Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How To Get Your Novel Published: Or Part I: How It All Began

When I was in high school I had the privilege of attending what was called Governor's School. I suppose on some level this was more a sign of geekdom - this being "selected" to go to summer school and being honored by it - but as the month-long program I attended was for the arts, I counted it as my summer of growing up.

I'd been away at summer camp here and there before this, but only for a week, and always with lots of conscientious adult (and semi-adult) supervision. But Governor's School was an entirely different beast. For one, it was held at a college. Mine was Radford, which was as far on the other end of the state as could possibly be, and, in the mountains at the edge of West Virginia, it might as well have been a different world.

(My husband passed through there once, on his way from Texas to D.C., and stopped for the night. He loves to tell the story about how he couldn't understand a word anyone said.)

Another reason it was different was that they treated us like college kids. Sure we had a curfew (midnight, I think, which was quite the treat!), but mostly, except for in class, we were on our own. Coming and going, on and off campus, wherever we liked. Classes were sporadic, a few a day, often taking place outside where we would be sent off to complete independent study assignments like rehearsing a scene from Midsummer's Night Dream in the woods, or to the recording studios to make commercials and do voice-overs.

And in class... well, suffice it to say no one treated us like high schoolers. Looking back I think all of the "teachers" (who were more like starving artists in need of a paycheck) were thrilled to usher us into adulthood. We had long philosophical conversations, many extremely heated, about things no high school teacher would have tolerated. We saw movies no public school district would have sanctioned. The artists had freedom to create, paint, draw, sculpt whatever tickled their fancy. The dancers explored decidedly edgy forms of dance. Us theatre folks performed plays with none of the restriction imposed by an administration. It was liberating, in a very non-90210, non-gossip girl, non-risque kind of way. After all, it was the 80s.

It's funny, some of the details I remember of that time. Bacon in the cafeteria for breakfast. Hanging out at the Barstow Theatre watching West Side Story. Getting the lead in a dance show, despite being the resident wallflower of the theatre department. Doodling quotes all over my notebook during the philosophy class.

And this is what lead me to this post. Those quotes. Even after all these years (over twenty!), I remember those quotes. Some deep, some funny, some provocative. Like the one I thought about tonight.

"A critic telling an actor how to act, is like a virgin telling a whore how to make love."

I'm sure it sticks out because it was the first time I had ever written the words virgin or whore, and it felt a bit rebellious to do so. But I loved the sentiment. It was sort of an in-your-face saying that gave me the right to tell someone who criticized me, Hey, if you're so good, you get up here and do it!

It's this reason I've batted around the idea for the next post or two for a while, going back and forth between whether I should or shouldn't. You see, the last year or so I've been finding out how the publishing business works. Almost exactly one year ago, I was finishing the first draft of my first book, and someone told me, "You should get that published."

Actually, I'd never thought about that. I wanted to write it, sure, but publish? That seemed so... well... real. But then I did start to think about it, and I started to search the Internet for how to go about getting published. And I learned it ain't so easy.

When I finished the final version of my book in January, I attempted a very half-hearted stab at finding an agent, and quickly gave in to the more enjoyable activity of writing another book.

And now, I am here again. And in the last year I have learned a lot about the process of getting an agent, although what comes after that is somewhat still a mystery to me, since I'm not there yet. But finding all that information, all that how-to-find-an-agent stuff, took a long time. It's there; it just isn't all in one place.

And that made me begin to wonder if I couldn't do that. A very modest compilation of what I've learned, websites that help, how I go about finding the 100 agents on my list and sending queries to them. Not to actually give the advice, but to compile links to the advice, so that someone, like me a year ago, wouldn't have to muddle through it all alone, picking up on the important information little by little, making lots of mistakes along the way.

So I've decided to do it, with the encouragement of one of my writing partners. I'm walking a fine line, I realize, trying not to be the virgin telling the whore, or even the virgin telling the virgin. After all, I don't have an agent yet. But I do have a lot of information.

So over the next few days I'll try to post as much as I can, from the beginning through choosing an agent. If I miss great websites and information you know of, feel free to drop me a line or include it in the comments, and I'll add it in.

Really, everything I'm going to include you could find yourself on Google. That's mostly how I did it. And I recommend you do. Google brings up a treasure trove of tidbits, thousand of sites I can't list here. But if you need a start, or another way of doing it, I'm here for you. Me in all my unagented splendor, at your service.

Tomorrow: the query letter; after that, where to find agents and what to look for. After that, who knows?

Ah! The fun begins...


  1. Wow.

    I think I'd be just as stunned and fascinated and appalled at that quote!!

    The difference with me is that I knew as a teenager that I wanted to write, and if I'd allow myself to imagine being **published** I'd quickly shut myself down. About two years ago I decided that was total BS and it's time to get busy!

    I think it's a great idea for you to compile what you've learned so far. I'll help out any way I can.

  2. I think this is an excellent idea. And its hogwash to say that 'just' because you don't have an agent you don't know about this stuff. That's crap. You're trying with every bit of your soul, you know your stuff so post it!

    Go YOU!

  3. Heidi -

    Great post! And I'll admit, I'm selfishly looking forward to having your information available. I'm still learning and will find much use of it!