3 Things to Set You on the Path to Publishing Success

There are a lot of items that mark a successful entry into the publishing world. As a long-time book editor, and now a writer, I’ve encountered most of them. Here are two must-do’s, as well as one should-do to keep momentum going. 1. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT, NOT WHAT YOU KNOW. Unless they are one and the same. If you’ve got the itch to write, you’re going to have at least a vague subject in mind. If not initially, then eventually. It may be what you know or not. But whatever the case, focus on what you’re passionate about. That takes priority. If it’s a topic with which you are already conversant, then dive right in. If not, learn what you need to know, then take the plunge. Better yet, jump in first and learn as you go. GIVEAWAY: Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: sharonminer won.)
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There are a lot of items that mark a successful entry into the publishing world. As a long-time book editor, and now a writer, I’ve encountered most of them. Here are two must-do’s, as well as one should-do to keep momentum going.

1. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT, NOT WHAT YOU KNOW. Unless they are one and the same. If you’ve got the itch to write, you’re going to have at least a vague subject in mind. If not initially, then eventually. It may be what you know or not. But whatever the case, focus on what you’re passionate about. That takes priority. If it’s a topic with which you are already conversant, then dive right in. If not, learn what you need to know, then take the plunge. Better yet, jump in first and learn as you go.

GIVEAWAY: Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: sharonminer won.)

barry-lancet-writer-author
japantown-novel-cover

Column by award-winning author Barry Lancet. His first mystery/thriller
JAPANTOWN (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2013) was selected as a Best Debut
of the Year (2013) by Suspense Magazine and mystery critic Oline Cogdill,
and has been optioned by J. J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, in association
with Warner Bros. The book opens with the perfect murder in San Francisco’s
Japantown, with one unreadable clue and no trace of the killer, taking the
protagonist from the Bay Area to the darkest corners of Japan. Lancet is
based in Tokyo, but spends much of his time stateside in California.
Find Lancet on Twitter or Facebook.

Slavishly following the “what you know” edict without enthusiasm will yield an uninspired manuscript. You’ll bore yourself and your readers no matter how polished your prose. The unknown factor at work here is this: passion ignites an invisible spark other people can sense. Remember that.

2. REALIZE THE WORLD IS NOT AS DUMB AS YOU THINK.

Maybe you’ve written a masterpiece, and agents and editors are too blind to see it. Or your agent loves your work but editors don’t. These things have happened to famous authors countless times and continue to plague aspiring authors on a regular basis. If you’re confident your work deserves to be published, then stick to your guns—but with one caveat. Be flexible.

In my twenty-plus years of editing other authors’ books, I’ve only once run across a manuscript that couldn’t be improved. The likelihood that yours is perfection itself is as slim as the possibility that you’ll be on a flight to the moon next week. Not utterly impossible, but close to it. So jettison the idea that your manuscript is untouchable. Rather, entertain the idea that you may have written a flawed masterpiece.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

If your writing has been rejected two or three times, then stop. Take a deep breath. And before you send it out yet again, reign in your frustration (plus your ego) and review your text with an objective eye.

Muster all your self-editing skills, then redouble them. Be ruthless. Try to look at your returned story as an outsider—one who must make a career-related decision about it. In taking on your work an agent or editor must commit a good deal of time and/or money to the project. Is there anything you can find that might cause him or her to hesitate on either count?

Reread the rejection letters. Or not. Always take such commentary with a grain of salt, unless the writer has specifically offered the advice as guidance. While some such missives are the result of careful consideration, just as many are tossed off in haste or bulked out with filler, and may not be a true reflection of the writer’s opinion of your work. But regardless, since you’ve racked up a small collection of rejection letters, it’s time to rework your text, kicking the level of your manuscript up a notch in the process.

For the busy editor, minor flaws can be dealt with but major flaws are off-putting. If a manuscript is eighty percent there and the amount of time needed to tease out your work’s full potential is prohibitive, editors from larger houses will usually pass, while those from medium and smaller houses will or will not pass, depending on their tolerance and the demands on their time.

Agents can be just as strict, or a bit more forgiving. If they see potential, many will work with you. But not all of them, particularly the busiest ones. Highly successful agents are less likely to take on a new writer if the work requires too much of a facelift. This is less true for nonfiction if the subject matter is topical or popular. Should you find an agent or editor willing to undertake a major rewrite on your behalf, count yourself fortunate and work with him or her.

That said, taking a proactive stance is the best solution. Tackle flaws yourself beforehand, eliminating as many potential factors for rejection as you can identify. If you did not attract a publisher or agent initially, then your work—as good as it might be on some levels—is flawed on others. Be smart enough to realize that not “everyone is dumb.” The whole world is not blind to your talent.* They just have a lower limit beyond which they won’t stoop. You need to raise your game.

*The exceptions to this are, one, when the subject matter is too new or unfamiliar and, two, you are ahead of your time.

(How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.)

3. NEVER WAIT.

If your first book (or second or third) is sitting on an agent’s or editor’s desk waiting for approval, don’t you wait too. Agents and editors are famously overworked. It’s the nature of publishing. There are dozens of possible explanations as to why they haven’t gotten to your manuscript. I could easily fill a page with a list of reasons, and most would have nothing to do with you or your effort but with the demands on their time. You might hear from the agent or editor in three days or three weeks or three months. But regardless of the timeframe, do not put your writing life on hold because of someone else’s work schedule.

It is tempting to wait for a judgment on your current work before proceeding with the next one, but don’t. If you ‘re determined to write then do so. Period. Plow on. Start in on the next book, short story, or assignment. Move forward.

GIVEAWAY: Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: sharonminer won.)

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