Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to get a book published

Guest post by Lauren Martinez Catlin

It's all about who you know. No one wants to hear that, certainly not me. I've been trying to get published since I was 13 years old, when I had an award-winning short story in hand. Since that disappointing experience I have queried four different novels. I've purchased two copies of Writer's Market, and three copies of the equivalent book on literary agents. I'd read countless articles on how to get published, what agents are looking for, how to write a dynamite query letter, the importance of what font you use. Finding an agent seemed not so much like a business deal as a mystic pagan ritual; if you coughed at the wrong time the whole thing would be ruined. 
how to get published
One day the magic finally happened; my father gave a copy of my latest book to a friend, who then gave it to another friend who happened to be a literary agent. Several months later I got a call from my father (of all people!) saying that the literary agent loved my book and was dying to represent me. My husband and I called everyone we knew and threw a huge party at our house. My best friend brought me a bottle of champagne. People congratulated me on all my hard work and persistence. And then nothing happened. More than a year later on one of my routine “just calling to check in” calls, I learned that agent had left the company and they were dropping all her clients. I sat down and cried at my day job. 
Then there was the Amazon Breakout Novel Award (ABNA). It was a novel contest, and the prize was a $25,000 book deal with Penguin. I took my latest novel (a different book than the agent had), and submitted it. I did make the first cut, I was in the top 20 percent, but I didn't make the second cut. The next year I tried again, same result. I queried that second book to a few people, but I couldn't bring myself to do the mass mailings I'd grown too accustomed to. I kept writing, because I honestly don't know what else to do with myself. 
About a year later, a friend of my husband from his work started publishing travel guides on the Kindle. It was something he was doing on the side because he was being shipped off to Belgium for months at a time and he needed something to do on the plane. The travel guides were aggregated information he pulled off of the Internet, not original work, but they were making some money. He wanted to see if he could take on some authors with original work, and he knew that I wrote books. This wasn't how I was hoping it would happen, but this point, I had five books sitting on my hard drive, and I didn't want to die with them languishing there. So I said okay. A few months later, I held a proof copy of my book in my hands. It was solid and heavy and when I opened it, words I had written were there in print. 
Like most of the stories I've heard from published authors, this journey is completely impossible to duplicate. You can't marry my husband and hope he'd keep the same friends who'd decide to open a publishing house. I used to get very frustrated about this kind of story, because I am a very proactive and pragmatic person. Thus, I will break out the underlying principles that are duplicable. 
First, write every day. There is something very sad about having five complete novels sitting on my hard drive, but knowing a guy who's opening a publishing house does me no good if I don't have a novel to give him. I had a few, and chose my favorite. As frustrating as ABNA was, I wouldn't have been able to participate at all if I hadn't had a novel to submit. This may sound elemental, but the first step in publishing a book is writing a book. This is slightly different for non-fiction, where I've heard you can sometimes get away with a very detailed outline. Write every day anyway, you'll be better off.

Second, call yourself a writer. Knowing a guy who's opening a publishing house doesn't help me that much if he doesn't know I write books. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a novelist. I told them that when I was an administrative assistant, when I was a grunt at a software company, and when I was a nanny. Those are just jobs, what I do is write books. 
Third, make lots of friends. One of the smartest and most fun things I've done in the last few years is start performing spoken word poetry all around the metro. Performing has given me a chance to promote some causes I really believe in, to meet lots of other artists, and yes, to gain a tiny bit of name recognition. I'm pretty solidly introverted, so going to a big event to perform and then try to network is a big challenge for me. Here's how I do it. I pretend that I'm a confident and interesting person that people want to meet. I pretend that when I approach someone that I'm being very gracious and magnanimous. I hand out business cards and say, “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” like I'm doing them a big favor, and not like I'm putting feelers out for new gigs. 

I was invited to write this guest blog because I'm friends with the kind and generous man who runs this website, and he knows that I'm a writer. So there you go.

About the Author:

Martinez Catlin is an author and poet who is committed to inspiring compassion through the written word. Her work has enhanced the efforts of A Minnesota Without Poverty, Breaking Free, Source Ministries, Justice4All, and A Beautiful Rescue. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a degree in English Literature. The Other Side of Silence is her first novel. She currently lives in Minneapolis with a very cute husband and a German shepherd.

Check out her website, buy her now-published novel, and watch some of her performances.
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