Q4U: Learning the Biz
Like everyone else in this business, published authors included, I frequently receive emails asking for advice. Not specific advice, but sweeping, general requests for advice like:
“How do I get published?”
Usually the person writing has just finished writing either a novel or a memoir, and somehow they got my email address, and they want to know the next step. There is always a feeling in those letters that the writer believes it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to publication, i.e. “You tell me what to do, I’ll do it, and voila, I’ll be published.”
Can you remember when you were that person? When you knew nothing about publishing, you just knew you had something to say, and you knew others needed to hear it?
I have great compassion for this person because they just have no idea. They’re blissfully ignorant, and there’s a good chance their illusions are about to be shattered. If they knew that the pursuit of publication can easily become a full-time job all by itself, would they be so eager to do it?
I typically write back with a list of resources and Internet links, and I advise them to begin learning how publishing works, then make sure their materials are up to par (manuscript, book proposal or both), and begin querying. I tell them that unfortunately, as an agent I can’t help them until they’ve done the necessary homework to learn how the business works.
But I was wondering… how long does it take for the average writer to become pretty savvy about publishing?
You tell me: How long were you actively reading about publishing, reading blogs, attending conferences and networking with other writers before you felt like you were really starting to get a handle on this thing?
For those of you who are contracted with publishers or published: How long between the time you actively began teaching yourself about publishing until you received that first contract?
Maybe these answers will help me respond to the newbies who write.
Have a good weekend!
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>I'm not sure I do have a handle on it. Certainly not on all of it. What I do know is I have a better sense of the work involved in writing, revising, querying….can't say anything past that as I am not yet agented.
I started writing (fiction) in May of 2009. I attended my first conference that summer, pitched to three agents, shared my work-in-progress with other writers and made a pledge to finish my manuscript before the year was out.
I sent my (or so I thought at the time) finished manuscript out to those three wonderful agents in October. I felt I was well on my way to making my dream of being a writer a reality.
Ok, stop laughing – please. Beginning writers are not known for having high self-esteem. We bruise easily.
Ahem…it is little wonder all three agents passed. I revised, queried other agents and am now working with a developmental editor as two agents are willing to reread my work upon revision.
So in less than a year, I feel more comfortable with the query process. I'm working through the major revision process, but so far it doesn't hurt too much.
Honestly, I'm grateful I've had such positive experiences thus far. I know this is really just the start of things, but in a few short months, I think I have a good idea of what part of the process is like. And it helps to think of it that way – series of steps on the journey. The writing part, the query and finding an agent part, the finding a publisher part, the marketing part….otherwise, it becomes too overwhelming. That would be my advice to someone literally just starting or considering a writing life – take it one step at a time and know the journey is just as important as the destination.
>It took me five and a half years from when I initially started to write until I landed a book contract. During that five and a half years, I spent a great deal of my free time writing books, reading books, attending meetings for my local writers group (A chapter of Romance Writers of America), and I also attended the large annual Romance Writers of America National Conference every year. Congregating with other writers – both published and unpublished helped me a lot. Plus, it was great meeting the different editors and agents.
>I worked in publishing for ten years so I thought I knew a thing or two. How wrong could I be?
It's taken me a year to learn the basics of approaching the industry from the writing side and there's still a lot more to discover. I'm enjoying it though. The journey is part of the fun.
>I've spent the past six months or so actively reading blogs, learning to write query letters, finding out ways to improve my manuscript and get it ready to go, etc.
However, I should also be clear that I had at least a pretty good idea of how things worked. About ten years ago I had been prepping a novel (which I decided–thankfully–wasn't ready yet so I never sent it out), and I had read quite a bit back then. I had been submitting short stories from the time I was in junior high school as part of writing class assignments. I had a pretty good idea of the process and the odds.
This time around, I've mostly learned the details and information about agents, as I had originally planned to submit directly to small publishers only. I believe this book is better than that, and I want a career, so I figure I might as well start at the top if I can.
As much as I've learned, I still know that I am a long, long way from knowing even most of what really goes on with publishing. I'm pretty much in a perpetual state of trying to soak up more information.
It's been my experience based on people I know or people in my writing classes that often the person assuming it would be simple is also the person who doesn't want to do revisions, edits, etc. I truly wonder how many, when they find out how much work is really involved, continue the process.
>I am not ready to start querying yet. I still have work to do on my novel. But I first started learning about the publishing business in 2005. I still feel like I have so much to learn. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever really get it.
I feel that way in part because I do believe there are times when there are competing and opposite voices telling a writer what they should and should not do. I've tried really hard to limit the people I listen to.
>Can you remember when you were that person? When you knew nothing about publishing, you just knew you had something to say, and you knew others needed to hear it?
Rachelle, you may deride this kind of mentality, but it's the mentality behind all creative endeavors. It fuels the literary industry. I realize you may think you control it, but you don't. Readers and writers are the ones who control it. And without a writer’s faith in himself or herself, we'd have nothing. Also, this is the attitude writers will have to get back to in the new age of publishing where thousands and thousands of independent publishers replace the old guard and writers will have a much easier time finding a publisher.
A Literary Experience
>About 12 years for me. I started writing seriously as a teenager, then at eighteen got even more serious. Took until now, when I'm 30, to get published.
>Since I've decided to try to publish my book in Brazil instead of the English-speaking world, and the system there works quite differently from the system in the U.S., I continue following your and other publishing blogs for entertainment and because I care about the industry.
But when I started studying publishing, by reading blogs and attending a writers conference etc, two years ago, I was also applying for jobs in international development. I was then, and continue to be, convinced that the rules of querying an agent are not that different from the rules of writing a cover letter for a job application. Getting published is like getting a job in a competitive field.
All the rules that you and other publishing bloggers I read seem somewhat innate to me because they are the rules I live by professionally. (Then again, while I had to wait a year to find a job, I have to realise it will take longer to get published.)
The big difference, actually, is that being a bunch of writers, the publishing blogosphere is much more active than most others. The discussions are lively and active and the comments are aplenty, meaning the information/instructions are abundant. This just isn't the case in other blogging themes I follow.
>I have been reading about how this thing called publishing works since the moment I discovered blogs. It so happened that I started following an author blog and said author liked to talk about the mechanics. Since then I have been pretty interested to be in the loop, even though I have yet to have a novel ready.
>At the end of my graduate school career (about 2 years), I started being published. Of course, I was always researching it, but that is when I really narrowed my target audience (independent literary journals, mostly produced by graduate schools). I am a short story writer, so most of my work will end up in journals. I am not sure if I will ever publish my own collection, but of course that is always the goal.
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>I certainly fell into the category of the "blissfully ignorant" when I stroked the last period of my first book. I didn't know anything about the world of publishing except to find a publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts and send a query.
After a successful query, I sent my manuscript, waited a year and received the coveted "yes" from the publisher. At that point, I still didn't know much about the publishing business.
Since then, I've overloaded my pea brain with more information than I could possibly retain. It's been a about eight months since I signed my contract and my first book is due out soon, but I still have so much to learn.
I would say the most important tidbit of advice I've gathered over this past year is the reality of my need for an agent. So, when I've completed my next wip, my first order of business will be to seek out a trusted agent that is much more knowledgeable than I am about this business.
>1984 to 2008. Wow, 24 years it took for me to get published. I wasn't online until 1994, and so I'd have to say it took me a few years to learned the the inner workings of the publishing business.
This was a great post, and yes, I feel for the writer who asked that question. I never had anyone to ask, but if I had, I would have asked them. I know I bothered a few published writers by begging them to read my work. If you're reading this, forgive me! I'm terribly embarrassed. If you're reading this and tempted to ask a published writer this very question — DON'T.
Learn how to write, write, then do your research. And then join a critiquing group. And in a few years, maybe then approach that special someone. Spare yourself the humiliation. We've all been there. And honestly, there's no easy way but to pay your dues.
>I started writing my first novel in 1992 and didn't get published until 2009. (You do the math.) In between, I was homeschooling my four kids. (By the way, my first novel was not the same one that was published. I wrote that one in 2007.)
In the early '90s, I joined Writers Digest Book Club, and was a member for about ten years until my husband said, "Don't you have enough books about writing?" Yeah, they were all starting to sound the same, but I learned a lot from those books.
In 2005, I joined a local critique group, which has been great. My writing improved so much, and I've made some good friends in the process.
I think Experience is the best teacher when you're learning how to write a book. It takes a lot of time and a lot of feedback from those who are ahead.
>From the time I started my first book to publication: 9 years. From the time I went to my first conference and joined a local writers' group: 7 years. I learned the basics there. From the time I disovered ACFW and got past the basics: 4 years.
>I already answered the question but reading everyone else's answers and remembering my own journey reminded me of one big mistake I nearly made early on. I've been essentially a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, so when I was last working full-time in the 1990s, e-mail and the Web were not nearly the essential tools they are now. As a communications professional for nonprofits, I was used to the idea that, if you really want to get something done and connect with someone about something important, you pick up the phone. You don't rely on your press release or your letter alone. So when I first started researching agents, I planned, when the time came, to pick up the phone and call them. That's what professionals do, right? I'm so glad that I decided to backtrack and spend some more time on the manuscript itself, so that by the time I was ready to contact agents and publishers, I had learned there was a protocol–and picking up the telephone ain't it.
I really connected with your post. I became serious about learning about the publishing industry about one year ago after I attended a writer's conference in Boston, where I met publishers and agents and practiced my "pitch" I even felt so emboldened as to submit query letters,complete with book proposals and sample chapters (memoir), which of course lay dormant with no replies. I didn't figure out until I attended a Writer's Digest Editorial Intensive 6 mo later where I had 30 min 1:1 with an editor that what I had submitted was a first draft and that I was no where near ready to query any agent. But what I gained was perspective on where I was at in relation to where I needed to be. Since then I have joined National Association of Memoir Writers, participated in numerous workshops, started a blog (http://krpooler.wordpress.com) and I am on my way to a Story Circle Network women"s memoir writing conference in Austin,TX.
I've only just begun!!
>I began writing fiction in 1998, heard about ACFW in 2000 and joined right away. That has been a great resource for information about publishing and so much more. I began attending conferences, reading more about publishing and networking. I entered contests and wrote four books before one was published in 2005.I am now writing my 10th book.
Learning about the publishing industry and how things work is important. That must go right along with learning to write a great story.
>As a blogger, I have written for over five years. Many of my blogger friends started writing books and a few actually were picked up by publishers.
I decided to go the self publishing route and the whole process took about a year. Self publishing has a huge learning curve, but it was well worth it to learn a little bit about the business.
>I felt I had a pretty good handle on what I'll call "level one" knowledge in about a couple of months. Thatt seems quick, but I've got a tendency to throw myself into new areas of learning. And, the Internet and the rise of agent and publisher blogs moves everything faster.
By "level one" I mean what you should know even before your manuscript is completed. Once you are in a position to actively seek publication, thare's a whole other body of knowledge to acquire.
>I would say it took me (using my evenings and weekends to research) about 3 months to feel I had a good handle on the publishing world.
I've spent a great deal of time working on my query (still not happy with it) and also doing more and more edits on the novel to tighten it up, because of the industry advice I found on-line.
The BEST advice I've found are the agent blogs. They tell it like it is and I appreciate that. I do wish that someone in the industry could tell me truthfully whether my writing is good or if they think it could improve–We really need Simon from American Idol for authors. Doubts creep in as time goes by and I wonder if I'm wasting everybody's time.
>I was the expection to the rule and starting learning after I was published..
>It's taken me about five years, and a lot of conferences, workshops, classes, and trial and error to feel savvy. I'm still learning every day, though I feel like the last year of reading industry blogs, signing up for Twitter, and reading for a literary agent has made all the difference.
>I began writing my first novel January 28th, 2008. I finished the first draft 82 days later.
Then reality smacked me upside the head, sending me spinning into a feverish learn-as-you-go revision and querying process. I've revised about seven times, and am currently on the third major overhaul. I've gone through two bouts of querying, each time getting more postive feedback, but ultimately rejection. Each time I tried to ignore certain lessons I'd read, tried to pretend they didn't apply to me.
So, I'm doing it again. I'll do it again until I get it right. Patience is hard, but not impossible.
>I've been writing and seeking publication (off and on) since the early 1990's. I've had a few articles published and done some commercial work, but then reality set in and I returned to teaching. I took a big chunk of time off to become highly qualified in English and to earn my master's degree. Even in the beginning of my journey, I received compliments (but no contracts) on my proposals. My biggest hang-up has been my content because I did not have the "credentials" to write on my subject matter. I am working on that now with my blog, so we'll see what happens.
>Hmm, well, I've been reading industry blogs for about 9 months, and over the last three months, I've started scrolling through google reader more quickly because many blogs were saying stuff I already knew. But I don't claim to know what I'm doing, just that I have an idea of how things work.
>Honestly, I think this takes years of craft practice, studying publishing, participating in the network aspect of marketing (first yourself, then your book), and the ability to continue on with your work after a mountain of rejection. This seems to be my path. Also, I'm in line with Keli who mentioned she wrote over a million words before representation. I'm well over the million word mark.
Stephen King said, "The first million words are just practice."
Not exactly words of encouragement, but they ring true for some of us.
>It took me about a year before I knew what the heck I was doing and another half a year before I had a short story published. I'd tell the person to start in magazines.
>Not that I thought the Road to Publication was an easy journey, I think I was more just naive about the twists & turns, detours, and bumps along the way. I spent about 4 months writing my book, and it was then that I got on the internet to figure out what to do with the thing. It's like I've heard before- the more you learn, the more you learn you don't know! Thankfully, I was wise enough to not just blindly submit material, but have slowed down my project until I feel I have been set up for success. For the past 6 months I have spent a lot of time reading professionals blogs, reading books, researching, writing and re-writing, and continue to learn so much. You definitely have to be willing to sacrifice- whether in time or in sanity!- to pursue this crazy dream.
>Several years from when I first started looking into it until I sold. It didn't take that long to understand what had to happen, but the sticking point was querying. I still can't write a good one. I just got lucky enough to have an assistant editor read pages and love the story in spite of the query.
>I'd been writing, going to conferences and entering writing contests about 3 years before I thought I had a handle on publishing, but now after 12 yrs . . . I can see that the truth is . . . that I didn't have a handle on it for another 3-4 years–if I can indeed claim to have a handle on it.
I've found the craft of writing and the business of publishing to be a very fluid entity and you just have to keep learning and trying to write a better book and keep open to possibilities.
But it is a process and very few–no matter how talented–"get it" without some serious time and effort is spent.
>I agree, Timothy. It can easily become yet another way to secretly avoid the psychic burn of Butt in Chair.
>No handle on publishing yet, but getting there, day by day. It entails much much more than I ever realized. And is much more of a process than an event.
>While it’s commendable for an author to know about the publishing industry, I think some of us are spending way too much time learning about the publishing industry.
>I began writing articles, short stories and essays 8 yrs. ago. In 2004 I started a novel that took 3 yrs. to complete. From 2007 I've been slowly learning the steps involved in getting published. I was so green in the beginning, but today although unpublished in fiction I'm more knowledgeable about the process. Conferences, my writer's group, online writing sites and blogs of writers and agents have all advanced my understanding of the industry. Rachelle's blog is a big help.
>Three or four years before I really had a clue. Ten years to get published, but does anyone really have a handle on the publishing industry? LOL
>I want to say about a year and a half to get a decent feel for how the industry works.
My writing isn't there yet for submissions, but when it is, I know what to do. 🙂
>How long before I thought I had a handle on things:
Christmastime 2004 I had a (what I thought of as) finished novel and a boatload of hubris/ignorance. The learning process set in immediately. Writing conferences, writing craft books, a critique group, rejections, representation, another critique group, contest disasters and successess. So many things contributed to that learning process.
I'm still learning about the publishing business, even as I'm learning about the writing process, but from the time I started learning to a contract was three years and lots of hard work.
I do feel for the green as grass newbie, because we were all her at one time, no matter where on the publishing cliff-face we might be clinging now.
>First of all, I have never thought that publishing was easy nor that I deserved to be published. I figure all of the planets must align in mysterious ways for me to get a contract, no matter how hard or long I work at it, nor how well-crafted my novel is. Though both of those things certainly are required BEFORE the planetary alignment can occur.
It has taken me two years of reading and researching the writing and publication process to stop curling up into a fetal ball at the mention of "the P-word" (publishing). But I'm sure I still have a lot to learn.
>I wrote my first book from Dec 2000 to Jan 2003, with significant interruptions in between. Then I carried those 155,000 words to a regional writers conference to see how to get it published. I was in for a shock. Wrong genre, not the preferred POV, too long (of course). Next conference an editor laughed at it, saying, "Who writes a book like that?" I should have walked out on him.
Second book was done soon after, a book of poetry for fathers and daughters to maybe read together. Talk about pursuing deadends. Third book is now in progress, but stalled due to freelancing efforts taking most of my creative time.
So I guess it's been from March 2003 till now that I've been trying to learn about publishing through conferences, blogs, books, and contacts, making little or no progress toward publication.
>I started my writing journey in June when I started my first novel. I have been saturating myself with information, books, and blogs on the subject as well as attending conferences and writers groups. Now, in January, with my book finished (after endless hours), and I'm getting positive responses from agents, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on how the industry works and what is expected of authors. That being said, the moment I say "I have arrived" is the moment I doom myself to stagnation. I have always considered myself to be a lifelong learner and I feel that no matter what one's pursuit may be, one can never stop learning.
So, to answer the question, I feel like it's taken six months to get a grasp on the current situation with the understanding that I will always have to keep myself current and "in the know" by keeping my fingers to the pulse of the industry. But that goes for any career, not just writing.
>If I add up all the time I spent reading and researching publishing, I'd say only about a month or two. But much of it I learned while in college (on the side) and then the rest I learned while reading blogs. Of course just because I know what to do doesn't mean I've learned to apply it yet, especially since I'm still trying to learn all the mechanics of how to write a superb story.
>I totally remember being ignorant! Those were fun days.
I was a big Lord of the Rings fan. While googling for fan candy, I found Debbie Ohi's comic "Waiting for Frodo" comic strip. So I began to follow her website. A few months later I realized she was a writer and talked about writing. From the single source of her blog, I began gathering links to other places to read about publishing and writing. Six months later, I had over 50 blogs in my RSS reader and I read EVERY post I could get my hands on.
It was at about 8 months I felt publishing savvy enough to trim my 80+ blogs down to 20 and focus on my writing more. I know I still have a lot to learn, and I look forward to learning and being surprised.
>I've been researching the publishing business as long as I've been writing genre fiction. I made a point of researching my genre's (science fiction & fantasy) requirements. Now that I'm branching out into some non-fiction and childrens books, I'm adding to my research sites.
The work paid off. I sold one short story and was told by my editor that the other story I shopping, needed to be a novel.
>Well I could say since I was 16 and stared at the old typewriter and declared to my inner soul that I would be the youngest author ever published! (See how much I didn't know.) And how grateful I am this never happened. Oh how my writing voice, style, and even passions have changed from age 16 to 21 to 28 to 32…..but now at 32 I sit in awe and excitement that I have a provisional book contract. How did this come about…through many rejection letters, networking, and listening…..yep listening to what the conversation was out in the world/my audience and then pitching that perfect proposal to that perfect publishing company and finding that perfect co-author to do so with. So, it does happen. Did I even answer the question? Hmm….a long time…but even that is relative.
>Wow, that's a really hard question to answer. I don't think you can answer for the "average author" because each person has their own unique path.
For me, the learning has really been in fits and starts. I started with a dream of being a magazine freelancer. So in the early 90s I bought a bunch of "how-to-get-your-work-published" books. No blogs back then, so the learning curve was much slower.
But really, within the space of a few months, I got a pretty good handle on the rudimentaries of both the magazine publishing and book publishing businesses (i.e. the cold hard truth that you don't just mail your manuscript off to "a" publisher when it's done and wait for the cheques to come in…)
And it's been like that over the years – I upgrade my knowledge as need be. I have 4 books published (not self-published) but I have never worked with an agent, never been sure of the how's and why's of agents (I am in Canada). A few weeks ago I stumbled across #agentsday, and that started my most recent step up on the learning curve – both in realizing what the resources are out there, and in learning much more about the specifics of agents and American publishers.
So, Rachelle, my answer is that, in total, it's a continuous learning process over many many years (and as other commenters have noted, the business is changing, so there is always new stuff for us to learn). However, I'd also have to say that my learning has been in fits and starts – a few concentrated weeks here, a few concentrated weeks there…
I do get frustrated with people who ask those very simple questions: how do I get published? etc. Yes, being a writer is a creative pursuit and we are artists blah blah blah. But selling our writing is a business, and anyone who is serious has to treat it as such. I really take my education about the business side of things seriously, and I have invested a lot of time in that. (And it's served me really well, presenting myself as a professional rather than as someone who is expecting people who really are their work colleagues – agents, editors, publishers – to be responsible for their business education).
Anyone who thinks (s)he knows how to write should also know how to Google. There is a wealth of info out there. Your blog, Rachelle, is only one of a great many sources of info that are only a few finger taps away.
>Every extra moment I have is spent learning about the industry.
The more I read, the more blessed I feel to have been at least "noticed" early on. No matter how quickly you were recognized by an agent or a publisher, it is my job to get as informed as possible. It keeps me humble too.
I feel like I am on this exciting journey researching the publishing industry and getting advice from agent blogs and hearing other writer's stories.
Thank God for the internet!!!
>Although it's been five years since I decided to pursue publication, it's only now with about six months of serious research–reading agent and publisher blogs, keeping up with the industry–that I feel I have any idea of the business. This blog has been a huge help to me, by the way!
That said, I'm still not ready to query… although I think that's because I need to write some more books. Practice makes perfect!
>I am wondering, if you're not in the business, are you ever officially savvy about the publishing industry? I have worked for several writers, as a personal assistant, which meant lots of ghost writing for the writers who have book deals and drafting query letters, mailing submissions, and more ghost writing for the one who didn't. And now I work in the entertainment business in acquisitions, which gives me the other side's perspective (i.e., the many submissions we get where the creative person is utterly clueless – as we all have been at times – the many pass emails I have to send, the horrible movie trailers I have to watch, etc.) My first month here, I said to my boss, "We crush people's dreams all day!" To which he wisely replied, "But for the few, we make people's dreams come true." That's why I wonder if you haven't seen the ins and outs of the business, are you ever really savvy to what's happening in the business? All that said, I am young and don't know everything, but what I have seen over the last 5 years, is that relationship seems to be the key. I see that in my current position in acquisitions. Relationship between agents, filmakers, and us leads to deals. The same is true for the writers I worked with in the past and the ones I ghost write for now… everything on their plate stems from relationship. Even the small amount of published material I have came from the relationships in my life. I know there are some cold turkey submissions that really take off (hello harry potter), but relationship seems to be a crucial tool for writers… and any creative genre, for that matter. Thanks for your blog!
>I've been seriously writing for about 4 years. When I finished my book I felt like I had a handle on it. Then it took a year of subbing to land an agent, at which point I thought, "Ok, now I really have a handle on it." And now that I've come through a rough writing year and am finishing my 2nd book, I feel like I truly have a handle on it. For reals.
But who knows if I'm right? You never know what you don't know.
>In the mid-nineties, I learned a lot about publishing/writing from a local writers' group, a critique group, conferences, etc. Then I went back to school to get my CW degree, and I find that things have changed. For example, in the nineties, almost no agents took e-mail queries. Now, they all want them. And writers are expected to have an online presence, which wasn't the case back then.
>I very much enjoy learning about the process, and honing my own writing. I've benefitted greatly from your site and a few others, but I am also living a full non-writing life, so I just tread along, learning and writing and trusting that God has a plan and that it ultimately involves more than just blogging!
>I still don't know the "industry," but after a couple of years I'm comfortable with the process. One of the most frustrating things has been the plethora of conflicting information out there and the (necessarily) subjective nature of the game.
>To be honest, I started researching during the month of nanowrimo (procrastination is such a nice thing) and came across several agent blogs such as yourself.
Obviously, I am still learning, and working on a manuscript not related to Nanowrimo. But I feel that I have learned a whole lot through blogs, and that it is not a scary world as I thought. It's very comforting. All I have to do is remain determined and to be concise in anything I write to agents and editors and other people involved in the publishing process.
I even mentioned this blog post in my blog, and it really helped me to reflect on all I have learned thus far.
>There's a difference in feeling like you have a handle on writing and on the publishing industry. My hat is off to anyone who felt they had it figured out within six months. When I started trying to write, the main way you learned was through conferences and books, plus the practice of writing/getting rejected/responding to comments on your writing. Now, a plethora of blogs and online resources are available, and I think they shorten the process considerably (providing writers take advantage of them).
I think it was a couple of years before I really understood what was going on in publishing. It sort of hit me like algebra. For a long time it made no sense, then things started to click.
Author/independent editor Ray Rhamey tells me most editors of his acquaintance agree that it takes writing three books before a writer begins to "get it." Some can do it faster, some slower, but I think that may be a pretty good estimate.
>I didn't start learning about the publishing process until about a year ago. Recently, I had a non-writer friend ask how my novel is coming along; I explained that I'm still revising the fifth draft and polishing, etc., and building my platform, and researching agents.
"Oh," she said, "So when are you looking at getting the book published? By this summer?"
Obviously, she knows nothing about publishing!
>I didn't start learning about the publishing process until about a year ago. Recently, I had a non-writer friend ask how my novel is coming along; I explained that I'm still revising the fifth draft and polishing, etc., and building my platform, and researching agents.
"Oh," she said, "So when are you looking at getting the book published? By this summer?"
Obviously, she knows nothing about publishing!
>I probably knew what I needed to know/do within 6 months or so; it took another 6 months to be ready to show my proposal to someone.
When I started out, there weren't blogs and internet resources available. My first step was to subscribe to a writer's magazine, which was a good overview of all I didn't know. I attended 2 one-day workshops (which I found out about in the magazine). Then I bought books so I could follow the steps I learned about (from the workshops) and one year from when I started, I attended a larger conference where I connected with an editor who published my first book.
With all the resources available now, I think someone could easily learn what needs to be done within a year. Applying it well could take a little longer though.
>I feel like I'm constantly learning more. But I did spend a good 6 months reading blogs, literary agencies websites, and comments by published authors, before I began querying. It seems like people try to skip the research step – but it's crucial.
>It was several years ago I sent my very first query to the very first agent. Recently, I sent her an email apologizing for the pain I caused her.
My answer? Three years. I'm a slow learner.
>I think it took me six months of intensive research after I finished my first novel to get a clue about the industry. I'm always grateful for your compassion for the clueless!
As far as the time from agent signing until first contract, I'm hoping it will be about eighteen months. 😉
>I think I've been reading the blogs and following the twitter streams of agents/editors/published writers for close to 6 months now. It's been a huge learning process for me, but also really enjoyable, because I love how transparent the internet has made the industry. It's not this dark, deep mystery anymore.
While I do feel that I have grasped how the querying, acquisition and publishing process works in theory, I still have to put a lot of the advice I got into practice.
I'm currently in the middle of writing the query for my book, and getting really helpful feedback on a forum. I'm doing revisions on my book, before sending them out to betas… I was never under the impression that it would be easy, and I'm here to work hard on myself to eventually get published, reading the success stories gives me hope, that eventually I'll be there along with the other published writers.
I think once you put a little effort into it, it's really easy to get the information you need, and there's SO much GOOD information out there.
>Before I received my offer of representation, the following took place.
1) I got a degree in mass communication with the print journalism option.
2) I worked for a small textbook publishing company where I spent a year as an assistant editor.
3) I had a few magazine articles published, some for pay. 🙂
4) I spent two years writing five 100K novels and rewrote three of those once.
5) I entered contests two years ago, finaled eight out of 34 times, and received a wealth of wonderful feedback, from which I learned a great deal.
6) I stopped submitting and entering contests for eighteen months while I studied craft, attended conferences, and read blogs by respected agents, editors, and authors. I wrote one series-length novel during this period.
7) I rewrote one of my stories for the second time, incorporating all I'd learned, submitted it to contests, placed six times, and received four requests for fulls from final round judges, one of which led to my offer of representation.
To add it up, I invested nine years and wrote about one million words before I received my offer of representation. I feel I've finally graduated from newbie writer to intermediate writer and look forward to learning more and making my stories even better.
>I have been freelancing for several years, but my discovery was that non-fiction and magazine publishing is very different than fiction. So I guess it's been about a year and a half of solid reading (books, blogs, whatever I could get my hands on) to learn more about this particular facet of the publishing world.
I agree with the poster who said that it's always changing so I am constantly reading and learning as much as I can. One thing that I've discovered is that it's not an easy business. I've just sold my first series and I feel like the work is just beginning! 🙂
Your blog has been a huge help in my journey, so thank you! 🙂
>I decided last summer that I finally had the convergence of time, passion, and subject matter to start writing a book. Started writing and researching the business at about the same time. Sent first round of query letters in September. Got the first round of rejections shortly after. Re-tooled the project and the query letters for another round in November and got offers from a couple agents. Picked the better of the two and am anxious to progress in this bizarre process of publishing.
>I'd say it took be about six months in the blogosphere learning about publishing to get a handle on the situation. But, there's a continual learning process still in effect.
>I don't think you can ever learn enough because the industry is always changing. The five years that I've been watching publishing closely have helped, but I'm not as knowledgeable as I wish, and I had a head start, because I worked for a publisher (and later other publishers) and also designers in the book market. (Because I was on the design/typesetting end, what I knew about writers is that they generally made the rest of us very late for our deadlines, and it was up to us to have the book ready yesterday so we could still get to print on time.)
Still, even though I worked with editors and designers, what really gave me the best picture of the whole publishing process from beginning to end was Harold Underdown's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.
I would highly recommend this book to all authors, even if they don't write children's books. I don't know of any other book that gives such valuable information about what you can expect as you go through the entire publishing process (and beyond into the world of marketing).
>I've been writing, studying, and following publishing news for five years (with some considerable breaks for the sake of my growing family's sanity.) I'd say it took me about two years to really get a sense for the way things work, however I find that the gap just keeps widening. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to oblivion. Those reality checks can be dream/creativity murderers!
>Seventeen years, three months and four days.
It starts like this: you love to tell and write stories. You like to talk to others about stories by professional authors, who are, from what you can tell, completely dedicated to the worlds they create, and sort of famous for doing so: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Joyce Carol Oates and so on.
Honest work has no appeal. Why not make money instead by having everyone tell you how great your imagination is and loving every thing about you? You write a bunch of stories and novels that are stupid and unsellable, counting the millions that you will never make in your lifetime.
Seventeen years later, you finally realize the world doesn't owe you a thing, there are a minimum of 1.3 million people more interesting and gifted than you, and the skill you once thought was so magical, writing stories, is something any kindergartner can do before summer vacation rolls around.
It then takes three months to figure out the basic business structure of the industry, and its growth opportunities and risks.
And four days to kick yourself for taking so long to figure it out.
And, in the seventeenth year, third month and FIFTH day, you've finally learned that you really love to tell and write stories. So you tell them.
>Before I wrote my first chapter, I had a good idea of what the publishing industry was like. I haven’t a clue where I picked that stuff up, but it probably came from reading books, television or idle conversation. I listen to everything and try to file it away until I need it. My knowledge has increased in the past few years. For example, as a kid I knew that bookstores tore the covers off of some books, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I drew the connection between that and publishers giving them money for unsold books. But I can’t say I really have a handle in this thing. Oh, I know the jargon and I can draw a diagram showing the steps from an author writing a book to getting it in a store, but the important stuff, that’s a different story. But I’m not sure anyone knows that stuff.
>That's really kind of you to respond to those writers, Rachelle. Very generous of you. 🙂
I'd say about 3 months in I knew this was a whole new ballgame. I'm still trying to figure it out, though.
That's partly because it's all changing as we speak, and partly because there are alot of layers here.
But I continue to go back to my touchstone – write the book I'm meant to write, follow my path and trust that everything else will fall into place in whatever way it's supposed to.
>@ CKHB "You don't call up a judge and say, "I'm thinking of being a lawyer, can you tell me what this LSAT thing is and how to apply to law school?"
My husband is an IT manager/webmaster, and people we hardly know call us up all the time and say "We thought it would be nice if you came over for coffee so we could get to know you. Oh, and we have a problem with our computer/would like to know how to build a website so maybe you could help us while you're here?"
Sometimes they also say "Our house isn't very child friendly so maybe it would be best while your kids are at school"
I think sometimes people forget that those who provide services rather than products are still trying to make a living and don't have unlmimited time to hand out 'freebies'.
>I started researching the publishing business before I even started writing in earnest. But I think it was because I'm deeply afraid of looking like a fool, and I go overboard trying to get the most information to stack the odds in my favor.
>I still feel like I'm learning something new everyday, but the bulk of the knowledge came over a few months of lurking around the blogs of agents and writers. There's so much to learn, but so much sharing at the same time.
The thing with the learning is it also depends on how serious you are about the adventure and how much time you're willing to devote to it. For some it may take a few days or weeks to become somewhat savvy, for others it may take months simply because there are other things that are just as high a priority.
>I started learning about publishing last summer. I learn something new every day. So that's, what, 8 months? I still don't feel like I entirely have a handle on all the things I need to know when the eventual time comes for me to query.
Which won't be for a while because I'm still in first draft phase.
>Is it really rude for me to say "not long"? I'm shocked that people would email you directly. That strikes me as terribly unprofessional. You don't call up a judge and say, "I'm thinking of being a lawyer, can you tell me what this LSAT thing is and how to apply to law school?"
When my book was halfway done, I started noodling about the AgentQuery.com website (which I think I learned about from NaNoWriMo!) and picked a few agents who I thought might be good fits (or who went to the same college as me… work those subtle connections!) and started drafting a query letter. I also picked up a book on querying/getting an agent that was recommended by AQ. But that was just for fun dreaming of the future. I didn't have a finished book and would never have sent anything out that early.
2-3 years later, the book was finally done, revised, critiqued, and revised again. THEN I did a more intelligent search of AgentQuery based on genre, read the agent blogs as linked on AQ, and dove in. I really don't feel like I spent that much time "learning the system" because it's not that complicated a system. There's a special kind of cover letter used in this industry, called a query, that talks more about the book than it does about the author. That's it.
I've learned TONS from the agent blogs on the market and royalties and all those other elements, but none of that knowledge was needed to submit my novel. I guess it took me a couple of weeks to read the sample queries and other basic agent advice thoroughly, and draft my query accordingly? My query changed a little from the one I'd written years earlier, but not that much. My first query was more like a back-cover book summary, and the final query fit the professional requirements more precisely.
I submitted to Nathan first even though I didn't think he'd be the best fit because he has such a fast turn-around time. Reject me quickly and let the games begin!
>I started the process in the late nineties, well before blogs. I remember buying a book about writing for children and following it religiously. I also checked out library books that were horribly out of date.
It wasn't until I joined SCBWI a few years later that I started feeling equipped. The security, support, and information available from writing organizations is so beneficial.
Writers Digest and CWIM taught me so much, just sitting down and slogging through.
>I had a head start because I worked in publishing, but it took me around 6 months to a year to get a handle on writing queries etc. I wrote some really ridiculous queries for a while and kept experimenting with different approaches until I found one that worked pretty well (keep them short, professional, and not chummy). I think it's best to start with good general books about writing and publishing to get an overview, then check the agent and editor blog archives for specific subjects (queries etc).
>For me it was about four years from the time I had a manuscript I felt was ready to send out until I signed a book contract. The first three years were full of lots of dead ends–I was mostly submitting to publishers on the recommendation of someone who had a little bit of influence with that publisher and would send a letter of support. When that didn't pan out, I began querying agents or submitting to publishers that would take unagented manuscripts–again, no go. I finally connected with my publisher through a publicist who liked my proposal and suggested I send it to a certain acquisitions editor she knew. Even then, it took a full year between the time that editor said she was interested, and the time I got the contract to sign.
I am definitely a little embarrassed by some of the mistakes I made early on and how clueless I was–but I did learn, and it was all worth it.
This is off point but another sweeping question; maybe you can blog about it sometime.
Any advice for the writer whose spouse does not get and does not like the writer's work? We are so used to the opposite–the "my mother loved it, my best friend said it's brilliant" etc. But what do you do when the person you share your life with just does not like your writing? (And other people do).
>I've been at it a year, and I still think there is so much more to learn, but I am now at the point where I feel like I can start really pushing forward. It's like a big puzzle, with lots of pieces to put together.
>I started actively learning a year ago, and while I've learned a lot, I still don't feel like I have a complete understanding of the process, especially on the back end. I haven't started actively seeking an agent yet, so that may clear up some of those questions as I experience it for myself.
>I have been on the novel writing journey since 1995 when I attended my first local writer conference in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
In 1996 I took my first correspondence course with Writers Digest. I now own over 100 books on writing. I had to keep a list or I found myself buying the books twice.
I love to learn and hope I never stop.
>I've been doing my homework for about three years now; learning as much as I can about the business, the lingo, learning how to hone my craft. I don't know how ready any new writer is, once they dive in and I think at some point you have to start a hands-on learning process.
>It took me about 2 1/2 years, from my first Google search on 'how to get published,' to where I'm ready to start querying…
and that included a 6 month reprieve while feeling completely overwhelmed at the process!
>I've been reading blogs for exactly a year. I also queried for the first time last spring, about the same time I started reading blogs. Right now I feel like a completely different person than I was a year ago. I'm a member of ACFW, have studied books on craft, etc. I have learned so much! There's so much to learn–sometimes I wonder if I will ever be completely ready.
>Oh my gosh! LOL I'm remembering the blissful days when I read books and thought nothing about the person who wrote them. Then I started to write a book which I never finished. That lasted about two years. For some reason I'd looked up Steeple Hill online and when then I started reading their online articles about craft. So…I guess I started learning about the business when I started my first "real" book. They had an opening and I (so blissfully, naively) thought that I'd write up a book and send it to them.
I think what you're doing sounds about right. 🙂
>Answer to your first question: years! Answer to your second question, even post publication, I'm still figuring it out, but it took 2 years and 7 books from feeling ready to pursue publication to The Call. Keep writing. That is the key to everything.
>I honestly don't remember! I started looking into how to go about getting published well before I finished writing the first draft of my first novel, because I'm one of those anal people who plans next steps out like it's my job. So I realized very early that it isn't as simple as popping a crisp pile of typed pages in the mail to the publisher of my choice. I looked at my time management while writing this way–if I've written myself out for the day, but still have time left over, I'll use it to read agent blogs, publishing resources, author insight into the process. So, by the time I finished manuscript #1, I had a good handle on how things work.
Of course, given that I'm still in the process of querying, I know I have much more to learn about the nitty-gritty of each of these steps! But honestly, a big thank-you to every blogging agent, editor, and author out there for giving your perspective and experience–it's invaluable insight into how this publishing beast operates.
>Okay, this past year is when I actually started seriously querying (very selectively, but querying non-the-less) I did so a little the year before, but I was NOT ready. I wrote my first book in 2007 (August – November) then 2008 was learning how bad my book was and how much editing it really did need, and learning about the business. 2009 is when I felt I finally started to grasp it well.
Obviously I'm still unpublished, so I guess if I'm "there" is highly up for debate, but I'd say 2 years??
Thought I'd chime in here too. I joined ACFW in 2002 and began getting serious interest from publishers and agents in 2005. At that point, I had more than jittery nerves to offer and felt more secure in my tactics and knowledge of the business. During those years, I was extremely active in a 4/5-person critique group, read how-to books, attended conferences, and asked lots of questions of my peers.
That said, this publishing journey is an ongoing adventure that requires ongoing learning. Hope that helps a little. 😉
>Oooh, tough question. I had concentrated solely on my writing craft and skills. I studied story structure by reading and analyzing movies (esp. enlightening when you read the book and watch the movie to see changes in story — screenwriters know how to hone in :-).
When my book was done, the only thing I knew about publishing was that I needed an agent. So I got on-line to find one.
Simultanesouly I saw all this stuff about queries. I was amazed that you could email agents with a query. I also saw a book being referenced — How To Make the Pefect Pitch. I hopped over to amazon.com and ordered it.
Much like Adam Heine (above), I pretty much got the basics of queries, what to look for in an agent… what to HOPE for in a agent, I should say, etc. in about 6 months.
Even though I have an agent now and my book has sold, I still find the study of queries (and pitching) fascinating. I'm not necessarily learning anything new. Rather, it is a constant reminder how to design a book-length story so that it might "fit" a perfect query.
I know it's working backwards, but if you write the perfect query FIRST — a query no agent could possibly "pass" on, and then write your book (in all aspects) to fulfill that query (no wandering!!), you can win publication.
In other words, what I learned about this first step in publishing is to write the book from the query and NOT to write the query from the book.
Now, it's off to learn many other aspects of this SCARY business. I hope the lessons don't hurt too much.
>For utterly years. In fact, it's one of the things that contributed to when I broke up with my co-writer. He would not do any research, convinced that, as a small business owner, he knew everything about publishing. I was practically going crazy when he couldn't be bothered to get around to second book (last on the priority list). I would ask what he would do with a year deadline to write a book. He seemed not to be bothered at all by this, and just said, "Everything's negotiable." Utterly no idea what the impact of being late for such a deadline was. I could easily see myself being the one who scrambled for the deadline while he sat back and said, "We'll negotiate to get the date changed."
>Since I've been writing for a long time, I wasn't oblvious to how difficult the journey to publication was. But after I came back from my writing hiatus, it took me six months to a year of reading agent/writer blogs to begin to have a good grasp on the current climate.
But as you know from our recent trip, there's always so much more to learn!
>Wow, Rachelle, I'm amazed you actually reply to those kind of questions. I imagine you are already busy enough without that.
If I were in your shoes I think I'd be posting up some kind of FAQ on my blog, and respectfully declining to answer!
To respond to your question, I started looking into publishing in the days before the internet, so information was much less readily available than it is these days. Still, a trip to the local bookstore or library could set you on the right path. Now there is a wealth of information at our fingertips (and I'm still learning). Goodness, even just googling 'How do I get published'! Surely some degree of initiative can be expected?
>I had no clue after I finished my first book. I bought Sally Stuart's Christian publishing market guide and started querying publishers. I got a lot of polite form rejections and one request for the full. I sent it off with high hopes. This was it! They'd read it and love it. Imagine my chagrin when the entire thing was sitting in my mailbox a week later. I think they probably read the first page and sent it right back as soon as they could! (it was really quite horrible at the time).
Since then, it's been three and a half years. I've studied the craft and the industry. You asked: How long did it take you to feel you have a handle on it? Well, it's been 3.5 years and I still don't feel like I have a handle on it. But I do feel like a much more informed writer. I learn new stuff every day. It's one of the exciting things about being a writer. And I have this really rockin' agent who helps me with the stuff I don't understand 😉
>I've been reading agent blogs and writers' forums for about five years. Started with Miss Snark and Absolute Write and went from there. I've just begun the query process, and I still feel like there's so much I don't know about publishing.
I think you learn about each stage as you approach and go through it. When does anyone ever know enough? Never, really.
>I was that person too! I think it's taken 2 years of reading blogs to understand I'm just at the beginning. I'm also trying to document my learnings for other newbies as the journey is all part of the lesson!
>Personally I would say that being pretty savy about publishing is an ongoing process. Just because you know how the industry worked years ago doesn't mean you do now. For instance authors who were once published but are looking to have their books republished tend to feel that the industry works in a specific manner when now thanks to the internet it had changes a great deal. (I have been helping my grandmother deal with having to use e-mail to contact her old agent instead of snail mail.) As a writer who wished to be published and become an author I honestly feel that when you are trying your hardest to keep up and on top of the game it never ends but what counts is the effort you put into it and the resources you take advantage of having at your disposal. Just my opinion though, looking forward to seeing what others think!
>I was a creative writing major in college and I think it was about ten years after I graduated that I decided to take seriously the advice "Writing is re-writing." That's when I started getting magazine articles published. About two years after that until I got a book deal.
Also, I might be a little slow. 😀
I did study the industry a lot while I was writing first drafts and just staring at them waiting for them to be magically publishable.
>I think it depends on what sources you're using!
I started researching with Thomas Nelson which put me onto Mike Hyatt, which put me onto yourself and Chip MacGregor.
Over the months I've discovered several other helpful blogs and sites, but in reality MOST of the advice I've taken has come from you three.
Between you all (including reading suggested links, blog archives and linked articles, etc), I feel like I 'got a handle' on what was important to DO to push my writing into the top 2% within a month or so.
That said, six months later I am still in the process of DOING all the things you guys made me aware of… including building platform (VERY SLOWLY), having my work critiqued by an experienced writers group which includes published authors, and researching agents, etc.
I have had some success with the few submissions I've made (five requests for partials and two for fulls so farm, though I haven't heard back on those yet) so I'm confident you've all set me on the right track at least.
In the event I'm published I'll acknowledge you for your part! 🙂
>"How long were you actively reading about publishing… before you felt like you were really starting to get a handle on this thing?"
6 months to a year. That's when the blog posts started repeating themselves and I'd say, "Oh yeah, I've heard that already."
Although I still don't know how to write a query letter 😉