People often ask me how I got published, and how they, too, can get their first book written and published.
I get this question a lot now. I suppose with five poetry books, three novels, a few children’s books and a screenplay under my belt, I may seem like someone who knows what they’re doing, even though 80 percent of the time I’m just winging it, and learning something new every day.
The question isn’t easy to answer. I could try to answer it in the same way many authors before me have, offering up: “Find a great agent,” but that wasn’t the case for me. I did find a couple of great publishers, and that is an arduous journey you’ll have to go on too—but you have to write your book first.
I could say, “Write every day,” but truthfully, I don’t, although I work toward my writing and publishing goals every single day, even on weekends. I could say you have to have lots of money to advertise your books and then you can start making money, and “it’s who you know,” but I knew a few “people,” and they didn’t help me write my books or get them published, although they did encourage me (I’m so thankful for that, because now I can say I did it myself). I also didn’t start spending money on advertising my books until eight months ago, and even now, I don’t spend more than half of last month’s earnings on advertising/promotion.
So how do you get published, then? It’s not one straightforward path that will get you published: it’s a million little paths that bend this way and that, and meet together masterfully in the end. You know when someone asks you what you love about your partner/spouse? It’s never just his floppy hair or his brilliant blue eyes. It’s a million little things, mixed together. It’s the same when I write and get my novels published. I take a million little paths that make all the difference between getting it done, and not.
First, write a good book. Then, when you write that story, don’t make it about you. Put your desk in the corner, as Stephen King so eloquently puts it in On Writing, and let the characters lead you. (My desk has been in the same corner of my home office, facing a wall of family photos and quotes that encourage me, for 12 years now. My husband once offered to move it facing out, toward the window, and I thought about King’s quote and refused. I don’t want distractions when I work, and I don’t need to be on display).
Don’t think about money, rankings, what your readers, friends or family are going to think, and although it’s going to happen, try not to think about what’s for lunch or what people are Tweeting about today. It’s not about any of these things, and it’s not about you. If it is, you should stop writing now.
It’s about a story that needs to be told. Don’t just write what you think will sell; write what your heart wants to write. You also don’t have to write what you know. You have to write a story that you can’t stop thinking about; the story that wakes you up late at night or early in the morning, and has you driving your family bonkers because you keep telling them about the latest character traits of Pete or Allie or worse, you keep imitating Bad Ass Grandma’s raspy old voice at the dinner table.
Write your story. Don’t give up on it when you’re writing it, don’t give up on it when you’re trying to find a publisher (or going down the rocky road of self publishing it), and don’t give up on it when the reviews come in and someone writes that they don’t know if they liked your book, or wasted time reading it.
Get started, keep going, and then, don’t give up. Those are three of a million little paths that will get you there.