Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Lisa Reece-Lane of Milkfever.
At some point during the process of looking for a publisher, you might begin to question your sanity. Why do I check my letterbox one hundred times a day? you wonder. Why am I looking for secret meanings between the words, ‘unfortunately your manuscript is not suitable for our current list’? Why does the list of publishers in the Writers’ Guide seem more fascinating than the latest episode of Tudors? Or obsess about whether to appear professional (yours sincerely) or friendly (warmest best wishes) on your cover letter. Your friends might suggest you get a life, or at least comb your hair.
Fear not, this is perfectly normal behaviour for a writer. We’re all nuts. I mean, who else would subject themselves to the rejection, self-doubt, insecurities and anguish unless there was a deep, incurable passion for books and words in the blood?
And the exciting news is that none of this will change after publication either, you’ll still be nuts, but hopefully will get paid for it.
For me, it all started with the alphabet. After I’d given my manuscript a good polish, I downloaded a list of publishers and started with the first one listed under “A”. I sent out a cover letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters of my manuscript. Then I waited…
… and waited.
I assumed that they thought my work was so bad that they couldn’t bring themselves to waste paper on a reply. I’ve since learned that all publishers reply – eventually – because they really do have good manners but are overworked and understaffed, so if you haven’t heard anything after their recommended waiting period (in some cases, with the busy publishing houses, this can be up to 9 months! Yes, that’s right, some of us could have a baby while we’re waiting) then by all means contact them, politely, to ensure your manuscript arrived safely.
In the meantime, keep learning, keep reading and writing and improving your craft.
It turned out that publisher “A” liked my work after all, and they wanted to see more, but my letter and sample writing had somehow fallen through the cracks. I sent in the whole manuscript this time and waited again. In all, it took a year of, nearly…maybe… sorry no. But a rather sweet person in the industry suggested I send out my work to more than one publisher at a time. [If you do this I recommend letting the publisher know you’re seeing someone else behind their back.]
So, I ditched the alphabet and took their advice. I decided to send out to more than one at a time. Another publisher was keen…almost…maybe…sorry, no. I was getting tired of waiting, getting tired of almost getting there. I began to lose hope. [Suggest: purchase the man-sized variety of tissues whenever you see them on special at the supermarket, because you’ll need plenty.]
After lots of weeping and wailing, and late night writing sessions, I found another publisher, Murdoch, who were enthusiastic and fortunately also speedy. After my initial contact and sample chapters they asked me to email the whole manuscript and after a few nerve-wracking weeks they sent me an email that made me cry. But this time, happy tears.
Here is what I have learnt:
- After publication, you’ll still doubt yourself and think your writing is rubbish. Red wine may temporarily restore confidence, but the feeling will be gone by morning.
- Publishers are incredibly kind people who don’t want to break your heart. Really. It’s a tough job.
- Before submitting your manuscript, go over it with a magnifying glass. Read and re-read your work until it is as good as you can make it. This is vital. You really only get one shot at it. Don’t send out sloppy work. The publisher won’t ignore bad grammar, poor spelling, weak characters, boring plot etc. Join a writing group. Sign up to some of the great writing blogs out there (this one for example). Find a writing buddy. Join your local Writers’ Centre. There is plenty of free advice and friendly support out there. You don’t need to feel alone.
- Read over the attached list whenever you feel down. Others have been rejected far worse than you, and gone on to succeed. Rotten Rejections.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be persistent. Without this special quality your talent, luck and knowing all the right people won’t count for anything.
Pin this quote to your writing station. “You cannot fail, unless you quit.”
Consider this; let’s say you have a list of fifty publishers to contact. You start at number one and diligently work your way down the list. Imagine for a moment that publisher number thirty-eight or forty-two, or even fifty is the publisher who will dance for joy when your manuscript lands on their desk? How silly would it be to quit at number fourteen, hey? So, don’t quit. Don’t quit. And don’t quit.
Every day do some small thing towards getting published.