Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And I thought writing was hard…

I had it wrong, writing is easy, it’s getting published that’s tough! Yes, technically I’m already a published writer, but only on the internet. The “real” world of publishing is a whole other kettle of piranha, and one I’m trying to break into.

Break may not be the right word. Breaking implies a use of force and violence to shatter through a publisher’s office door and present my manuscript to a well dressed, slightly harried looking individual who will then read the first sentence, recognize my innate brilliance and sign me to a ten book deal. What actually happens appears to be much less violent, and a whole lot more work. 

I’ve been doing online humour and non-fiction articles for a few years now, and once I got over the abject terror of pitching my first few articles, I found my stride and did reasonably well. I was approached by other websites and managed to get a fair amount of work. This was a wonderful opportunity, but it didn’t prepare me for what would be required when I sat down and wrote an actual book.  Publishing companies don’t approach many writers, so for the vast, unwashed and non-initiated majority we need to go through an elaborate series of steps in order to gain a publishers attention. No, none of them involve strippers, pyrotechnics or the potential for prison time, but frankly I think the sense of nervous tension would be about the same as what is actually required.

I’ve been doing a lot of researching, learning what the submission process involves. For your entertainment, here is what I’ve learned so far. Cover letters and submissions are a lot like resumes. You only get one chance to make an impression, so make sure it’s a good one. Remember prĂ©cis in school?  Boiling down a long and wordy article into one hundred words or less?  Try doing that to a book you wrote, your personality and passion invested in every word. Only now you need to condense every nuance, tone and highlight to a few punchy sentences that will convince a very busy publisher type person they need to read the rest of your submission. They don’t want to read about your personal journey to writing, or how many writing contests you won in junior high. They want to know what this book is about, and if you’ve ever managed to sell anything else to a publisher in the same genre. They need the facts, and they want them straight forward, clearly labeled and easily absorbed in ten minutes or less.

If you manage to avoid any and all grammar flubs, typos, spelling errors and other horrors, they’ll read your blurb, the one I mentioned above. 200 words or less of dazzling synopsis encapsulating your manuscript. And believe you me, it better dazzle. If you didn’t polish every word to a high shine and do your best to make sure it’s the best word choice you could have made? Do it again.  If you pull off this step and they’re still reading, congratulations. I have come to realize a great many manuscripts never make it past the initial scan. Now, comes the big synopsis. Several pages worth of plot points, characters and the gist of the story, all very dry, all very logical, and all so they can figure out if you have something worth their time. Then, and only then will you possibly have the sample chapters you sent along actually read by someone who can make a qualified decision on it. If you didn’t polish the intro, if your synopsis fell flat, the brilliance that is your novel is likely not going to see the light of day. No pressure though, really.

As you can guess, I’m currently working through the process of preparing a submission. I feel like I’m back in grade school, learning basic composition. This is a whole new skill set, and there’s a great deal riding on my getting it right the first time. Will I die a thousand deaths if I am refused? No, I know that’s part of the writing gig. However, I really, really want to get this book in print and I am determined that if it fails to make the grade, it won’t be because I couldn’t put together a decent cover letter. Pressure? You bet I’m feeling it. It’s coiled up in a tight ball in my stomach, snuggled up to the deep sense of fear that comes every time a writer takes what they’ve produced and offers it to other person to read.

That being said, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. So cross your fingers for me, before this month is out I will have submitted my first novel to the publishing world. Boy, I hope I don’t suck.