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Guide to Getting Published: Are You There Yet?


Here is your first part of the guide series I am preparing to help you get published in the print media. If you have completed your novel, novelette, or short story, you may try to publish it. As the first step, it is important to check certain things about your work to see if it is ready for publication. Of course, before sending your work out, it is important to query a publisher or fetch a literary agent. However, do meticulous planning before you act. Here are some things to care for before moving to the next step, contacting literary agent or querying publisher.

1. Is Your Work Really Complete?

This question is a little tricky. People may think their work is complete just by researching, writing, and editing, but there is one more important thing. You should have kept your work to catch enough of dust. The procedure recommended by all writers is: write your draft, don’t touch it for a month at least, and then edit it. You are in a constant state of mental development and your view of your own work after a month will be more advanced, helping you spot more errors and awkward areas.

Editors are far more knowledgeable and experienced than you (that is if you are new to publishing). Their trained eyes are more apt to spot errors in your work. Hence, edit your work properly before you ever send your query letter.

Don’t send query for a project not yet started. Ideas do not make queries, and many publishers may just ignore them. Read Douglas Adams’s introductory piece to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; he wrote in it how terribly he tried to cope up with the publisher’s deadlines. Therefore, always write your query letter beside your perfected work.

Some guides even recommend writing more than one work before sending your first query.

2. Spell-check and Edit

You may find, after a month’s time, that many of your constructions are awkward (I find them quite often in this blog, when I check my articles after a week of publishing them). A work is never complete without in depth edit. Editing is a weird process of mental strain. Start by reading the piece once allover, and then jumpstart your editing (here are some Editing Tips).

When editing, keep an eye on semantics. It is an area where many new writers err. Not caring semantics causes many weird usages for a word. At least make sure you give importance to the meaning of the word, provided by the dictionary and don’t invent your own (using a word as a simile or metaphor is an entirely different thing). Please read semantics of words to avoid awkward wording.

It is best to keep a dictionary handy when you edit. Check any word that confuses you. Even simple words may be used wrongly (for instance, awkward and awesome, terrible and terrific, they’re and there, affect and effect, etc.)

If you are weak in editing (like me) or your grammar is bad, contract a professional editor for the purpose. Otherwise, strain yourself a lot and pick out minute errors in your work (a tiresome job).

3. Importance of Feedbacks

Don’t make yourself the only reader of your work. Before sending your query, let at least five of your friends read your work. This is very important.

New writers tend to make awkward and unprofessional constructions, which they believe would go well down the audience. If your friend reading it ignores them altogether or makes negative comments about them, it will only disappoint you. They may not even recognize what you consider as the most beautiful thing in your work.

How many times have you seen an actor or actress performing cheerfully without realizing that their audience find it more hilarious than awesome. How many times have you hated a singer, who makes such voice modulations that they believe are really cool. If you go to them and tell them how terrible their performance really was, it will only hurt them.

This is everywhere. The best way to avoid getting hurt is never to draw conclusions on anything. You are better off actually writing what you love. Don’t make something, which you think people will love; make something that you will love. Here is my article about Stephen King, whose success lies in the fact that he doesn’t write for his readers, but for himself.

Remember, when you want to read a story, you will buy only the best story, not any story that has some fanciful things in it. Don’t think about your readers when you write your story. Write what you love to write, and move the story in the direction you want it to go. Read about the main mistakes the writers make, in which I have made the point that you cannot target everyone everywhere. When you can’t write for everyone, write for the one you care the most for—yourself.

4. Research

I assume that when you finish your work, it is factually complete. Proper research for fiction is indispensable. Novels are a little different from movies. In movies, you are getting entertainment more due to fancy than facts, but in novels, such fanciful predicaments do not usually work. A novel puts off readers when they find errors in them.

I would hate to read Terminator or The Matrix as a novel. They are best as movies, visually stunning but factually substandard. Though you can research for a novel by watching movies, it doesn’t mean that a novel should progress like a movie. For instance, novels replicate a real world chase scene better than a movie. In a movie, a chase scene may end up in an accident and the people involved may still evade the police without giving any proper reason for that, but in a novel, this forms a lapse, which readers hate. Therefore, novels need more facts than fancy.

Researching for novels is an extremely tiresome job. Here, please read what you need to do for the research part, in this post on creative writing.

5. Face Rejection Slips Boldly

As the final step, you should be very much optimistic about your work. However, this doesn’t mean that you may expect huge advance from the first publisher you send your story to. You will most probably get a rejection slip from half a dozen publishers before your work ever sees the light of the day. This fact should not put you off at all. There are so many writers who collected bundles of rejection slips before they became superstars. Please read this post, containing some rejection slip examples. Therefore, rejection slips should not disappoint you one bit.

If you get one rejection slip, see if the editor put a note for you. If there is one, it is a sign that the editor liked your work and has suggestion for improvement. This is a very good sign. You can review the slip, work on the weak part of the novel, and resubmit the query.

6. Having an Agent Saves Time

The first step of hunting for publishers is finding a good literary agent. Literary agents are so many out there, and they are very helpful to get you published, for a minor percentage from your royalties. They can hunt for publishers, help in editing the work, and give legal help and guidance. Hence, hunt for a literary agent by sending queries to independent agents or literary agencies.

Look out for scammers. There are so many scam literary agencies. It is important that you contact an agency after doing proper research on their business. Some scammers keep websites open with fake promises that they will get you published.

One thing to remember is literary agents are a free service. They never charge you until you get paid for your work from the publisher. Therefore, any company that is offering paid service may be a scam. Just make sure that you don’t submit your works to any company demanding upfront payments. In another post to be published soon, I will review certain scam literary agencies for you.

7. Preparation of Marketing

Your actual work starts when you contacted the literary agency and they accepted your work. You have a minor wait before you hit a publisher. In this time, you can do in depth promotion for your work. You should start by creating social networking groups related to your novel’s theme and add as many interested people to them as possible. You can start blogs related to your work, and attract readers.

Contact major local libraries and literary clubs and alert them of your new work, also requesting them to feature it. Befriend press reporters (if you are unique in your area, like me [If I publish a work, it will be an important news here in South India, since not many people of my age from here write in English.]) and tell them about your imminent work. An exclusive news story about it will attract a lot of attention. More of such promotion techniques will be included in an exclusive post to follow.


The most important thing is that you should be very much prepared to face rejection slips. It has become almost a proverb that “Rejection slips always precede publishers.” Remember, in publishing industry, [R]ejection [S]lips precede [P]ublishers. More on publishing guide, including finding your literary agency, publisher, preparing query letter, marketing, etc., will be included in the coming posts.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


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