Writing is one of the hardest fields to break into, and rightly so. Theoretically, anybody can write. The difference is that not everybody can write professionally – it takes a solid understanding of their own writing, sufficient knowledge in the publishing world, a strong work ethic and a splash of positive attitude.
In 2012, I published my first novel, a 50,000-word young adult fantasy titled The Writer (Itoh Press). Last month, I signed my second novel, a 65,000-word middle grade fantasy titled Sort of Saving the World with Curiosity Quills Press, and it’s tentatively set to be published in winter of 2014. Excerpts of these novels won YoungArts 2013 and 2014 Merit Awards, respectively. Currently, I’m working on another middle grade fantasy novel titled Kidstincts.
People ask me what the trick is to getting published so young, and the thing is that there is no trick; the best I can do is share my publishing stories and offer advice.
First, you have to start with the novel itself. The Writer took me about four years to write, on and off. I essentially wrote it over the course of four summers throughout high school. Sort of Saving the World was written almost entirely last summer and required a more rigorous schedule – I aimed for about 1,000 words a day. The similarity between my writing process for the two novels was that I had workshopped the first few chapters of both in my creative writing classes in high school.
I can’t stress enough the importance of giving and receiving feedback in order to become a better writer. You can find an overwhelming amount of information online for specific writing, editing and proofreading advice, both in the general writing field as well as folks who would be more than happy to help you out personally. Definitely try to work on your piece on your own – or utilize free help – before hiring a professional. One of my favorite casual sources for writing advice and prompts is Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com (warning: he is a big fan of swearing). More professional sources include Writer’s Digest, and I’d encourage everyone to check out National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) if you want to hammer out that novel as quickly as possible.
After having a novel edited and polished to the best of your ability, it’s time to start trying to get published. There are several routes to this, and each has its own perks. Self-publishing is an increasingly common form of publication – you do pay for publishing costs, but you have much more control over the process and keep all of the profit. Also, if the work is in an untraditional genre, you might have better luck self-publishing than finding an interested publisher. However, it is exceedingly difficult to become a bestseller without the help of a publisher. Check out Createspace, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Then there’s vanity publishing, a type of publishing company that offers print-on-demand technology in return for a fee. I’d generally advise against this, as most companies offering this end up being scams, and you’d be better off self-publishing. However, they are generally non-selective, which is something to consider if you are having a lot of trouble publishing otherwise.
Most authors, however, go down the traditional publishing route, though there’s still variation here. You can query agents or query publishing houses directly. To be honest, there’s a much better chance of “making it big” if you can successfully land an agent who represents your genre. The agent helps you edit and tries to get interest for your work usually from one of the “big six publishing houses” today (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group). However, the process is generally much more time-consuming (plus it is very difficult!) so, personally, I’ve opted to query publishing houses directly with my novel.
Before querying publishing houses, check Preditors & Editors to make sure that they are a legitimate publishing press. Either way, the process involves having a strong query letter that explains the work (a pitch that gets them interested), plus a small blurb about who you are and what your credentials are. You can find sample query letters and online writing communities that would be more than happy to help you edit one – I’d suggest resources like AgentQuery and QueryShark.
Also, knowing people and having experience goes a long way. The more experience you have in the publishing, writing and editorial world, the better you know the market, what readers are looking for and how to be a better writer. In addition, especially in publishing, contacts can sometimes mean the difference between a contract and form rejection. The main thing, however, is to keep your head high and keep writing. The professional writing world, like every other business, can be cutthroat, competitive and very disheartening. You have to remember why you write in the first place – and how it should be for yourself. And with discipline and hard work, you should be able to share it with the rest of us. Getting started is as easy as opening a Word document and beginning to type.
– By Emily Sun Li