I’m thanking Flash for this week’s topic. People keep asking her how to become a writer. My immediate answer to that — you don’t BECOME a writer. Writers write. We have stories we want to tell. Correction, we have stories we HAVE to tell or else they won’t leave us alone.
If you’re a writer, you know you’re a writer. Writers write.
The question those people are really asking is how to become an author. Simple answer — get published. Writers write. Authors are published writers who wrote.
Pick your poison:
A – Land an agent who will farm your work out to the Big6 publishers
B – Send submissions to small press publishers (no agent needed)
C – Self publish
This the hardest of all the options. Agents are the gatekeepers to Big6. They know the trends and what sells. If your manuscript doesn’t fit into their definition of a viable manuscript (one they can sell to an editor), you’ll get rejection letters. Be prepared. However, landing an agent who gets you into Big6 means having your work receive a wide distribution that MIGHT lead to a nice royalty check. I say might because nothing is guaranteed.
There are a handful of Big6 publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts (that means you don’t need an agent to submit to them). If you happen to get an acceptance from one of those pubs, I would HIGHLY recommend having a literary lawyer (yes, there are literary lawyers) help you negotiate your contract. Several literary lawyers and agents are willing to handle contract negotiations for a fee.
Small press publishers are willing to ignore trends and take chances on new authors and/or weird ideas. So long as the story is good, you’re sure to get a contract. While that sounds easy, you have to be careful with this option. There are hundreds of small press publishers out there. Some are good. Some are not. Check out places like Absolute Write Water Cooler or Piers Anthony’s “Publish on Web,” which features a write up about most of the publishers out there. Also, you need to know how to read your contract since an agent won’t be there to help. There are plenty of sites out there that give explanations about what a contract should and should NOT have in it. Remember to protect yourself and your work. Don’t be so eager to be published that you screw yourself over. There are plenty of horror stories (from Big6 and small publishers alike) of people who didn’t read and UNDERSTAND their contracts and then paid the price for that later.
Self publishing has gained a TON of momentum since places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have started programs where people can put up their own books. Anyone can put up a book and sell and most everyone has. Be aware that EVERY book needs an editor. Don’t ever think you are above being editing. That’s a stupid career move no matter what option you choose. Editors help strengthen a story by pointing out weak points and things that need to be fixed. They are the second pair of eyes that catch things you might have overlooked. They are a new perspective who might see something you didn’t intend.
With self publishing comes a financial investment on the part of the writer. You need to get the book edited and you need a cover. Both of those cost money. There’s also the time consideration. As a self published author, all of your manuscript formatting for the different venues where you plan to sell (every place has their own set of rules that MUST be followed) and ALL of your promotion is your responsibility.