by Mary Zemina
Picture yourself in a bookstore. Breathe in deeply—that, right there. Your mind just conjured up the infamous new-book smell, that subtly sweet, slightly dry aroma that every bibliophile is familiar with.
Photo via Be Inspired
Each time you go in a bookstore, you find yourself lingering because you want to absorb that new-book smell into your skin and clothes and hair, so that long after you’ve picked up what you went in for, you can still feel like you’re in that beautiful oasis of literature that you never seem capable of leaving without your pockets considerably lighter.
Every time you leave a bookstore with seventeen new titles you just couldn’t say no to, you get excited about sharing these stories with people you know. You are an active Goodreads or Booklikes user, and track your progress with regular updates about what page you are on. You share your favorite quotes on Facebook or Twitter, or both. Probably both. You are an aggressive advocator of the status-update book review.
You want to be one of the names on the spines of books that people just like you can’t get enough of. You want to look at a shelf and see the glorious cover art enticing people to read your words. You want to be the reason why other people discover the intoxicating new-book smell.
But you’re not quite sure how you’re going to do that, because not once in any of the many writing classes you’ve taken has anyone actually told you what to do with that novel sitting in your hard drive.
But luckily for you, I do know how you can be one of those names. And luckily for your technology-loving mind, your beloved social media has come to play a role in publishing as well as reading.
There’s a variety of different paths to becoming a published author, and they can be sorted into two broad categories: self-publishing and traditional publishing. Which path is best for you depends on what your personal goals are and what you want to do with your writing. For me, it’s always been a dream and a personal goal to be published traditionally. Yes, traditional publishing is a very long and difficult road, but no more long or difficult than becoming a successful self-published author. Each approach comes with its own unique hurdles to jump.
The first thing you’re going to need to know is that the traditional publishing industry is a many-sided world. Before a book is taken on by a publishing house, it most likely got signed on by a literary agent. Most publishing houses will only accept book manuscripts that are pitched to them by agents, though there are small publishing houses who will work directly with authors.
A literary agent acts as the go-between for an author and a publisher. The agent negotiates the contract the author makes with the publisher. When going the traditional route, it’s highly beneficial to go through an agent before contacting publishers, even if you want to use a small publishing house that is willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts (manuscripts submitted by the author without being pitched by an agent).
And in today’s rapidly digitizing world, professionals in the industry are using all the new tools at their disposal to help writers break into the publishing world. There’s a whole host of blogs floating around the internet that help aspiring authors at every stage of the writing process.
Writer’s Digest provides blogs, informational articles, and resources for writers such as a second draft critiquing service. A regular feature is New Agent Alert, which lets writers know about new literary agents—particularly helpful for new writers as new agents are actively building client lists. This article from April shows the typical format of these spotlights. YA Highway provides information tailored to authors of young adult fiction. It provides regular blog posts about publishing world news, writing tips, and author interviews.
Navigating the Slush Pile by Vickie Motter, freelance editor and former agent at Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management, provides book reviews detailing why new books got published—in other words, what it was about them that stuck out to agents and publishers.
One of the most popular agent blogs on the internet is Janet Reid’s Query Shark. Miss Reid, an agent at FinePrint Literary, uses her blog to help authors perfect their query letters. Writers email their queries to her and she takes those that can be learned from the most and posts detailed critiques on the blog for others to see. She crosses out unnecessary phrases, gives tips on how to make the writing tighter, and most of all, praises authors who achieve a query letter’s purpose: getting an agent interested in reading the manuscript. Many queries that she critiques require restarting from scratch many times.
And for those of you on Twitter, agents and publishers are available on that platform as well. Using hashtags, agents can hold conversations with authors to give more information on the industry and their personal preferences. Ask Agent sessions are predetermined times when several literary agents are all on Twitter at the same time and are available to be asked specific questions about querying. #askagent is used both by writers asking questions and by the agents who answer them. Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary is a regular participant of Ask Agent.
In addition, many other literary agents run events on Twitter that give authors an opportunity to propose their novels outside the traditional query letter atmosphere. Pitch Madness and Pitchmas in July, which use the hashtages #PitchMad and #Pitchmas, respectively, are dedicated to giving authors an additional platform on which to bring their manuscript to the attention of agents. Within the confines of a 140 character tweet, authors pitch their manuscripts and if an agent likes the idea, he or she favorites the tweet. Authors who have a tweet favorited by an agent are then invited to query the agent, but must put #PitMad or #Pitchmas in the subject of the email so the agent knows to give it priority over unsolicited queries.