(originally published in 2005)
During my own research on publishing I would always become somewhat giddy with excitement when I would see a title like the one above. It was as if the author was about to reveal to me the one magic clue that I needed to crack the mystery, the one thing that would set my career in motion. I would usually envision it would be something really simple, something I could do in the span of a week. I think in the beginning I was more in love with the idea of getting published than I was with the process of getting there. This is not necessarily a bad thing, after all who wouldn’t be? It is an immensely exciting experience, I have rarely experienced the elation I felt after receiving an actual acceptance letter in the mail. But what I learned in the meantime was bigger than any publishing tip I had ever read, you really must LOVE THE WORK. While getting published is an exciting possible outcome of a creative endeavor, it should not used as a motive for creating. For a while now I have been approached by people asking me to offer some tips on getting published. After much procrastinating I have come to write some of my thoughts on the subject, elusive as it may be. But I thought it appropriate to also talk briefly about the process of creating, developing the ideas and bringing them out into the world.
As with any advice I can only tell you what worked for me, some people may have a different approach. I find now it really helps me to read about the process of creating, the process of submitting is extremely important to learn but fairly straightforward (you only need to do it a few times to get it)…
1. Let your idea have it’s own life. This sounds a little strange but what I mean by this is once you have the idea in your head don’t try to control it too much. Let it tell you what form it should take. It really helps at this point to go for a long walk and just LISTEN (it may be several long walks). Let the words and images evolve. With my most recent book it took over a year for me to know what form it would take. I had ideas for content and had begun writing but no overall format to tie it all together. I didn’t worry about it too much but just let it “be” for a while. One day while reading a book on “intuition in business”, a concept popped into my head. This concept was “play”, and it tied the whole book together and became my focus from that moment on.
2. Really enjoy yourself and the process of creating, the best work will flow* out of you. People will respond the most to things you did with passion, (as opposed to things you forced). Don’t worry about whether it would sell, or what’s hot in the moment your target market, or what a family member recommends. Be honest with yourself and the process.
3. Make it real. I made the book in it’s entirety, packaged it up really smartly in a box with fake hay so when they opened it, it was somewhat displayed. This shows the viewer exactly what you had in mind, without them having to visualize it. Invariably if you explain something, they won’t see exactly what you are thinking.
(This suggestion is appropriate for people who wish to write AND illustrate. I do not recommend having someone else illustrate a book before you submit to a publisher as I have been told by many editors that this will actually hinder your chances of getting published. Do it if you can execute it in a way that is flattering.)
4. Research and target the appropriate publishers. This is extremely important, really look at their newest catalogues. Would you work be an appropriate fit? Are they using people with a style that is compatible with yours? I’m not saying to cater your work to them necessarily, but find an appropriate fit for you. I read the Writers Market like a novel, and used a highlighter throughout. This gives you a good indication of what certain publishers are looking for and how to present your work. One of the most common mistakes that authors make when submitting work (according to editors) is submitting work that is not suitable to their list. This ensures that you get your stuff into the slush pile.
*recommended reading “Writer’s Market”, or “Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents” both published yearly.
5. Really sell yourself to them. Put together a package with a bio, list of clients, testimonials from clients, target market for your piece, and a sales pitch (as in a press release) about why you created the book and how it might be presented to the public. Also I always mention that this is not a simultaneous submission in my cover letter, (this is common courtesy in the publishing field), and that I purposely chose _________ because I felt the work would fit well with their list, in concept and visually.
6. If you are rejected…keep moving forward. The right company is out there waiting for you to find them. It is o.k. to feel bummed periodically (have a good cry about it! Yes it feels like you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes). Just pick yourself up again, dust yourself off, and start moving again.
7. A few little personal tips that I like to do when I submit things…
-Write an acceptance letter to yourself saying how great you think the book is.
-Cut out an existing Bestseller List from the newspaper. Add your book to it.
-Put all these things on your wall where you can see them.