Going Back to School
Getting published doesn’t have to be hard or scary. The easiest way to understand it is to think of it like schools—and like getting into school. Not everyone expects to get into Harvard. Similarly, not every writer should expect to get a six-figure advance and get published with a major New York publishing house.
When you’re trying to figure out what school to go to, you have your long shots, those programs you really want to get into because they’re a perfect match, and your back-ups. As is the case when you apply to undergraduate programs, what you want is probably going to vary dramatically from your peers and colleagues. For instance, just because Dartmouth has an excellent reputation doesn’t mean that that’s the school for you. For instance, maybe you knew you would benefit from smaller class sizes, so you really wanted to go to a liberal arts school. Publishing has these tiers, too: they’re called small presses.
So how do you mentally prepare yourself for diving into all of this? After all, when you were in high school you had guidance counselors to help you navigate the college system. You probably had a sense of where you could and couldn’t go based on money, GPA, and/or SAT scores. But now you’re an adult and you want to shop your book project. So where to start?
Make a list of what’s important to you. Is it money? Acclaim? Having a say? Just getting published anywhere?
Next answer this: Were you the type of student who was willing to pursue your education no matter what? If you couldn’t get in to your first- or second-tier schools, were you willing to accept junior college as an alternative? If so, you might be a candidate for self-publishing. Sure, you might not want to consider this until you get back notice that you haven’t been accepted into the big leagues. But it’s good to know before you even get started whether or not it’s an option.
It’s also important to consider these questions before you’re too far along in the process in part because of a little thing called managing your expectations. There’s a whole industry out there, and then there’s you. You might be talented and feel like this article doesn’t even apply to you. You might catch a lucky break. You might sign with an agent who loves your work. They might sell your book straight out the gate for five figures or more. Or they might not. They might sit on your project, unable to sell it for years. Or, you might pursue a publisher yourself and get immediate feedback that your work is directly in line with what they do and they can’t wait to sign you. Or you might receive rejection letter after rejection letter and feel like you want to give up.
The reason I include the worst-case scenarios here is because I firmly believe that if you have the conviction to get published, you can get published. Just like schools, there’s a place for everyone. And just like undergraduate programs, not everybody can get into Harvard or Yale. But that doesn’t lessen the value of state schools or junior colleges.
So hang in there if you’re contemplating shopping a book. Aim for the stars, but have your back-ups, too. Having an action plan in place before you start can help you better deal with the inevitable rejections and keep you in the driver’s seat when you’re pursuing this important dream!
If you found this post interesting and want to learn more about how publishing works, check out Putting Your Passion Into Print, by Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry. Or comment below and start a conversation about what you’d like to know. With ten years in the industry, I’m happy to lend insight to this very subjective and complicated-to-navigate industry.
Until next month,