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Crash Course: Submitting your Novel

For those who have struggled through the 40,000 to 90,000 words to create a novel: congratulations! You have created something from absolutely nothing, and now you want to share that miracle with the world, preferably with a hefty advance, a book tour, and a movie deal, thank-you-very-much.

Writing your novel probably wasn't easy, so you shouldn't expect the publishing and marketing of it to be either. Here I touch on some of the major steps when sending out your novel for traditional (not self or vanity) publication.

  • Prepare yourself
    • You are in for a long road. Even if you have already spent months, years, or even decades on your writing, your work has just begun. It's a "new chapter" of your writing life. Do what you need to do to make the challenge enjoyable. Find a way to stay calm, and come back to that place as often as you need to (after your first rejection, or horrible paper jam, for example)
    • Edit
      • Being "done" with your novel means different things to different writers (some believe their novels are never really finished). If done means you created a beginning, trudged through the middle, and now find yourself at the end of your story, you may have to add a step or two.
      • If what you've finished is your first draft, it is not ready to submit. Every word, each case of punctuation needs to be scrutinized to make sure there are no unnecessary distractions for an editor or agent to stumble over. These mistakes can ruin the chances of a good story. Let the focus be on the story. It is best to get someone other than yourself to edit. You have poured over these pages for so long, you may not be able to see the mistakes. You may be lucky enough to have someone in your life you trust with this task. You may decide to pay someone (this can get expensive, so make sure you check their credentials before hiring them). If you must do this task yourself, force yourself to go slow, even through the parts that you had rewritten many times. Your editor needs to work with fresh eyes.
  • Your next steps will vary depending on who submit to. So, while it may not be in this order, these are some of the common processes:
    • Submit to Publishers
      • Research publishers in your genre. Go to the library or bookstore and find novels similar to your own, and look on the cover and inside to find the publisher or imprint. Later, look them up in Writer's Digest or find their website online (or Writer's Digest Online, if you are a subscriber) and get their submission guidelines. Now you will know the questions you need to ask:
        • Do they accept requests directly from the writer, or do they only accept submissions from agents?
        • Do they accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning, do they want the whole manuscript sent to them first? 
        • Do they prefer a synopsis, query letter, or sample chapters?
          • Basically, a synopsis tells what the novel is about: it is a short retelling of the most important plot points from beginning to end (don't leave out the ending!) Some guidelines may ask for a one-page synopsis, some may want a 25- page one.
          • A query letter is more popular for nonfiction books or magazine articles, but some publishers may request one. This is a one-page, single spaced hook for your book. You have just this page to get the editor interested in your work. Don't be shy, tell them what is special about your novel (well, show them, don't tell them). If you have any publishing credits, or a very large following on your blog, let them know (if you don't, just don't mention it). Make sure you end by asking the editor if you can send your manuscript to them. It's the equivalent to a job seeker asking for the job at the end of the interview.
    • Submit to Agents
      • Find an agent who is a member of the Association of Author's Representatives (AAR). They do not charge for reading, critiquing or editing your work. Anything they may charge you for should be discussed and agreed upon before you begin to work together.
      • Writer's Digest also has listings of agents. Just as you would with the publishers, make sure the agents represent your type of writing (don't send a romance query to an agent that only handles nonfiction business titles).
      • You may also want to look at other author's acknowledgments pages to discover the agents you may want to contact. They often thank them for their hard work!
  • Whether you decide to submit to agents or publishers, or both, just make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter. If you are planning to send out multiple submissions, understand the policies they have about that. Keep track of who and what you submitted. Most guidelines will say you will hear a response in "x"-weeks if they are interested. Some of the busier, bigger companies don't even bother with a rejection letter, even the form kind, so make sure you keep track, so you don't waste your time with someone who has already moved on.
  • Remember that "stay calm" step. Come back to it here. Take up yoga. If you get a rejection, don't read too much into it. Don't over analyze. If it is taking a long time to hear back, learn patience (especially if it is still within their window). If you get a "send us more", certainly celebrate getting to that step, but continue to stay calm, even a little detached. It will help when someone who has said they like your work wants to start changing it.
  • Throughout all of this, you need plan and work on your Platform. Most authors, and especially the new ones, must market themselves. Publishers and agents want to see that you are willing to put in the face time to get known. How you decide to do this is a personal choice, and it will and should evolve as you continue down this road. A few things that may help:
    • Create a blog
      • Make sure it has a purpose, a theme. Connect with other bloggers.
      • Connect with other writers in social networks and forums.
      • Write articles relating to the theme of your novel.
        • For example, if your main character loves horses, you may write a few articles about horses for e-zine articles or something similar, and link back to your blog or website.
        • Create an E-mail Newsletter
          • This can be based on your writing, or a common theme of your writing--similar to your blog and articles.
Of course, there's so much that can be said about getting a first novel published, much more than can be covered in a single blog post. Here, I just wanted to give the person just starting an idea of what they will be looking at. Each writer has to look at their own situations to determine how best to move forward, but it helps to know the basics. Good Luck!

If you have experience submitting to traditional publishers and agents, please comment. Anything a newcomer should be aware of would be helpful.

A few links:

Helpful Books:



Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Experience

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My Story
I thought I would share a bit about being published in these collections. I'm very happy with my Chicken Soup experiences, and part of that may be that I went into it with little expectations at first. I started with them because I had a few stories that seemed to fit what they were looking for, and I thought I had nothing to lose. Unlike some of the other markets and contests I was looking at, submitting to Chicken Soup could be done at no cost to me, and I didn't even need to worry about a postage stamp, because they had a…

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Yeah. Me too. And I don't think that gaining knowledge is a bad thing. We just have to be careful.

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I soon found, however, that the life of a book author wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned. I was working long hours, yet making less money than I had before, when I wrote only articles. The reason was simple—the time I spent promoting my books left me less time to write articles and other books, which cut into my income.
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