November 24, 2008

how to become a (published) writer

When I decided to start a public blog, I spent some time thinking about what its focus should be, and I have to admit it wasn't initially obvious to me that it would end up being (at the very least tangentially) about writing. Generally, I've tended to blog mostly only about cleaning my apartment, and other things that fill me with an unwarrantedly large sense of accomplishment.

But lately I've fielded a couple of questions from friends and family about how to go about getting published, so I thought I would share my recent response to a friend of a friend asking on behalf of her friend's (!) father:

Q: "Do you mind my asking how you went about getting your book published? A friend's father might be interested in publishing something, but they're not sure where to start. I know we could just google it, but I was wondering if you'd be willing to share your story."

A: What kind of thing is your friend's father interested in publishing? All I can really talk about is my experience with Canadian literary fiction (rather than mass-market fiction or non-fiction). Generally, it goes something like this:

1) Send stories to literary journals (places like the Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, the Dalhousie Review).

2) Once you have some sort of publishing record, you can query publishers with a sample of your manuscript. Big publishing houses (Random House, Penguin, etc.) do not usually accept unsolicited submissions (i.e. sans agent), so you would basically be writing to small literary presses (like Goose Lane, Coach House, etc).

3) If they want to see more, they'll tell you..and at that point, you send it!

You could also skip step 1, but it will help with grant applications and building credibility with editors and agents. Also, in step 2, you could also query literary agents to try and represent your manuscript. If you have a novel (rather than a short-story collection or poetry, which most agents will not represent), this might be a good choice. Also, the time in between sending stuff and hearing back from people is usually a minimum of 2 months and anywhere up to 8 months or you need to be patient. But please keep in mind I'm not an expert on any of this! It's all based on hearsay and my own limited experience.

Hope this helps!


Jonathan Ball said...

Saleema, you have forgotten the all-important Step 0: Write for many, many years, probably 5-10 minimum, with no encouragement and no prospects and tons of rejection. Only the strong survive and get published one day.

Jonathan Ball said...

PS -- nice to see a blog from you! (and a real one, not a facebook one.) i will try to write more in my blog if you try to keep it up also. i have toyed with the idea of revamping my blog to give it more structure and order and a reason to post, but haven't done so yet.

saleema said...

Yes, I intentionally left out Step Zero, as I think I tried to cover it in an email to my cousin once, and it ended up sounding too terrifying and possibly mean. Plus, in this situation, it seemed as though the writer in question already had an MS in hand. Besides, why not keep things upbeat?

Yes, let's try and keep each other prolific! Though if you ever logged into Livejournal, you'd see I've been writing up a storm of tedious minutiae for months...