder.
Some last thoughts…
Becoming a successful writer is hard. Many chase the dream and never achieve it. We all want to be remembered, to be successful, but the reality is, the odds are against us. They always have been, and they always will be.
Even the self publishing market has become so glutted that it’s all but impossible to make yourself stand out. Don’t get me wrong, it beats sitting on a pile of manuscripts that never see the light of day, but it is every bit as hard to get your work noticed as it is with traditional publishing.
It takes work, lots and lots of work. It takes time, sometimes half your life. There are no quick fixes, no get rich quick schemes. All there is you, not giving up, and putting in the grueling effort.
Some days, it’s not gonna seem worth it. Many days, you’ll want to just give up. Most days, you’ll see crap like Twilight and Fifty Shades getting lauded, and wonder what the point of trying even is.
The point, my friends, is that you are a writer. It’s who you are. It’s what you do. You are a storyteller, and there are stories that only you can tell. With a lot of hard work, some real talent, and a little luck, you might just get to sit back one day and tell other young writers the only thing they’ll ever really need to hear.
“This is how I did it.”