I Have No Idea How to Get Published

I read a blog post once and I’d love to give the author credit, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it. The takeaway from the post, however, was genius, and went something like this:

Debut authors have no idea how to get published. They simply know how they got published.

At the time, the dream of my story on a bookshelf seemed a near-impossibility. I assumed every published author could tell me exactly what to do.

But, the more I talk to debut authors–the more I read about their journeys–the more I understand just how small we authors are in the gigantic machine that is the publishing industry.

Oh, we play a part. Each of us. A vital, important part. But, we’re very specific cogs in a very particular machine, and our journeys to that spot are near impossible to duplicate.

That blog post was right: I can’t tell you how to get published. Because I don’t know.

I can only tell you that my first book will be coming out next summer and the things I did, as misinformed as they sometimes were, didn’t prevent it from happening. Here are a few things I can pass on to those of you walking a few steps behind me on the road to publication.

Waiting sucks. For everyone. I hate waiting. My agent hates waiting. My writer-friends hate waiting. We all hate it. But, it’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean bad things. It doesn’t mean good things. It just means you’re waiting. You can let it drive you crazy or you can write your way through the wait. The choice, as always, is yours. I say write. Life is short and there are words out there that need to be put on paper. And by submitting your novel to editors and agents, you’re saying, “Hey, I can do this! I can put words on paper.” So, do it. Do it while you wait.

Timing is everything. I have a whole blog post worked up on this point, but the short version is this: Are you ready? Not ready for good things to happen to you–though that part is awesome–but are you ready to work? Because the word “contract” is synonymous with “a ton of work.” So, don’t begrudge the wait. Timing is everything.

There will be hiccups. Oh yes! And they’ll hit when it’s most inconvenient for you. In my case, my first agent quit the business of agenting while my dream publisher was actively considering my manuscript. Um. Yeah. Inconvenient to say the least and havoc on my nerves. But, while I was panicking, every writer-friend I know told me the same thing, “If someone wants what you’re selling, hiccups won’t stop them from buying it.” And you know what? They were right.

Playing by the rules worked for me. There are folks out there who recommend sending pink, perfumed pages of your romance manuscript to every editor you can think of. There are brave souls who claim they’ve attracted the attention of a super agent by standing on their heads and serenading them from four stories down, but I am far too squeamish to attempt feats of grandeur. Instead, I paid attention to submission guidelines on agency web pages. I stalked agents and publishing gurus on Twitter to get a feel for their likes and dislikes, and then I queried only those who seemed to fit my manuscript. It took a bit, but it worked.

You need a writer friend. Or two. Or twelve. Because this road can be lonely if you let it. The good news is there are lots of ways to interact with writers: crit groups, workshops, conferences, bookstores. If you can find another writer in your hometown to connect with, all the better. Nothing beats a cup of coffee with someone who understands the daily grind of writing sentences.

Acknowledge the luck factor. That’s right. I said it. Of course, I generally attribute these luck-type things to God and His providence, but it’s important to understand that being in the right place at the right time really does have its advantages. Often, that’s something you can’t control. It’s like acting: Sometimes you’re exactly what a publisher (or agent, or editor) is looking for. Sometimes you’re not. Accept that rejection–like in issues of love–can be about what they want, not who you are. Decide to be okay with it.

And, finally, keep the faith! The funny thing about hope is this: We all have something to hope for. You may be hoping to land an agent or attract a publisher. Me: I’m hoping my book sells. There are no guarantees in this industry, but the rest of us can spot a bitter soul a mile away. Keep hoping, keep dreaming. Keep believing. And write because you love it.

I have no idea how you’ll get published, but my guess is you’ll find a few things along the way that are worth passing on. Share ‘em. Share them here or with a friend. Share them on your blog or at your crit group. Share them with the guy you see standing in the writing aisle at B&N.

Our journeys are all so different, but the business of writing sentences ties us together.

So, spread the love!

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Shannon Dittemore was raised by parents who pastor their local church and are constant figures of inspiration. As a youth, she traveled with an award-winning performing arts team, excelling on stage and in the classroom. Later, she attended Portland Bible College, continued acting, and worked with an outreach team targeting inner-city kids.

She and her husband Matt lead the youth ministry at Living Way Community Church in Roseville, California. They are proud parents of Justus and Jazlyn.

ANGEL EYES is Shannon’s debut novel and the launch of a young adult supernatural trilogy. It will be published in the summer of 2012 by Thomas Nelson. Shannon is represented by Holly Root of The Waxman Literary Agency and is an active member of Inspire Christian Writers of Sacramento. You can find Shannon at www.shannondittemore.com.