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New! Formatting 101: how to format your novel for submission

Click here for a list of handy writer's tools

Click here for Regency resources (updated October 2007)

Road to publication? Oh, please. Roads are smooth, paved, and have nice little signs telling you exactly where to go. I prefer to think of the writer's journey as the Mountain Bike Trail to Publication...

...because there are lots of steep ups and downs, zig-zag turns, and times when you have to pedal like hell without getting much of anywhere. Then, out of nowhere, there might be a big old tree root right in the middle of the path, and there you are face-first down on the trail with a mouthful of sand (which at least tastes better than the bug that flew straight down your throat a few minutes ago when you were crashing along with your mouth open).

Then again, there's this section through the woods, deep and cool and smelling just like summer is supposed to, with cute little bunnies fleeing from you in terror and maybe even a deer looking at you very surprised. You take a drink of Gatorade, smile at your mud-spattered honey, and feel both peaceful and invigorated...until you get to frickin' Tetanus Hill...
Um, what I meant to say is: The Road to Publication sounds a little tamer than the actual experience. Your experience may vary, of course, but remember--road rash is a badge of honor.

Want to join me on the Mountain Bike Trail to Publication?

Don't know where to start?

I'm not an expert or an industry professional, but I've been on this trail for a couple of years now, and I'm happy to share what I've learned so far, including the sources I've studied and continue to learn from. My focus is fiction, so the advice I have to offer is necessarily geared toward other fiction writers.

Below is some general advice; if you want details of my specific journey, click here.

I have a great idea for a book. Wonderful! Write it. Nine out of ten people who intend to write a novel, don't. Once you're one of the other ten percent, you're already ahead of the pack.

What's your best advice for getting started with the writing? Make time for it. Watch TV? Watch less of it, and use the hours saved to work. Read a lot? Ditto. You have to cut back on something to create the time to create, and the best place is your own entertainment hours. It also helps to enlist your family's support: negotiating with them to free up more time for yourself can be a life saver.

How do I know if I'm good enough? Get feedback. Showing my writing to other people was, at first, like going for a nice swim in the sea...when I'd forgotten to put on my skin. Over time, I've toughened up, and you can too. Join a writing group--check with your local library, or the event listings in your local newspaper to see if you can track one down in your area. If there isn't one, there are on-line critique groups--try searching Yahoo! groups for one that fits your needs. Or try the forum for writing partners at Absolute Write. You can also check with nearby colleges, community colleges, and universities for creative writing classes.

I have great ideas, but my grammar isn't so great. Does that matter? Well, yes, it does. Writing isn't just an art, it's a craft. If you have the creative spark, that's a terrific advantage--now it's up to you to learn the mechanics so you can get your ideas across. Read, in massive quantities. Writing classes will give you a good foundation. Check out your library or bookstore for books on writing, as well. If you just think you need a once-over to catch grammatical mistakes, get a critique partner or join a writing group. You can also consider paying a professional to edit your work: they can help whip a good book into great shape, but be aware that they probably won't be able to turn a mess into a best-seller.

New! What about formatting my manuscript? I've added a Formatting 101 section here--check it out!

When do I need an agent? You might not. If you're writing for a smaller, niche market, your best bet might be to approach small, specialty presses on your own. But if you think your work is suitable for the larger houses, you may well need an agent: most of the major publishers won't look at unagented material.

In any event, before you start the hunt for an agent or publisher, your manuscript must be complete, and as polished as you can make it.

What will an agent do? What will it cost me? An agent will attempt to sell your book to a publisher--if she's good, she should have contacts and a knowledge of the publishing industry that you do not. In return, she will get 15% of whatever you earn for the book. Generally, you will also be responsible for copying and postage fees for getting your manuscript to editors--some agents take these expenses out of the advance once your book is sold; some send itemized bills at regular intervals. Never pay an agent a reading fee or an upfront lump amount for unspecified expenses to be incurred later.

Where do I find an agent? Two great places to start are Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents and Writer's Digest's Guide to Literary Agents. Both should be considered starting points, not ends. Once you have a list of agents you are interested in approaching, research them--questionable and inaccurate listings sneak into both the Herman book and the GLA. Remember: Google is your friend (and remember to search Groups as well as web pages--if any of your agents have come up on discussion boards, this is the place to find buzz on them).

Another place to look is at your local bookstore and/or Amazon.com. Seek out books that are in your genre, and check the acknowledgment page to see if the author thanked her agent. Add these agents to your list as well.

How do I query an agent? A query letter should consist of just two or three paragraphs: a brief synopsis of your book, a few words about yourself, and the basic paperwork details (genre, word count, thank you for your time...). It takes time and many drafts to get the knack of the query, so don't be discouraged if it doesn't come easily. Some writers find it harder than writing the damned book in the first place. Luckily, there are plenty of books, web pages, and writer's boards where you can get help. See the links section for some ideas.

What happens once I get an agent? He will probably suggest revisions to make your work as marketable as possible. Once you complete revisions, he'll begin contacting editors at various publishing houses to try to interest them in reading your manuscript. Some agents target just a few editors at a time, others send out twenty or more copies at once. The response time will vary considerably: some of the houses we've submitted to have gotten back to us in a few weeks, while others took several months.

Does having an agent guarantee my book will sell? Nope. Best suggestion: start writing a new manuscript as soon as possible. It will take your mind off the submission process, and give you another work to offer if the first doesn't sell.

Recommended books (can't afford them all? try your local library)

On Writing--Stephen King

Bird By Bird--Anne Lamott

Writer's Market--Writer's Digest Books (yearly; online edition available)

Guide to Literary Agents--Writer's Digest Books (yearly)

Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents--Jeff Herman

The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition)--University of Chicago Press Staff

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers--Renni Browne and Dave King

Finding Go! Matching Questions and Resources in Getting Published--Carol Kluz and Gary Kessler

Regency Resources

Some of the books I find most useful:

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray

The Regency Underworld by Donald A. Low

The A to Z of Regency London

AAA Britain Road Atlas

The Connoisseur Period Guides: Late Georgian 1760-1810

The Connoisseur Period Guides: The Regency Period 1810-1830

Great 18th & 19th Century Online Resources (not meant to be exhaustive, but to get you started and/or amuse you)

A Regency Primer

Republic of Pemberley

Jane Austen Centre Magazine

Regency music/dancing

A Regency Lexicon

Forms of address

Collection of links to various sites with Regency info

Another collection of useful Regency links

A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811 edition of the slang dictionary)

New Plays on the London Stage 1700-1810 (when your characters go to the theater, what do they see?)

The Festival of Love (drinking songs, published 1812) More songbooks from the same site

Historical Broadsides (U.S.)

Historical Broadsides (Scotland)

Search Georgian-Era Bath Newspapers Abstracts and excerpts, not full text, but a lot of valuable info nonetheless. When searching, make sure you press the green Search button, because Enter is linked to a different search on the page.

Internet Library of Early Journals (18th and 19th century)


See also Links for other online writer's resources.

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This site was last updated 10/16/07