At the community college, where I work part-time, I was asked to put together a thing for one of the department monthly newsletters about publishing. This is what I wrote.
“Publishing is Simple, but it isn’t Easy. This is Everything I Know.”
My first novel came out in 2008 from Wizards of the Coasts’ “Discoveries” imprint, which was dedicated to non-shared world fiction. That novel, Last Dragon, was #6 on Amazon.com’s Year’s Best SF/F of 2008, shortlisted for a Crawford Prize, and on Locus Magazine’s Recommended Reading List for Debuts. It had been selected from the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. I had no secret knowledge, no networking, and no agent. All I had was a good book, that I submitted to a publisher per their own instructions. Since then, I have published 6 books with publishers both very big and very small. I’ve had dozens of short fiction publications. I’ve been staff writer for a AAA video game company. I’ve had work translated into foreign languages and turned into audiobooks. I have never made a decent living for any long stretch of time in writing, despite my great successes, but I persist.Here is everything I know about professional publishing.
Be brilliant. Failing that, be very dedicated to craft and professional and courteous. Even for the brilliant, be professional and courteous.Brilliance is actually not a product of natural talent. Rather, it is a product of lots and lots of hard work. Take time to read widely, learn craft, and develop an original voice. Write what no one but you can write. That is what brilliance is.Many publications and websites list agents and publishers and most of them are useless without further research than a public listing. A better way to locate agents, publishers, and other professionals is by looking at the “Acknowledgements Pages” of current, newly-released material that appeals to the sensibility and genre of your own completed manuscript. If the agents or publishers of that new material are accepting submissions, submit per their guidelines, which are generally going to be on their website. They will be slow to respond. Write many things while waiting for a response on the other things. Send many other things out that you have written while waiting.Also, reading widely and with an eye for craft is critical for writers. Without reading, there is no writing.Self-publishing is a rising trend, and I have dabbled in it with some limited success, but I advise that the most successful self-published writers I know began traditionally published, and evolved into self-publishers for a variety of reasons. Different genres have different examples, as always, but there is a general trend of authors doing both. Generally, they begin by publishing with traditional publishers first. When pursuing publication, sometimes opportunities come around that are actually scams pretending to be opportunities. Googling whatever name someone presents to you, along with the word “scam” will generally reveal the truth very quickly. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Remember this simple rule: Money flows to the writer. Anyone who is asking you for money is neither an agent nor a publisher of repute. If you have any doubts, consult Victoria Strauss’ “Writer Beware” (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/). Writers often feel powerless early in their career, but a writer is always the most powerful person in the room. The writer is the only one that can produce the work that they produce, and if it is good work, true work, someone will want it with a fair contract and payment. There’s this cliche that publishing is like a lottery, and this is very false. For professional writers who have mastered their field and have an amazing manuscript, being published is the easiest thing in the world. All they have to do is write a letter announcing their project to a prospective publisher or agent. My first novel was sold exactly like that, and I had no name or connections or big literary agent or bribe. The only thing I had was a good book. I wrote a letter, per a publishers’ guidelines, and was published. I have repeated this process a few times successfully. As far as agents, I’ve had two. Generally, people will know when they need an agent, because they will need someone to negotiate a difficult contract. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all, and writers don’t need an agent to get published at most houses. The larger the house, and the more complex the contract, and the more money that is involved, the more likely an agent would be beneficial. Again, better no agent than an agent that isn’t right for your work. If an agent would suit your goals, seek them through the acknowledgements pages of other new writers whose work is appearing in print. The only truly difficult part of publishing is writing a good book. Everything else is a simple process, with clear instructions from every source on the subject. The people who want good books will state exactly how they want to receive the prospective books. Follow their guidelines. Writers of good books are the rarest commodity, and a powerful force for positive change in the world. So, before concern with the publication process, young writers need to learn the craft of writing. College is a wonderful time to start down that path, and some amazing writers – including one of the best short story writers of the last century, Raymond Carver – began their writing career at a community college writing workshop. Anyone can take the time and make the effort to learn the craft. Brilliance isn’t something that a writer is born with. It comes about through years of hard work. Like I said: Persist.One website that can help aspiring writers at any stage of their career is the AbsoluteWrite.com Forums (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/). If you are interested in knowing more about me or my work, I can be found on-line at http://jmmcdermott.blogspot.com/ and my latest novel is We Leave Together (WordeHorde, June 2014). If anyone wants to talk about publishing in more detail, I work Monday and Tuesday morning, and Thursday afternoon in the Developmental Writing Lab.