The first thing you want to do is to start writing. Sounds simple, but
really that's the key to most of the process. Talking about a book we
haven't written (just made notes about or thought about) never sounds
as authoritative as a book we have started working on.
What might come to mind when we read an answer like that is: "but I
might be wasting my time because I don't know what 'they' want", which
is difficult to get out of our heads. The fact of the matter is, what
'they' want is a good book. Most of the time, 'they' are going to see
it as a seller, when you see it as a seller.
Just take a walk through the book store, any section, and look at the
rows and rows of titles. You will see in the fiction area books that
appear to be the same in plot and story, all selling well. You will
also find gems that are definitely ' one of a kinds ' and they sell
In the non-fiction area you will see books that seem to contradict
each other, both selling well, and again the 'one of a kinds' are here
What all of these books have in common is, they are well written, and
the author's voice is solid in idea and dedication to their work.
Most publishers have writer's guidelines on their websites, or
available with self addressed stamped envelope. The writer's
guidelines should be followed to the letter. Honestly, you would be
surprised how many people don't do this. I've talked to over twenty
editors on a personal level in the last ten years, and they have all
told me this amazing but true statement. The consensus is that 80% of
the manuscripts submitted don't follow the author guidelines and wind
up in the trash before they are read. So, simply following the
guidelines puts you in the top 20%.
You will notice in most of the guidelines the publishers request the
first three chapters. This is a minor trap for many starting authors.
They make the jump of logic that they can write the first three
chapters, send those in to 'test the waters' and write the rest when
the book is accepted. Some publishers are okay with this, and some
editors working for those publishers are also okay with this, but many
of them are not.
If they like your first three chapters, they will ask to see the rest
of the book. If you cannot produce it, you may loose them as a
possible publisher. So if you are going to "test the waters" this way,
make sure that the editor and the publisher are okay with this. As I
said, most of them will not be okay with this, and if you think about
it, why should they be? Their job and their goal is to publish books.
So they have to go through (notice I didn't say 'read') hundreds of
manuscripts a week. If they find one that is a possible, and then find
out it isn't even written yet, they tend to feel you have wasted their
Having a completed manuscript gives you a much better chance of being
looked at seriously. After years of working with authors, and first
time authors, editors have learned that writing the first three
chapters of a book and writing a complete manuscript are two very
different things. Letting them know in your cover letter that the book
is complete, and you are only sending them the first three chapters
because of their guidelines, allows them to take your manuscript more
Another major area of the book submitting process is, the book
synopsis. It is very difficult to write these and the chapter
summaries, when you don't have the book completed. On the other hand,
it is a breeze when you do have a complete book in front of you.
Another phenomena editors run into all the time is the writer that
'just wants to write', but has nothing at this moment to say. They are
very wary of these individuals. Most of them, the editors will admit
wholeheartedly, are very good writers. In fact, some of the best
authors started out like this. People, who love to write, often make
good writers. What many of them don't make are good authors. The
difference is 'having something to say'.
An author, with the idea for a book, is going to write that book,
whether it gets published or not. She has something to say, a story, a
fantasy, a landscape she wants to create, and in the process of that
creation, she is going to discover the story with just as much
enjoyment as the readers who follow her. Personally, I believe she'll
enjoy it more than the readers, but that is just my experience.
The writer who just wants to write, is dedicated, often talented, but
non committed. They often feel that the commitment comes when they are
writing something "worthy" or writing something others want. Neither
is the case. Terry Pratchett is a wonderful example of this. I don't
believe anyone would consider his novels "Great Works" or "Worthy
Literature", but he is a committed writer, and it pours through from
his books. They are fun, and amazing works of imagination, and damn
funny too. But I didn't know I wanted to read about Disk World, until
I read them. Never even occurred to me.
One way to "test the waters" is to write short stories and essays
based on the characters or ideas your book is going to produce. Many
authors do this on a regular basis. This helps you in several ways.
First, it can put a bit of money in your pocket as you are working. It
can also give you the feedback you are looking for, and it gives you
something to submit with your manuscript to the publishers, showing
that your book idea is already being marketed by you.
A small warning cone for you on this road, is rejection notices.
Magazine editors go through hundreds of manuscripts as well. There is
a difference however between them and the book editors. The magazine
editors are looking for manuscripts, which go with the issue they are
putting together, as well as the content. I have (more than once)
received rejection notices from a magazine, and half a year later
received a request to publish the same manuscript. Most of the time, a
rejection notice means nothing as far as the worthiness of your
manuscript or the style of your writing. (Unless of course you didn't
follow the writers guidelines)
Good editors will reject manuscripts and send you the notice quickly.
They see this as a value to you, as a writer. They know you want to
get your manuscript published, so they will free it up as soon as they
can, so you can send it to another magazine.
Which brings up something else: Do Not, EVER, (going for Terry
Pratchett's Death Voice there :-) send your manuscript out to several
publishers at the same time (book or short story), Unless, you want to
create bad relationships with several editors and publishing
Many magazines will publish on their website the "years schedule" so
you can see if an issue coming up matches your manuscript. If you see
one, point it out to the editor in your cover letter.
Agents are a good thing. Finding a good agent is sometimes a painful
experience, but once you find one, they can save you a great deal of
time, and be a sounding board for your ideas.
Self publishing is not a bad idea either. These books have often been
called "vanity books" and have gotten some bad press, but there are
viable reasons for publishing your first few books this way. First
off, it gives you a complete book, something you can show to a
publisher. Other reason is time. Many ideas are time related, and
normal publishing periods are just too long to take real advantage of
an idea. Self-publishing the first printing and then submitting the
book to a larger publisher often gives you the best of both worlds.
There are very good self-publishing houses these days. It use to be,
that self-publishing houses would just print and bind the book for you
and send you on your way. So what you wound up with were a number of
boxes filled with your book and no way to market them. The good ones
offer much more in the way of services these days. For example Living
Word Publishing (http://www.livingwordpublishing.com/ ), which is a
Christian Self Publisher offers a huge marketing package, and they are
very good to work with.
There are some "players" out there in the self-publishing world, so do
a bit of research on them (what books have they done, list of authors,
references etc) before going with one. Living Word, if you are a
Christian writer is a good one, and there are others as well.
Here are some typical writers guidelines and other links to help you
get a feel for what is out there.
Advice for prospective Authors
Publishing 101: Dos Don'ts and Dreams
"Writing for O'Reilly":
"Proposing a Book":
"Preparing a Book Proposal - Cambridge University Press":
"2003 Writer's Market"
"Literary Market Place 2003":