How To Get Books Published

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I’m not saying this is THE WAY to get published–if you’ve been around Magical Words for any length of time you know that one of our mantras is that there is no ONE TRUE WAY to do anything. However…

…it’s the way I did it. And it’s gotten my name on the covers of four books so far.

Let me backtrack a little in the thought-process that led to this post. I was pondering writing another post in what was supposed to be my occasional series mirroring Stuart’s thoughts about self-publishing, but as I debated what I should say next about Publishing: A Small Press Adventure, I realized that of all the books I’ve had published, every one of them was the result of one single thing. So I’m going to go through my little list of books and describe to you how they came to be published. You tell me what the common denominator is.

In the order they were sold/accepted (not the order in which they were published, which comes long after the actual work is done…):

My novel Dreaming Creek sold to LBF Books (which became a subsidiary/imprint of the Canadian publisher Lachesis Books in the middle of the process—a long story in and of itself, one I’ll save for another time). I had queried a number of agents and editors with the big houses in NY, but after having two separate agents tell me (one on the phone and one over dinner) that Dreaming Creek was a book that, because it was an oddball mash-up of genres that would vex the marketing departments of bigger publishers, would have a better chance with a small press, I took their advice and went the small-press route, selling it to the first small publisher I approached. Why? In a nutshell, because LBF also published a magazine called The Writer’s Post Journal and I had already had a lot of short stories and essays published in their magazine. I sold my first piece to them in 2004, and by the end of 2005 had sold them a total of nine pieces. LBF knew me, they knew my writing, so when I approached them about my novel (in 2006), I very quickly had a contract. Because I had a good relationship with them. (Write that down; I have a feeling it might come up again.)

Jump forward a few years to what would become the first book I actually saw published (it beat Dreaming Creek to the shelves by about four months): the InterGalactic Medicine Show Anthology. I attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp in 2004, sold him a short story in 2005, and generally kept in touch with him when and where I could. When he launched IGMS, I volunteered numerous times to help out by reading slush–an offer he never once took me up on. But when he decided in 2006 that the magazine was more than he could handle alone, he offered it to me. Literally offered it to me. (2006 was a good year.) Around Christmas of that year I suggested to him that we should approach Tor about doing an anthology collecting stories from the magazine and he liked the idea, so I suggested he present it to them (always let the big dogs do the heavy lifting). I had a good relationship with Card, Card had a good relationship with Tor, and by March of ’07 we had a deal. (It took another year and half for the book to actually hit the stores, but that’s the nature of this business; don’t get in to it if you’re not prepared to be patient.)

Both books came out in the second half of 2008 (another good year), but then my career went on hold for a while because I had to have surgery (after surgery after surgery, followed by lots and lot and lots and lots (ad infinitum) of physical therapy (2009 and 2010 were less kind to me than 2006-2008)). The one thing I continued to do throughout that time was attend conventions.  Having met the inestimable David B. Coe in 2007 (at a convention I only attended because I wanted to network with Kevin J. Anderson and Robert Sawyer), I ran into David at several more cons where we hit it off like long-lost best friends. Over time he introduced me to Faith Hunter and Mistey Massey, and in later years, A.J. Hartley (Stuart Jaffe I already knew; you can send him condolence cards at your leisure), and over the course of three and a half years, a single friendship grew into a friendship with an entire group of amazing writers. Over the course of a drunken weekend in an RV in a parking lot outside a con, then, that friendship somehow turned into a book. I’m still not sure how that happened, but I know it did; ever since January 2011 I’ve had several copies of How To Write Magical Words on my shelf to prove it. (2011 was looking a lot better than ’09-’10.; not a surgeon in sight anywhere.)

Most recently then, in the spring of 2011, I got to put together a collection of my short stories for Spotlight Publishing. The Trouble With Eating Clouds is, I must admit, the most incestuous of my books. To be really blunt, the publisher is a friend of mine and I simply said to her, “Hey, how about doing a collection of my stories?”  Now, Spotlight is a really small company, and the publisher is a really good friend—we served together on the board of directors for a writers group, worked together as editors for two different magazines, and have been beta-reading each others’ work for many years—but in the end the size of the company was not the most important thing. What mattered to me was that I had another book to show for my efforts. (I guess all those years of beta-reading and telling her what a genius she was really paid off.)

In all seriousness though, I did simply email her and say “How about a book?” and that’s not the kind of thing you do unless you already have a really good relationship with someone. (Hang on a minute, methinks I’ve heard that somewhere before…)

Actually, she and I had so much fun working together on The Trouble With Eating Clouds that I’m now serving as an acquisitions editor for Spotlight, and we already have five new books lined up to come out in the next eight or nine months.  And do you know where every one of those five books came from? People I knew. People I had good relationships with. People I went to and said, “We’d like to publish your book.” Imagine that…

(The website for Spotlight is being rebuilt from scratch and we’re not going to formally announce anything until the new site is done and several of the authors/editors contracts have been signed, which will be a whole series of posts still to come.)

So with the clarity of hindsight, it’s quite clear, even though I have to admit I had never realized it before just now: Every single one of my book contracts came about as a result of long-term networking that took place, in every instance, over a period of years. It wasn’t the kind of networking that involves desperate authors running around conventions with manuscripts in their hands, sweating every time they meet someone new because THIS might just be the Golden Ticket to publication. No. It was the kind of networking that goes out, has a good time, does the best work one can do when the LITTLE opportunities present themselves, and then has a foundation laid so that when the BIG opportunity presents itself, the deal is already more than halfway done.

That’s the kind of networking you need to be thinking about when you attend workshops and signings, lectures and conventions. It’s the kind of networking you need to do in all areas of your life. Relax. Have fun. Make friends.

That’s the kind of networking that gets books published.

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12 comments to How To Get Books Published

  • Amen.
    Spot on.
    Bob’s yer uncle.
    Okay, I don’t know if I’m using that last one correctly but I think I am (if not, my apologies to all Australians). Point is that this post illustrates networking at its core. Business relationships that may turn into friendships that some day in the future turn into opportunities. Thanks for detailing it out so clearly.

  • Obviously this is just the ten-thousand foot, ten-second overview. There’s a lot more that went into building all of those relationships, but this was never meant o be a primer on how to build relationships, just my thoughts on why they’re important.

  • Networking and relationships are very important, Edmund, but there’s also one thing your post pointed out to me that you failed to mention. You also worked. You worked HARD.

  • Great advice, Ed. And, Stuart, you are using “Bob’s your uncle” correctly. We Brits say it too.

  • And Bob is a Canadian uncle too (I always thought he was married to Fanny who is the other half of the expression {Bob’s your Uncle, Fanny’s your aunt} except her name means rude things so I think she was dropped unfairly from the expression)

    I love to read about author’s journey to publication. I reminds me that there really is no tried and true formula and there are several paths. The one common aspect seems to be ‘write more.

    Thanks

  • Maybe we can get Bob to do a guest post here sometime. He certainly seems to be well-traveled…

  • Edmund,
    I’d love to add a bit here, just thinking through my fingertips. The relationships formed in publishing are just like relationships formed anywhere – people of like minds meet, sometimes recognizing a rapport instantly, like eyes meeting across a crowded room, others take a bit of time and effort. All those relationships are fluid and dynamic and carefully balanced.

    Regardless of how easy or difficult they start out and may appear to the casual observer, they take a lot of work to establish, grow, and strengthen. They aren’t easy to maintain, aren’t cliques, and (usually) aren’t exclusive to others. They *are* fun, but they are also work, and working to establish relationships is part of the business of writing.

    And…
    >>Over the course of a drunken weekend in an RV in a parking lot outside a con, then, that friendship somehow turned into a book.>>

    Lest our readers think we all got sloshed, actually, we each had about 2 drinks over a 4 hour period. Not drunk. We were simply falling for the … the … whatever happened in that short time between us all: the friendships that were woven, the business opportunities that were initiated, the magic that started in the RV.

    That group relationship has proven so pleasant and so useful in so many ways I cannot begin to list them all. And the relationship(s) and benefits are still evolving and growing, just like your relationships with your other publishing pals.

    Thanks for the post and for the reminder that work can be fun and that friendships can be profitable, leading to greater success and mutual support for all parties.

  • Making the initial connection seems to be the hard part. I’m happy to be a minion/gofer, but most of my experience beyond that has been with the planning and organizing of gatherings and retreats. I’d love to help out in the writing field. But how do I get that initial conversation started?

  • Great post, Ed! Fascinating to know your journey and great points on networking.

    Now, lest readers think that you have to know someone to get published, I’d like to point out that a lot of writers do come from the slush pile. I would be one of them. Now I’m playing catchup on the networking part. ^_^

  • Edmund,
    Rather than just tell us that networking is important, you also showed us though several quality examples. Nicely executed.

    Maybe someday you could talk about your workshop experience. I applied to Odyssey this year, but didn’t realize until too late, that there are several great workshops besides it and Clarion(s).

    Congrats on the publications, btw.

    Cheers,
    NGD

  • Late with this. Sorry for that; I was running a local event yesterday and didn’t have the time or energy for anything else. I think the key unstated part of this (aside from Lyn’s excellent observation about how hard Edmund has worked) is the Stuart Jaffe principle: Be nice. Edmund is personable, funny, kind, generous, and an all around good guy. People want to hang out with him. People want to work with him on stuff. It’s not enough to be known. There are plenty of jerks out there who people know all too well. Be like Ed. Be nice.

  • Faith, All valid points, except the part about the alcohol. You’re going to ruin our mystique if you be that honest. We were all drunk as hell, like Hemmingway. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Kalayna, Thanks for the counter-point. There never has been one way to do it and there never will be.

    Laura, I have a friend who spent many years running.organizing things at conventions and actually was able to land a full time job utilizing those same skill. The con experience actually helped her get the job. From a writing standpoint, don’t think of it in terms of minion/gofer; just find like-minded people with similar interests and make friends. You were wonderful to meet at ConCarolinas and your contributions to the party were hugely appreciated. I think what you need to do now find a few folks who are at your level as writers and find ways to help each other grow and develop.

    NGD, I’ll put together a post for next week regarding workshops. I might even invite a few folks who’ve done several and see if they’re willing to compare and contrast. It’s a great idea for a new post.

    David, As always, too kind. Especially in light of how badly I have abused you at times. I save all the good stuff for you, my friend.