Whether you’ve been trying to find a publisher for a while, you’re trying to publish your own book, or you just fancy giving a single poetry submission a go – the question stands: What can I do to stand a better chance of getting published? There are LOTS of routes to getting published from digital-only journals to full-blown publishing companies – but the trick to how to get a book published doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact – the process is pretty straightforward.
(If you’re wondering how to write a book first, take a look at my ‘how to be a writer’ guide)
I’ve broken down some simple steps which might start you off on the path to finding the right publisher for you. The secrets of how to get published aren’t really that secret – they can be as easy as 1, 2, 3. But as with most things, it’s knowing where to start…
Write, Write, Write
The first step to getting published is simple – write something! It’s unlikely that the first book you write will be your number one bestseller (though it has been known to happen), so get practising.
Write EVERYTHING. I’m a firm believer that no matter whether you’re an aspiring novelist, poet, journalist, or whatever – writing in different forms for different platforms hones your ear to the whims of different audiences, and tunes your eye to how content fits a page. Visuals matter too!
Read books on writing. Search Pinterest for writing prompts and free writing exercises. Use free writing tools to teach you as you go along. Join a class! Hardly anyone has a day job that allows them to write, so don’t let that daunt you. Try half an hour before you go to work, or maybe an hour after tea. Find out how to write when you have a day job in my earlier blog. Find your balance. Find your voice.
If you’ve never submitted anywhere before, it can be a terrifying prospect to let someone read your work. I’m definitely someone who sometimes can’t tell if what I’ve written is any good. I’m getting far better with poetry, but my fiction and non-fiction often has me stumped.
Join a writing group. If having a circle of writers read your work is still too cringey, try an online writing group. There are plenty on Facebook, and a quick Google search unearths even more. I’m squeamish about my works in progress being written, so online suits me far better. I’m part of a closed Facebook group (which is great for asking submissions questions too!) and I’ve completed a few online courses with The Poetry School.
Failing that, get someone you know and trust to read your work. But be warned, having your partner read your work in progress is a bit like getting them to teach you how to drive. It might be character-building, but you might also end up crashing into a tree. It’s a lottery!
At this point, you’re ready to submit your poetry or prose into the ether. But where to begin?
If you’re brand new to getting published, start by trying to get a single poem or short story into a magazine, journal, or anthology. My feature on 5 best free resources for writers links you to ‘A Dreaming Skin’, an excellent monthly round up of submissions opportunities for poets, flash authors, and prose writers. It’s a brilliant place to learn about the sort of journals out there. If you write something very niche indeed, try a Google search. You never know, you might find the perfect ‘speculative Inuit folktale literary science fiction’ magazine mash up for your short story.
In the same way, many independent presses and publishers publish poetry pamphlets, full collections, and fiction. Make a list of your favourites as you go along and make a note of any open submission windows. If you’re curious to find out what happens during the production of a chapbook, find out what happened when Bone Ovation was being published.
If you’re past this point and you’re looking for an agent, I’ve always been told that a good place to begin is to look up some of your favourite authors that write in a similar genre to you. Find their agent, and see if they accept open submissions. Or ask your writing group for advice – that’s what I did – and you might be overwhelmed with ideas and inspiration.
Ready your submissions
At this point I can’t stress it enough – FOLLOW SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY. There’s a reason the publisher might need your name and email address in the header, or that they need it in PDF format and Word format. Always include a full cover letter.
I know enough editors and publishers to know how much pain is caused by submitters not adhering to the instructions when their inbox is already heaving. Don’t give an editor any reason to say ‘no’ to you. Following the instructions will make your submission as simple an experience as it could be for an editor, and this goes a long way to put them in the right mood to say a bright and sunny ‘yes’.
And be nice. Whilst being kind in your covering letter won’t make up for badly written poetry or prose (I’m sorry, it just won’t), it does help. No-one wants to work with an arse. Put in a personalised line at the beginning about the journal, or just wish the editor a nice day. Include a list of the poems you’re submitting to be helpful.
The Waiting Game
What happens next is the nervous bit. You might have to wait months for a response so your best option is to forget about it, move on, and write something else. And repeat the cycle. Be organised and keep a spreadsheet of your submissions so you know what you’ve sent where and how long you’ve waited.
Getting a book published or trying to find a publisher throws up a lot of rejection. But don’t take it to heart – get back on the horse and try again. There are exponentially more writers submitting to publishers than an editor can ever accept, and it IS all subjective after all. We don’t all love the same thing – with the exception of Harry Potter, maybe.
If you get feedback, use it to improve. It doesn’t happen much these days, but if a poem of mine has met over 6 or 7 rejections I try to accept that there’s something wrong with it, and that it needs to be revised. What my eye sees isn’t always what other people see after all.
And that’s it! Whether you’ve been trying to find a publisher for a while, you’re trying to publish your own book, or you just fancy getting a single poem published – the trick to getting a book published isn’t that complicated at all.
Looking for more advice? Take a look at my ‘how to be a writer’ guide.