I Must Be Insane: I’m Trying to Get Published!

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.

Lisa Reece-Lane is the author of Milk Fever. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her son, a dog and cat, and one hundred possums. Her awesome publisher is Pier 9, an imprint of Murdoch Books.

What small step can you take today to bring your manuscript closer to publication?

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21 comments on “I Must Be Insane: I’m Trying to Get Published!

  1. Ollin says:

    I had a question. I know you said you weren’t able to get a literary agent, and I wondered how you learned about all the legal issues surrounding getting published, you know, like how to protect you and your work. Do you recommend any websites, books, or courses to learn more about the legal side of the process?

    Great post! Thank you again for sharing your story with me and my readers! :)

    • milkfever says:

      Thanks so much for having me, Ollin.

      I pretty much concentrated on the publishers, and only contacted one or two literary agents. In America and in the UK, I believe it’s almost impossible to get anywhere near the publishing houses and so you’d need to find an agent first. The same advice applies: keep learning and improving and don’t give up.

      As for the legal side of things, I pretty much signed on the dotted line and didn’t bother with the fine print because getting my book out into the world was all I cared about.

      Would I recommend others do the same? No, of course not. But I can be a bit too happy-go-lucky for my own good.

      Many writers’ organisations and even local writers’ centres offer free advice with contracts. The Australian Society of Authors and the Victorian Writers’ Centre, for example, both offer this service. There are so many resources out there to help writers. The best place to start is your local writers’ centre.

  2. Thanks for your insight! :)

  3. Carol A. says:

    Ollin,

    Writer’s Digest web site probably has articles about the legal side of writing and publishing.
    http://www.writersdigest.com

  4. amanda says:

    Your final lines are key…”Don’t quit!” I also like to chant, “Don’t be a coward. Sit down, and Write!”

    I’m wondering what is up next for you, Lisa, as far as WIP’s or soon to be published works?Thanks for sharing~

    • milkfever says:

      Hi Amanda, I think that most people fail simply because they give up on themselves, which is very sad. JK Rowling took a year to find a publisher. What if she’d thrown in the towel after six months?

      As for me, well I’ve finished the first draft of the second manuscript, and still full of doubt, insecurities and joy, am plodding forward with the re-draft.

      What joy though, to write.

  5. milkfever says:

    I like the list of P’s. Employing each of those qualities will definitely help get you there – wherever it is you wish to be.

  6. jannatwrites says:

    Great post, Lisa. Although, I’m sorry to hear that I’ll still doubt myself even after I’m published, I always hoped that would disappear :)

    Good to hear you’re coming along on your second novel. Best to you!

  7. Jessica S says:

    Ohmigosh! This post was incredibly motivational to me. I’m just starting to get enough courage to try to be published. Your reflections were perfect to get me past the “what if” and get me on the way to “why not?”

    • milkfever says:

      Jessica, give yourself a huge pat on the back. Having the courage to “go for it” is the hardest part of all. I procrastinated about sending out my manuscript for over a year, because I was too much of a coward to approach publishers, imagining that they were like evil stepmothers in high towers sneering down on lowly authors. Nope, not at all. Without exception, I’ve found everyone in the industry to be near-angelic.
      One word of advice – find like-minded literary types to help you through the downs and celebrate the ups. My writing buddy kept me going when I wanted to quit.
      I wish you every success – and lots of fun along the way.

  8. cococollage says:

    Wow one hundred possums:)
    I thought I was alone in thinking all writers were a little nuts.
    Thanks for the note on rejection and for mentioning JK, she’s the reason I continue to write.

    • milkfever says:

      Okay, maybe not 100, but I really do think it would have to be close to 95 – at least. There’s one sneezing in the roof of the study, overhead, as I write. And the little buggers keep eating all the roses and fruit.
      But enough of the possums. Thanks for your comment and glad to hear that you’re committed to your writing.

  9. Wonderful post Lisa! I loved the grand finale, or how you let the curtain fall…

    “Every day do some small thing towards getting published.”

    Lovely; Inspirational; Kickass!

    Thanks for the share.

    -BrownEyed

    • milkfever says:

      You’re pretty “kickass” yourself, BrownEyed. I suggest everyone takes a trip to your blog, as you and Ollin have some great advice for aspiring authors. Keep up the great work.

  10. Great post, and thank you for the tips!

    One additional question: Is Writer’s Market still the consummate source for Publisher and/or Literary Agent names/contact info? Or are there other sources out there that might be helpful?

  11. e6n1 says:

    I’ve heard that your strike rate improves after the first 12 agents (if you’ve done the required such as writing a query letter, synopsis, etc…)

    What has helped in my situation are feathers in caps- have you won or been shortlisted for any fiction prizes? Had any short fiction previously published? These are things to include in the query letter.

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