There’s a nasty little Catch-22 to the publishing business: it seems you have to be published to get published. This can be a frustrating conundrum to the many aspiring writers out there who think they’ve written the next Great American Novel. How do you get a publisher to read your query letter, let alone request your manuscript, if you haven’t published before?
Start small, that’s how. Too often, writers blast out a 150,000-word novel before they’ve cut their teeth on smaller pieces. This is a mistake on several levels. First, I’m sorry, but if you haven’t learned how to write a short story or an essay, you aren’t equipped to write a novel, no matter what your best friend, your mother, or your writer’s group tells you. That would be like a baby running a marathon instead of taking his first tottering steps, or eating a steak as her first solid food. By starting small, you learn the nuances of style, language, plot development, and dialogue. You learn to write tight, concise prose. You earn the right to call yourself an author.
Second, there are many more opportunities to publish short pieces than there are full-length novels. Literary magazines, both print and online, are one example. But perhaps the best place to publish shorter pieces is in an anthology.
Anthologies are book-length collections of prose and/or poetry on a common theme put together by a compiler. The theme may be broad, such as “The Best American Short Stories” or “The Best Stories of the Twentieth Century”; or it may be a narrow, like the Nature’s Gifts anthology from Vanilla Heart Publishing (2009), which had an environmental theme. The big advantage anthologies offer is they are normally much more open to writers who have no publishing credits to their name. Quality is what counts in an anthology submission, not what your publishing resume looks like.
Getting a story published in anthology can help you get your novel published for one simple but important reason: it proves you can write. When you go to query publishers about your novel, you can say you’ve been published, which will make the publisher more likely to pay attention to your query. This is especially true if you then query the anthology publisher about your novel! Once a publisher has worked with you on an anthology piece—once they’ve learned you pay attention to editing advice and can follow instructions about things like submission guidelines—they will be much more open to looking at other things you’ve written.
Of course, publishing in an anthology is great for established writers, too. Anthologies get an author’s name out there. If a reader enjoys a short story you’ve written, she’s likely to buy your novel, too. Try writing a short story that uses the same characters as your novel! It can be a short sequel or prequel to your book, or it can be a story within the parameters of your novel that isn’t told in the book. Getting readers interested in your characters will send them running to Amazon to buy your novel and learn more!
Whether you’re a novice or well-published writer, as with any submission, be sure to pay strict attention to submission guidelines. Don’t, for example, submit a poem to an anthology that is requesting only prose. A piece that was perfect for the Nature’s Gifts anthology wouldn’t be appropriate for Vanilla Heart’s upcoming Passionate Hearts anthology, which has a romantic theme, or their Wild Child anthology, which is open only to submissions written by children aged 17 and under. Pay attention to word counts: Passionate Hearts submissions should be between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Don’t submit a 25,000-word novella. If the publisher asks for an author bio, send one. If they ask for a synopsis, send one. Follow the directions to the letter, sending only what is requested. Nothing more, nothing less.
Pay attention to how your submission looks! If ewe think yore spell checker will fined awl yore miss steaks, u r wrong. (That sentence, for example, cleared my spell checker just fine!) Proofread your story, then proofread it again. Then, have someone else proofread it. Don’t get all fancy with fonts. Arial or Times New Roman in a 12-point size are the accepted standards for type fonts when it comes to submissions. Pick one and use it.
Of course, even if you follow submission guidelines to the letter, there is no guarantee a publisher will accept your story. Anthologies have their limits. If a publisher wants a 200-page book, for example, there are only so many stories they can accept. Don’t take rejection personally! Lots of wonderful stories get rejected because there simply isn’t room for them. Submit early for your best shot, and if your story is rejected, submit it somewhere else! The road to getting published is something akin to running full speed into a brick wall and knocking yourself silly. You have to be willing to get up, wipe the blood from your nose, and say, “Gee, that felt good! I think I’ll try it again!” If you have a talent for writing, and if you do that often enough, eventually you’ll knock down the brick wall.
Smoky Trudeau is the author of the newly released Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of photos, essays, and poems celebrating our beautiful planet earth. She is also the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, as well as two books for writers, Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside Your From Start to Finish, and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. You can learn more about Smoky at www.smokytrudeau.com, www.TheEarthMage.com, or at her blog on Xanga, http://authorsmokytrudeau.xanga.com. You can also look her up on Facebook.