Updated: Dec 20, 2019
How to get published
It’s that time of the year when you look back and quesiton how things went. Did you achieve everything you set out to do? For writers the list comprises these two questions- did I finish my project and did I get published. The reason I say this is because the number of ‘How do I get
published’ queries on all my social media platforms including my website increase substantially during the holiday season. So here’s my two paisa on traditional publishing. I am focusing on traditional publishing first because it’s always the better route, especially for debutants.
Step 1a) : Finish your Manuscript (MS for short)
Agents (see Step 1b) and publishers want a finished piece. Yes there's always that one person you met at a lit fest might have landed an agent/publisher with the first three chapters but when your odds aren’t great in the first place, choose to do it right. Tell your entire story, copyedit it, make it perfect, make it your best work so you never have to look back and wonder if it all would have happened had you just worked on it a little bit longer.
Step 1b) Find a literary agent.
What is a literary agent? A literary agent is your guide to this crazy mysterious world of publishing, and yes, they do take a commission but trust me it’s worth every penny. Why? Well they know all the editors, they know what they like, who's jumping on the latest trend and who has a penchant for that legal/horror/romantic/thriller you think is the best thing since the internet, because let’s face it sliced bread doesn't cut it anymore. They also know which editors' lists are full and they can also help you time the market, especially important if it's commercial fiction. Hey, I don't like the nomenclature either but ignore at your own peril. Commercial fiction comprises genre fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, checklist), romantic fiction (M&B I guess?) and a variety of other paperbacks they can't stereotype. Also, most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicitated manuscrips and even if they do, it will probably sit in the in tray collecting dust while the ‘xxxx’ agent pile gets sent right to the top because they attended the last Diwali party together. Good agents will also tell you when your work sucks(so important) and what to change; many of them have editing services which will help perfect your narrative structure and pacing. In short, they are your publishing Miyagi.
What they don’t do:
They DO NOT take money upfront. They get paid when you get paid. They take 15-25% of anything you make. But they don’t get paid if you don’t get paid. They also do not publish unless they expressly say they do.
Yes, it’s that simple. The only issue is getting an agent is pretty much like getting published- good agents don’t represent just anyone. They are choosy because they won’t waste time signing something they can’t sell. So having an agent is a great sign you’ll probably get published, eventually. It’s not a gaurantee but it’s nice to know someone likes your work other than your mother.
How to get an agent?
Step One - Find them
If you’re in the US, get the Publishers Marketplace book or go to the website. https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/pm/search?ss_c=memberpage&ss_q=India and look for your genre. If you’re in India, the list is not long and these two are among the best.
Mita Kapur - my agent who represented me on my first book- Fade Into Red which was ultimately sold to Penguin Random House.
Kanishka Gupta - a very successful agent who has placed a number of award winning books.
Step two - Contact them
Have your first three chapters, synopsis, and Query letter ready. Email it all to them at the email address on the website.
Step Three - Wait. Most agents will tell you that it takes them 2-4 weeks to get back to you but honestly, if they like it, they are going to jump on it quite quickly.
How to deal with rejection?
I have been rejected a total of 20 times. The first one was painful, the twentieth one was worrying and the twenty first one was successful. Rejection is a part of a writers life, like coffee, or if you're that weird person who likes tea. You've heard all the stories from J K Rowling to Stephen King, and so you know your writing WILL be rejected by someone. That’s what you signed up for, so build some heart muscle and get cracking.
You got rejected by an agent, what now?
At the outset, I am sorry. It's never nice to be rejected. Now get mopey off your face and move to plan b- contacting the publishers directly. You can do this two ways: Stalk them at literary festivals (that’s what I did once and it really paid off) and two: just find their submission criteria and contact them directly. It’s painfully slow but you have to try.
The thing about contacts.
Here’s the thing. Yes, the publishing industry is like that group of girls who never let you in on the gossip- cliquey, but it’s all about whom you know only until the MS reaches them. After that all bets are off, they look for what moves them and what they think will sell and they rarely compromise on what THEY think is good. They don't care who you are because they have to sell many copies of the book, and trust me, selling books is ridiculously hard. So the 'who you are' thing only happens if you are an A list celebrity the likes of folks that land Vogue covers and lead political rallies. But the rest of us mortals are all playing on a flattened field where the best work counts. But yes, a Taimur or Timur will be published in a heartbeat; cute celebrity babies have it all.
No one wants to publish you
…or publish you on your terms. Here’s the thing. Let’s start with your terms. The terms are simple. They, the publishers, buy your work, give you an advance and then they own your book and can do with it as they please. You will then get anywhere between 8-10 percent of royalties on the book- a majority of that amount will go towards recouping the advance they gave you in the first place, and everything after that is gravy, thin gruel really. But if it’s a good publishing house and they care about your book, accept those terms, because you didn't get into this for the money, did you? No really, I hope you didn't because there's none.
No one gave you any terms at all; they all just said no.
In that case your only option is to self -publish but that’s another lengthy post. Until then, get cracking on that Query letter!