Getting Published the Hard Way

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Published: November 1, 2009
A tutorial by M. Alice Chown

If, like me, you have stories lying around gathering virtual dust on your hard drive, why not send them out to a publisher? You have nothing to lose. A couple of years ago, I attended the launch of an annual Canadian short story anthology, called Tesseracts 10. I knew one of the authors whose speculative fiction piece had been included in the book. Matthew Johnson and I had taken the same creative writing course. Our former prof, author, Robert Sawyer, was there at the launch too, as well as the editors of the anthology. Those who had contributed a story to Tesseracts 10 took turns saying a few words about their piece. Matt talked about his joy at learning that after so many rejections his humble tale about soup of all things had made it into print. Most surprising to me, however, were the words of the pretty, brunette author. She was just 19, a University of Toronto student, and her short story had been her very first submission. The odds of selling the first piece you send out are nearly astronomical. The brunette expressed her shock at suddenly having become an author, in spite of her age and inexperience and in spite of never having received a single rejection.  
In my opinion, an author is anyone who is driven to write and has some proficiency at their craft, but to the public at large, a person is not an author until their work has been published in some generally recognized way. At present, in spite of the rise of ebooks, zines, print-on-demand and self-publishing, this usually means having your manuscript published in the old-fashioned way.
I'm not recommending against getting published by Computer Age methods. By all means, do the research and give it a try. In the future it is likely that everything will be published electronically.  The net has been very kind to poets, writers of erotica and science fiction, for example. Whatever your genre, with self-publishing you will likely come out of it with a somewhat lighter wallet, but you won't receive a single rejection letter and you'll have a book to show for it in the end. Getting published the traditional way, on the other hand, is hard.
Discovering an emergent talent can lead to large profits for publishers and the coveted title of 'author' for writers. But publishers receive far more manuscripts than they can possibly put into print. This is because so many people have romantic notions about being a writer or mistakenly believe it's a way to get rich. Last time I checked, the average author earned about $4,000 per year. Yes, it's really true that many published authors need a day job. It's only the minority who land lucrative deals to write for TV or movies, or who write best-selling and award-winning novels. Nevertheless, the slush piles are high and teetering – the highest being the children's lit pile. In the following, I'll be attempting to help you to submit a professional looking manuscript to the right publisher, which along with some hard work, talent and a bit of luck should increase your odds of being discovered.
As for me, perhaps, writing this for you will encourage me to dust off my unsent manuscripts and put them in the mail. I have based the advice below on common wisdom about the topic, and on personal experience in submitting (speculative fiction and children's stories) and receiving rejections...so far.



Preparing a Rough Draft for Submission
1 Editing and rewriting: Your story has a beginning, middle and end, but you're not done yet. Editing and rewriting is the real work of writing. It takes effort to sit yourself down and vet a rough draft. According to Stuart McLean (author of The Vinyl Cafe series), real writers are those who are willing to edit and rewrite until it's right. For grammar and punctuation, The Chicago Manual of Style is used by many editors and is the best authority on the subject. Rules change, so make sure to consult an up-to-date version (available at your library). Use a good dictionary – The Oxford (OED) and the Webster's are the standards, but at the very least use the spell-check that comes with your word processing program. British and American publishers prefer British and American spellings respectively. Canadian publishers may accept American or Canadian/Commonwealth spellings, so take a look at books or magazines by the publisher to be sure. For sense, structure and meaning, if possible, have someone objective (a member of your writer's group, for example) read over your manuscript and offer constructive criticism. By the way, legitimate manuscript vetting services are often expensive in comparison to the return you can expect from your potential sale, particularly independent editor's services.

2 Format your manuscript: There are others, but my very favourite sample of a fiction manuscript format is here: www.shunn.net/format. … manuscript should be double-spaced and in a readable, size 11 or 12 font preferred by editors, such as Courier, or better still, Dark Courier (downloadable here: h20000.www2.hp.com/bizsupport/… ), or Times New Roman (many publishers accept work in this font now, but this is a relatively new development). As a rule, using Comic Sans will make you a laughing stock.  The body of the text should be left justified. Print it on good-quality plain, white, 8.5x11 paper. Let your work stand on its own merit. Do not get fancy. Do not embellish the manuscript in any way with borders or arts. Editors find this to be distracting and they'll see through your desperate attempt to draw attention to your now suspiciously lacking work. Besides, the margins are there for editors comments. If it is a children's story send the text only. Do not include illustrations unless specifically requested to do so. In general, publishers like to choose their own illustrators/artists.

3 The title page header: The name and address you'd like the big, fat cheque sent to should appear in the top left corner of the title page. (Not your pen name.) The approximate number of words in your manuscript should appear on the top right side. Typically, a 'word' is 5 characters and a space long. Word processing software word counts deem words to be of various lengths and aren't usually accurate for submitting purposes. Here is how the pros estimate their word counts (use this method unless otherwise stated in submission guidelines):   www.sfwa.org/2005/01/what-is-a… the word count you may include the words, "disposable copy", which indicates to the editor that you want your manuscript to be recycled rather than returned to you.

At the top of the left side of the page:
John Doe     
123-Fourth Street,     
City, State/Province,
Zip/Postal code

At the top of the right side of the page:
disposable copy
approximately 6,300 words

4 The title: The title should appear roughly halfway down the title page in block capitals. (Use the same font and font size as the body of the manuscript.) This leaves space for the editor's glowing commentary. The type of piece you're submitting (see section 7 below for literary forms) and your pen name appear on the by-line beneath as shown below. Underneath title, by-line and a couple of carriage returns is the first paragraph or so of your masterpiece:

A short story by I. P. Freely

5 The body of the manuscript: Each page should have one inch margins, header and footer. Each page, except the first (title page), should be numbered in top right corner of the header (which means that pagination will begin with '2' on the second page), including your last name (or pen name) and a short version of the title as follows:

Freely/ Running Stream/2

6 Scene breaks (or sub-chapter breaks) in your manuscript are indicated with a number sign, #, centred between the paragraphs. Three number signs, ###, indicate the end or you can simply put, '-end-', at the end. (For non-fiction, '-30-', denotes the ending.) Although, this is optional.  If your story is well-written, the reader will know it has concluded and won't start looking for missing pages.  New chapters should start on a fresh page and may be indicated with a title and/or number centred at the top of the page. Do not embellish chapter headings if you are serious about getting published. Keep chapter titles in the same font and font size as the body -- traditionally caps are used on all words of a title, except articles and conjunctions ('the' and 'and' , etc.)

Finding the Right Market

7 The literary form: Determine which category your masterpiece falls into before choosing a market.
• Novel: The average novel these days is about 100,000 words long, which when published is about 400 pages. Minimum length for a novel is 40,000 words. There is no set maximum, except book binding limits.
• Novella: is defined by a word count of between 17, 500 and 40,000 words.
• Novelette: also defined by word count, is between 7,500 and 17,499 words.
• Chapbooks are about 40 pages long and often contain poetry collections.
• Short story: Can be considered to be any story that can be read in one sitting. In other words, the length can vary a lot depending on genre and publisher. In general, short stories are greater than 1000 words long and of a maximum length of between 7500 and 9000 words.
• Flash Fiction and Vignettes are generally less than 1000 words. The latter form requires a full story arc.
• Children's picture books are usually under 1500 words. Youth and young adult novels vary in length. (Check the publisher's submission guidelines.)

8 Novels and short fiction are often submitted to different markets and the submitting process for each form is slightly different. Entire short story manuscripts, including children's picture books, can be sent unsolicited. However, never send all or part of novel unless you have first obtained permission to do so. (See section 14 below on query letters for novels.) Markets and publisher's submission guidelines vary for chapbooks, novelettes and novellas. Call the publisher/publication if in doubt about how much of the manuscript to send along.

9 The agent question: The common wisdom is that unpublished writers are best off without an agent. Many publishers will accept unsolicited short fiction manuscripts and query letters for novels from unpublished authors. Yes, this means your work will land in the slush pile to be perused by some bleary-eyed university student, but any agent who'd take on an unknown like you as a client, isn't likely to have the ear (or eyes) of a publisher. However, if you do decide to use an agent (perhaps, you've already published some short fiction or non-fiction and would now like to sell your novel), here is one example of how to write a query letter, selling an agent on reading your novel manuscript: www.sfwa.org/2005/01/the-compl… around, choose your agent based on recommendations of published authors you know or have met. You may also judge them by new authors they have represented.  A good agent should be pleased to boast about books recently published at respected traditional publishers.  But don't expect Stephen King's agent to take you on. No agent should ever charge you any fees up front, such as manuscript reading or vetting or writing course fees. The percentage agreed upon beforehand will be paid to the agent only after your manuscript is sold to a publisher. There are many disreputable people out there, posing as agents and publishers, ready to take advantage of those desperate to be published. The Science Fiction Writers of America has the best 'Writer Beware' section around. It can be found here: www.sfwa.org/for-authors/write… it!!!

10 The Writer's Market: Most public libraries carry a large, regularly-updated volume called 'The Writer's Market'. This tome lists book and magazine publishers with contact information. Most useful are the 'submission guidelines' or website addresses linking to submission guidelines. These lay out how publishers like to receive work – format, word count, etc. It varies. Always follow submission guidelines exactly. The websites also let you know if the publisher/publication accepts simultaneous or exclusive submissions. A simultaneous submission policy allows you to send your masterpiece to other publishers... simultaneously. An exclusive publication policy means your manuscript can only be sent to that one publisher. (The latter is the most common policy these days.) Some websites include useful information such as whether they are accepting unsolicited manuscripts at present or whether they're currently overrun with young adult manuscripts or what have you. Writer's Markets can be found in Canada, USA and Britain, (and probably other countries). The American Dictionary of Writer's Guidelines (or similar volumes for European markets, if any), which is available on google books, is also a useful resource. Children's writers should pick up or borrow a copy of The Children's Writers and Illustrators Market.  There are also some genre specific portals on the net that list a links to publisher's websites. This link leads to excellent SF portals:  www.sfwa.org/2009/07/where-can… Wikipedia has the most comprehensive general list, which can be found here, and note the sub-lists under 'see also': en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_…;

11 Finding the right market for your manuscript: This could make the difference between rejection and acceptance. For novels, make your choice based on the other titles the publisher currently carries. Go to your local library or bookstore, do some scan-reading, and note down the publishers of new titles that best reflect the tone, genre and style of your manuscript. The same goes for short stories. Look over the magazines and short story anthologies available at the library or bookstore to find the publishers that print stories similar to yours. Back at your desk, google the publishers' names, or find them in a Writer's Market, or on the wiki list noted above.  In addition to finding a suitable market, this approach will also help you to avoid scammers.

12 Magazine payment and kill fees: Where you decide to send your short fiction manuscript may depend on the rate of pay offered. Some traditional publications pay good rates, which is 5 cents per word or greater (at the time of writing). Baen's Universe, a subscription webzine, is one of the few online fiction markets to pay competitive rates. The webzine provides some space for novice writers, who first submit to the e-slush pile, where stories undergo a review process, which in some cases leads to publication in the zine. Other magazines and zines pay low rates or nothing at all. For a novice writer being published may be more important than being paid. It's your choice. In traditional magazine publishing (moreso with non-fiction submissions), a kill fee is a standard fee paid to you if your story is reserved for publication but not published within the promised time frame. You are entitled to this money because you could have submitted your piece elsewhere during this interval. Also, be aware that while long-standing magazines and zines exist, typically their lifespans are short. It's a good idea to check the magazine and zine websites immediately before you want to make a submission.

13 Contests: Consider entering a recognized contest open to unpublished authors as a warm-up for submitting to a publisher. (Some contests can be found in The Writer's Market and on the websites of larger writer's organizations. Watch out for scammers, though.) Most reputable contests charge a nominal submission fee, but no other charges should apply. Some provide feedback on your manuscript.


Sending out Manuscripts

14 Writing a Query Letter for your novel:
• Most editors like to receive a query letter prior to the submission of a novel. (This is also true for non-fiction books and magazine articles.) Do not submit an entire novel manuscript unsolicited.  Check the submission guidelines to be certain the publisher accepts unsolicited query letters (many do).
• Some publishers have editors for the various literary forms and genres (children's, science fiction and so on). Some publishers also have 'imprints', which are subdivisions of the publisher, often dealing strictly with works of a certain calibre, style or genre and so on. Generally, it's wise to address the query letter to the editor who works with novels in the same genre, style and tone as yours. (Of course you'll read a couple of these books if you haven't already.) If the name, title and address of this editor can't be found on the publisher's website, contact the publisher and ask, who was the editor for this book and that book? Being sincere, of course, explain why you selected this editor or publisher.  For example, in your query letter, you could say you admire and are attempting to emulate the style of specific authors he has worked with. If you have encountered this editor in the past, you may bring this up, but only if it relates to your submission (such as, you have written a time travel novel and enjoyed the talk he gave on paradoxes at WorldCon or another editor recommended that you contact him). If the best that you can come up with is that you found the editor's name in The Writer's Marker, for pity's sake, leave this section out of your letter.  
• State the name of your novel and the category and genre or sub-genre it falls into. Give the approximate word count and stress that the novel is finished. Editors have no time for unfinished work by unpublished authors
• The summary: Do not write what you'd like to see on the dust jacket of your novel, should it ever be published or otherwise sink into purple prose. The description of your novel should be no longer than one concise, yet interesting and well-written, paragraph. It should have a strong lead that will capture and hold the editor's attention and leave him wanting more. For example, "In my recently completed speculative fiction novel, a fisherman falls in love with a time traveller who turns out to be his great-great-granddaughter. The Running Stream examines the human side of paradoxes..." Opening with a snippet of your story is not recommended. It can be taken as bold or arrogant. But without the benefit of your manuscript to speak for you, you do want to find a way to offer the editor a taste of your writing style without the benefit of your novel. In addition, it's really difficult to convey things like humour or narrative voice in a query letter without resorting to a short quote from the book. Use your own judgement. I once wrote a part of the story description from a character's point-of-view. I thought this was a cool approach, but I received a kindly rejection, nonetheless. Take a look at some of the links to example query letters below. Don't hesitate to say what makes your style unique and how your style is similar to published authors in your genre. Generally, editors do not like to be told what they'd like, what their readers would like (editors are experts at knowing their readership) or how to read your manuscript. For example, don't write, "...my story, which would appeal to anyone with good taste, starts slowly, but really picks up speed in chapter 2."  It insults their intelligence and wastes their time.  
• Ask for permission to send your entire novel, or more typically, the first three chapters and a synopsis of the remaining chapters (in accordance with the preference stated in the submission guidelines). If unsure of the editor's preference and unable to find out (try very, very hard), do not send a sample with your query.  Ask in your letter:  "How do you like to receive a sampling of a novel?"
• Bear in mind that even the most beautifully crafted query letter cannot sell a clunker of a novel. Likewise a crummy query letter is unlikely to send a brilliant masterpiece deeper into the slush pile. In the end, your work will have to stand on its own merit. Ultimately, the object of the query is to make the editor want to read more (ie., request the remaining chapters). If you receive a positive response, you have only convinced the editor to look at all or part of your manuscript. You don't have a sale yet.
• Publishers aren't interested in one-hit-wonders, so, be sure to explain in your letter that you're working on a second novel or that you've completed short fiction in the same genre (if this is the case, although do not outline or give details of these unpublished works).  Also mention if this is the first book in a series or if you are currently writing a prequel or a story set in the same world/universe (for SF).  
• Your writing credits: Include a brief paragraph outlining where you've had writing published in the past (for example, "...a young adult novel published by Harper Collins and three short stories sold to Owl magazine".) If you include self-published works, make sure to indicate clearly that they were self-published (as opposed to traditionally published). Important writing contests and awards won (well-known/ respected awards or contests, not DA contests and the like) and writing experience (including published non-fiction, such as university newspaper articles) -- are relevant. Mention your work experience or education, only if it relates directly to your story, such as a being a doctor, if you are writing a comedy set in a hospital. If you have never been published, you haven't won any contests or awards and you have no other relevant experience, do not make stuff up. Leave out this section entirely. You can't bullshit an editor.  
• As with any writing-related correspondence, use standard format and fonts (Times New Roman is preferred), single-spacing and plain, white paper. You can find standard, left-justified, business letter templates all over the web. Wikipedia has a good template, if you skip the 'Re' line and the 'CC' information: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business….
• Closing lines: Remember to thank the editor for his time and consideration or words to that effect. Include your phone number.  Close with the customary 'yours truly' or 'sincerely'.  
• Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SSAE) for the editor's response. Return postage should be in the currency of the country to which you are sending your query.  See section 15 below for more information on international postage for SSAEs.  
• Query letters are not required for short fiction.
• Examples of query letters can be found here: blog.leucrotapress.com/?p=106, kayedacus.com/2007/08/22/beyon…;
• Oh, there are letter writing services out there (some of which are scammers), if you're willing to fork over a couple of hundred dollars or more... I didn't think so.

15. Writing a cover letter for your submission:
• Your novel or short fiction submission will include a cover letter, all or part of your manuscript (accordingly), a synopsis or outline (for novels) and an SASE.  The main difference between a query letter and a cover letter is that the former is a proposal for a sight-unseen product and the latter is an introduction to a product enclosed. When writing a cover letter, your story is there to speak for you. You may send a cover letter along with any type of solicited or unsolicited manuscript.
• If the query letter for your novel received a positive response, you'll include a cover letter with your manuscript package. Follow the instructions in the editor's response to your query letter carefully when preparing your submission. Generally, a cover letter for a novel will only need to: indicate that you have enclosed the requested chapters, synopses or manuscript, include your contact information, thank the editor for his interest.  You have already summarized your novel, made your sales pitch, gushed (sincerely) about the publication and/or editor, listed your writing credits in the query letter, so there is no need to repeat these things in the cover letter for a novel.
• Some writing how-to's suggest omitting the cover letter, especially if your submission is short fiction, or if you are unpublished and have little or nothing in the way of writing-related credits, or conversely if your work has been published many times. In my opinion, a cover letter is a courtesy. Practically speaking, it's handy for editors to have your contact information along with your submission when the time comes to either reject or accept your piece.  Most of all, it makes your submission look serious and professional. This is, after all, a business relationship.
• If you decide to send a cover letter with your short fiction, address it to the appropriate editor. If you cannot find the appropriate editor's name or address in the submission guidelines or on the publisher's website, contact the publication and ask. This is far preferable to the salutation, 'To whom it may concern' and the like.
• Letter format: As with the query letter, your cover letter should be in readable typeface (Times New Roman), single-spaced on plain, white paper with no embellishments. (See section 14 above for links to sample business letter formats.)
• Make your cover letter short: It should be no more than one page long. Editors are busy. You should tell the editor what form of work you've sent (novel, short story, children's picture book), its genre or sub-genre, target age group (if written for young people) and its approximate length. See above, section 3 for calculating word count and section 7 for determining form.  Also indicate whether your manuscript is disposable.
• Exclusive/ simultaneous submission and past publication: Let the editor know whether yours is an exclusive or simultaneous submission, as described in section 10 above. (For example, "this is an exclusive submission in keeping with your writer's guidelines".) I know it seems unfair to have to submit, wait, submit elsewhere, wait and so on, but try to follow submission guidelines when sending the same manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time. An editor will be really annoyed if he calls you up regarding your story, only to discover that you sold it elsewhere two weeks earlier.  Closing doors isn't a good plan in the writing business.  Also tell the editor if your work has previously appeared in any form in any another publication, traditional or virtual, including self-publication, foreign language publications, home-grown publications in translation and on the www (such as Deviant Art and online writing group sites that are supposedly unsearchable). Editors may not want to pay for something you've already sold or something you've been giving away for free. They will be very mad at you if you are less than honest.
• The summary: As in the query letter (see 'summary' in section 14 above), if you decide to describe your short fiction, don't go overboard. (Omit the summary for cover letters for novels.) Keep your summary to one or two well-crafted sentences. You may also wish to tell the editor why your story is unique, interesting, timely (if applicable) or similar in style to other works under his blue pencil. This is fine if it is accomplished without either bragging or putting yourself down. It's hard to strike the right balance.  My personal preference is to skip the summary for short fiction.  
• Your writing credits: As above in section 14, list only your most important qualifications, published work and achievements. (Do not list your credits if you've already done so in the query letter for your novel.) Your day-job should not be included unless it relates to the story/novel you have written. If you have never been published and haven't won any contests or awards, and have no other relevant experience, do not make stuff up. Leave out this section entirely. As I wrote above, you can't bullshit an editor.
• Response deadline? Some novelists specify in their cover letter a period after which the manuscript will be submitted elsewhere (often 3 months). Opinions on this approach for first time submitters vary. (I recommend against short story writers setting deadlines.)  If you think you have a really hot property, the slight risk of appearing arrogant or losing an opportunity with an editor, who can't meet your timeline, may be worth it to you. Another approach is to send a reply post card along with your submission. Most good office supply stores will carry blank postcards or any other writing-related, stationary needs you may have.  On the front of the postcard, place appropriate postage and a sticker with your address. On the back include spaces for the editor to fill in or check off: date received, still under consideration, interested/ not interested at this time. If you include a reply post card, don't expect the editor or one of his staff to fill it out and return it, though. Some won't make the time. If it is returned, it may only indicate that your manuscript arrived safely. Nothing more.
• Closing lines: Thank the editor for his time and consideration or words to that effect. Include your phone number.  Close with the customary 'yours truly' or 'sincerely'.  An example of cover letter style can be found here:  fictionwriting.about.com/od/th….

16 Synopses and outlines: For novels, if a synopsis (or an outline, although this is less typical for a first novel) has been requested in response to a query letter, keep it brief and yet well-written.  (Synopses and outlines are not required for short fiction.)  A synopsis usually describes the main action chapter-by-chapter.  It is often written in the present tense and prepared after the novel is completed for the purpose of selling the novel.  An outline is written before the novel begins as a guide for the author, but can be requested by an editor (or agent).  It is a general overview of the main plots, themes and characters.  Keep the formatting consistent and clean.  Good examples of actual synopses and outlines can be found on Robert Sawyer's website: www.sfwriter.com/ouindex.htm.

17 Manuscripts:  Do not staple manuscripts together.  For novels you can place a large rubber band around the pages or you can leave the pages loose.  Place your manuscript in an envelope or an empty computer paper box (or manuscript box purchased from an office supply store).  Do not use an entire role of tape, ball of twine or otherwise make your package so secure that the editor has to struggle to open it.  For shorter fiction, synopses, outlines or sample chapters--a paper clip is acceptable.  Stuff your submission (excluding gimmicks, glossy photos of you and bribes) in a correctly addressed envelope or manuscript box with sufficient postage on the outside. (Neatly typed adhesive address labels look more professional than handwriting.)

18 SASEs:  Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope large enough to contain the editor's response and/or your manuscript (if you want it returned rather than recycled). Most publishers do not accept international postal coupons and you may not get a response if you send them. Use postage stamps. Return postage should be in the currency of the country to which you are sending the manuscript. If you live in Canada and are sending a manuscript to a US publisher, the stamps on the SSAE should be American. You can order stamps from the postal service of many countries online these days. There will also be information on foreign postal websites about the amount of postage required by weight and package size. Your local post office can weigh your manuscript and return envelope to help you estimate the appropriate postage.

19 Submission check list: For novels:  cover letter, SASE, synopsis or outline, manuscript or sample chapters (almost always the first three chapters or first 50 to 60 pages) as requested by the publisher in response to your query letter.  For short fiction:  cover letter, SASE, entire manuscript.

20 The Wait:  Drop it in a mailbox and wait. Responses can take from six weeks to 3 months (often much longer for novels, sometimes a year or more). Note down the date of your submission in your blackberry or on your wall calendar. Don't contact the publisher before the end of the suggested waiting period, as this will make you appear to be desperate. (You probably are, but you don't want them to know that.) However, if the waiting period has passed and you still haven't had a response, it's okay to contact the publisher in writing to confirm receipt of your manuscript. If this was an exclusive submission, you have a right to submit your property to elsewhere after the waiting period. If you decide to do this, and have already contacted the publisher to make sure the manuscript wasn't simply lost, send a polite, professional letter stating your intention to submit your work elsewhere.

21 Submitting online: Some publishers are getting with the program and allowing online submissions. I'm sure this is the way of the future. So far, they are mostly magazines, short story anthologies and 'zines. Read the submission guidelines very carefully. Follow the instructions for transforming your document into .rtf or whatever is required -- to the letter. The best part of submitting online is avoiding the postal and printing costs. Online submission provides space for a cover letter. Excepting postage issues, follow the suggestions above for cover letters to traditional publishers in section 15.

22 Writers' Groups, etc.: The Writer's Market includes a basic how-to on writing and submitting as well as a list of real-world writers' groups, workshops and retreats. Many high schools, colleges, universities offer creative writing courses during the day and evening for adult students. Before you pay your money, do your homework. Make sure the prof/or guest writer isn't some hack or scammer. Otherwise, these writer-centred events, programs and organizations can be very worthwhile. At the very least, you'll be surrounded by socially-inept, loaner-type, writing addicts like yourself (and me). You'll also give your friends and family a break from your creative blocks and drooling writer babble. Most beneficial, other writers as readers can see through the literary devices and provide subjective, but often useful, constructive criticism as well as grammar/punctuation advice. At some point, you have to make it on your own, but in the early years getting together with other writers can be invaluable and you can be invaluable to other writers too. As for some of the more prestigious retreats and workshops, as well as genre-related conventions and events, one thing I hadn't realized until I got to know a few published fiction authors was how important networking is in the literary industry. Writers are stereotypically pictured alone at a typewriter. Not so. Some of these writing functions let you rub elbows with published authors, agents, editors or publishers, which just might increase your odds of moving up in the slush pile, assuming you don't get drunk at the bar and act like an asshat.

23 Rejections! They are not a measure of your merit as a writer. Merit can mean different things to different editors. Maybe what you have to say in your prose is timely and wanted by the public (such as the popular hit written by Dan Brown, the DaVinci Code), or maybe it's profound or maybe it's just an awesome walk in a character's shoes. Editors and publishers are experts at judging manuscripts that are worthwhile to them and their readership. But, yes, they can sometimes make rather egregious errors; take J.K. Rowling, for instance. Harry Potter was rejected before it was accepted.  The fact is, even popular works of fiction aren't going to appeal to everyone. Know what sort of writer you are and give your potential chunk of the readership the best stories you can. If you receive a rejection, don't let it get you down. Maybe that one editor isn't into what you wrote, or maybe the timing was wrong. Above all, someone in the industry actually read your piece. If you are lucky enough to rate comments on your rejected manuscript, take this as a compliment and try to follow the advice offered. Keep sending out your rejected manuscript until you run out of places to send it or someone accepts it. Don't lose hope. It's normal for writers to receive many rejections before an editor takes a chance on them. The more often your name winds up in a slush pile, the more likely the bleary-eyed university student will be to take another look. Perhaps she'll even walk it over to the editor's desk.

24 Keeping track of your submissions:  It's a good idea to track where and when you send each manuscript, so that you don't send it to the same publisher twice. Also avoid sending your latest story to the same publisher/publication before you've received a response on your last one. This is called a multiple submission and some publishers allow it, but as an unpublished writer sending unsolicited manuscripts you could look like a pest. Tracking is really handy if you're sending out simultaneous submissions.

25 Making a sale! If your manuscript was accepted, yahoo! You can now call yourself an author without feeling like a poser or a hack. You'll need to set up a business account at your bank to handle the big, fat cheque. You may also want to get some legal advice before you sign the contract. If the sale was a novel, it might be worthwhile to hire an agent to represent your interests (see the link for query letters for agents in section 9 above). You have the right to negotiate and ask for reasonable changes. The publisher cannot edit your manuscript or print it until you sign. No matter how over the moon you are, do not sign until you have read, understood and agreed to everything in the contract. You can find sample contracts here: www.sfwa.org/category/sample-c…;

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© 2009 - 2019 msklystron

Goodness gracious! This DD is for the lit community. I wrote it because ~mode-de-vie asked me if I knew anything about getting published the tradtional way. I did, so I sat down and let all 5000+ words of it pour out. Then, thinking this information should be shared more widely, I sent a note to `fllnthblnk, who is the GM for publishing on dA and editor-in-chief of the Clearfield Review. I was thinking that maybe he'd add it to his resource area on his page or something, but he had other ideas. Thank you William! This is as much for the editors as the writers.:)

July 11/2012 -- Update
I want to thank anyone who has faved, downloaded or read Getting Published the Hard Way. I wrote it for you. Since then, the publishing industry has remained in a state of flux. Those of you with plans to submit that first novel to a traditional publisher are more likely than ever to suffer rejection, even if what you've penned is a work of art. The traditional publishing industry as it continues to try to find a foothold in the internet age is publishing fewer new authors and is dropping more flagging, yet established, authors. According to award-winning, sci-fi author, Robert J. Sawyer, the best way into traditional publishing these days is twofold: Attempt to have a short story (or a short story drawn from your novel) published first to have something to subsequently list as writing credentials in a query or cover letter with your novel. Attend conventions or social gatherings where meeting a publisher or editor in your genre might be possible. Don't dump your manuscript on anyone at these functions (especially considering airline restrictions on luggage). Just attend their panels, network and have a chat with him or her if you can. This is also something you could mention in a query or cover letter to that publisher. For example, "I really enjoyed your WorldCon panel of the fate of mass production paperbacks..."

I wish this update could be more positive, but if you're determined you may yet succeed in seeing your novel in print. Good writing and good luck!
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LostInTheMorning's avatar
LostInTheMorningHobbyist General Artist
I knew getting published was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but reading this has seriously opened my eyes to the difficulties of publishing a novel traditionally. I'm no less determined, though, and this essay/how-to/survival guide has definitely given me information on the professional side of trying to get published. I'm not sure how well it would all work for me, considering my lack of experience, lack of being published (other than here on dA), and teenager-ism. But this was certainly enlightening. Also, the fact that this is all based on Canadian (eh!) sources really helps, because I am Canadian. I'm not yet old enough to network successfully, but, that doesn't mean I'm going to give up. All of the information you're giving out, plus the links to even MORE information, is almost over-whelming, but I'm grateful for every letter of it. You've changed my perspective on the whole publishing gig. I never knew that Canadian writers could submit novels to American publishers, for example. That opens up a lot more doors. All of this on query letters and word counts is new to me, so I feel as though I'm eternally indebted to you for all of this. You don't even want payment for this information! That boggles me. But I'm not going to question it.
I wish you luck on your own publishing endeavours!
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
As noted in the forward, I was at a launch of an anthology in which one of the authors was 19. Since age isn't asked for in submissions (with the exception of contests for youth), your cover letter and work are age-less. Canadians rock, of course. We also have the advantage of being able to compete in US markets.

Writers and artists work alone. Helping each other however they can, brings artists and writers together. I'm glad you think this will help you. All the best to you in your writerly endeavours!
LostInTheMorning's avatar
LostInTheMorningHobbyist General Artist
Well, if age isn't an issue, then nothing is holding me back! Thank you so much!
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Odeena's avatar
OdeenaProfessional Writer
:hug: This is amazing! Just what I was looking for since I'll start searching for publishers for my first [real, finished and polished] novel soon! How did I not fave it before?
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
I'm so glad you found something helpful in it.:) When I wrote it, I had writers like you in mind.:hug:
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Thanks for including my tutorial among your writing resources. I wrote it just for aspiring authors on dA. The publishing world is changing, but the advice still holds for the time being and much of it can be applied to submitting online or to online pubications.

My pleasure!
MoonlightWillow6's avatar
Very informative! Definitely saving this for when I write something I think is worth publishing.

Thanks for butting together such a useful guide! :)
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
I'm sure you will someday.

I put this together as my gift to novice writers here on dA. Things will change in the publishing world. But for now, traditional publishing still dominates for prose writers.
L-live's avatar
wow this was very informative (although I went through about thirty books on publishing LOL). however i have a question ... what if i have no prestigious credentials and it's hard to network because i'm a teenager? can teenagers get published?
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Oh, yes, sometimes teenagers get published.

If it's a short story, in your cover letter it's better just to stick to the basics. Something like:

[Today's date]

[Publisher's address]
Dear [Editor's name and title if applicable],

[Your Story title] is a [insert the genre of your story] short story (for youth or children if applicable) of approximately 5,000 words in length.

This is an exclusive submission.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


[Your signature]
[your name]
[your phone number and email address]

Read the submission guidelines carefully. Make sure they're accepting manuscripts in your genre. In the cover letter, give any additional information requested. Sometimes, for example, publishers want to know your citizenship, which in my case would be Canadian. If you've done your homework and checked out the publication at a library, newsstand or bookstore, you may add a sentence describing how your story is similar in style or theme to work previously featured in the publication. But don't fake it!!! Editors have seen it all. For short stories you can send the whole manuscript.

If you've written a novel, you'll be sending a Query letter first, which is a pitch for your novel and a request to send along the first three chapters or whatever the submission guidelines tell you to do.
L-live's avatar
Haha I'm Canadian too LOL. I'm kind of worried that editors will look for people who are like shortlisted for Man Booker prize and have attended all those conferences and met them in person ... I heard most agents and editors only take on authors that have been recommended of they know them in person -_-
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist

Basically whatever you (or any novice writer) send in will go into the 'slush' pile, rather than straight onto some editor's desk. Publishers pay staff to read and go through the slush manuscripts and queries for gems, but the recommended/ established writers have an edge.

Having said this, when it comes to short stories and novels, editors are looking for new talent and good writing. If you send a well-written story, free of typos and errors, and adhere to the publisher's guidelines, your manuscript has a better chance of being noticed in the slush pile than the ones on flashy paper with fancy fonts.

Agents, the good ones at least, only represent established writers or writers recommended to them by an editor or publisher.

If it's a novel you're planning to send, you certainly can go ahead with a query letter to an appropriate publisher, as long as they're accepting "unsolicited" queries at that time. "Unsolicited" means, not requested by the editor/ publisher or recommended by an editor/ agent. Be prepared to wait a long time, more than six months. Often it takes more than a year for your novel query to be responded to... Another option is to try to first have short stories published (3 published pieces in paying magazines, zines or journals will catch their interest) before you obtain an agent and have them submit that novel query. Another route that can work to speed up having a novel published in the traditional way is to self-publish in both hardcover book and ebook form. With e-readers becoming more popular since the ipad was released, your e-novel may stand a better chance of being picked up by a traditional bricks and mortar publisher. The tough part with this approach is coming up with the cash to self-publish. It's expensive!

L-live's avatar
ohhh ... yes I've heard about all these paths before ... now I just want to impale myself on a rusty sword. that's like, no chance, man.
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
:giggle: There are plenty of rusty swords in the slush pile. I really should...erm impale myself soon. It's been a while since I experienced personal rejection.:D
L-live's avatar
wow cool! what sort of project are you working on?
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Oh, thanks for asking. I have several short stories and three novellas just waiting to be edited, polished and put in envelopes and sent to a appropriate market. (Making excuses now) I've just been very busy with the fine art side of things, arranging for shows, exhibiting, and doing commissions (in the real world).
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Emilyahedrick's avatar
EmilyahedrickHobbyist Digital Artist
very helpful :D
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Thanks for the fave and I'm so glad you found this to be helpful. All the best with your writerly endeavours.:)
ArgentFang's avatar
ArgentFang Photographer
I have to say, this was well thought out and well put together. I've only been at the writing gig for a little under a year and I've gotten a short story published in a small Asutrailan based magazine for next to nothing in payment, but I got my foot in the door so to speak so its a step in the right direction.

As for my actual novel, I've sent it to two places. The first rejected it and I'm still waiting for a reply from the second one. I have the prologue and the first few chapters up on here for people to read but as you've covered, you don't want to give too much away if you're planning on making money off of it.

One more thing: Duotrope's Digest is an excellent online resource that was recommeded to me when I attended a local author's showcase that was going on at the local library last January. You can find everything from up and coming publishers to ones that have been in the industry for a long time.
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Congratulations on getting something in print!

Yes, so far most publishers don't like to accept work that's been on the net. However, slowly but surely, editors are starting to mine the net for new work.

Oh, I hadn't heard of Duotrope's. What a great resource! Thanks for letting me know. When I have a moment, I'll add the URL to the tutorial.
alice-time's avatar
alice-timeProfessional General Artist
My only concern about this is your comment about Courier. I have never seen an agent or publisher request Courier. In fact, I've read several times that one should avoid using Courier because it can be difficult to read.

Times is by far the acceptable norm at this point as it as shifted into the default font for many of the word processing softwares.

Overall though, a very on point review of the process as it stands.
msklystron's avatar
msklystronProfessional Digital Artist
Times Roman is getting to be the norm and I agree that it's crisper than Courier. It has serifs like Courier, which are believed to increase reading ease. But Courier is one of the few fonts that allot equal space to every character (the space for an 'i' equals that of an 'm', for instance). Editors, especially in magazines like it for doing word counts for articles, etc. This is why Courier was the industry standard among editors for a very long time.

Dark Courier is crisp and more readable than Courier. It's what I use. However, if in doubt... Check the submission guidelines. If a preference stated, you can't go wrong with dark Courier, but you could always call and ask.
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