This past weekend I gave a talk at the Moore College of Art Alumnae Reunion. Moore is my alma mater and it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to share my experiences and wisdom with my fellow alumnae, and I think it went pretty well although to be honest I don't remember much of what I said.
What I think I meant to say:
Hello, you wonderful, talented ladies! I'm here to tell you about how I became an award-winning author of many shiny books. Come, join me on my journey of retrospection and introspection! HERE COMES THE WISDOM, LADIES!!!
What I probably said:
BLOOO BLOOORRR BLOOORRRRR BLAAAAAAARRRRRR!!! I'M WEARING HIGH HEELS! THEY HURT MY FEETS! DO YOU LIKE MY DRESS? IT'S NOT COVERED IN BABY SNOT!!! BLAAARRRRGGGGG!!! Bleep blip blooopity bloo. I draw books.
I never remember what I said when I give a talk. Sometimes someone shows me a video of me speaking and it's like watching Beaker on the Muppet Show.
But usually when I give a talk, either at a school or a bookstore or a library or to some polite stranger at a bus stop, there's a Question and Answer period afterward, and without fail someone usually asks me,
"How exactly do you get a book published?"
So this one is for you, my gorgeous writers and artists out there--I'm going to write out my best, BLOOORR-free advice for getting published. Because my expertise is in print books as opposed to Ebooks, that's what I'm going to focus on.
There are two ways to get your book published: A publisher like Abrams Books (my wonderful publisher that I love and want to hug) will put out your book, OR, you can self-publish a book. Self-publishing means that you pay a company to print your books, and then it's up to you to try to sell them. You can sell them online, or at your local bookstore, or at conferences and festivals, or maybe just give them as gifts to your friends and family. There are some people who have been really successful at self-publishing, but it's a lot of work and can get very expensive.
Let's move on to what I know better--
How to Get Your Book Published by a Publisher
Once upon a time an aspiring author could just take their manuscript to a publishing house, walk in the front door, immediately find the owner of the company and say, "I got this manuscript, see, and it's about a bear, and it's pretty good!"
"A bear? Say, that sounds great! Here's some money, the book will be out next Friday!" Actually, I don't know if that's how it happened but I think I remember seeing six or seven old films where it seemed that easy so let's just assumed that's how things actually worked. Fast forward eighty years. An aspiring author takes their manuscript to a publishing house, walks in the front door, and then gets the stinkeye from a lobby receptionist until security comes.
How are we supposed to get our genius manuscripts to these editors? That, my friends, is why you need
A LITERARY AGENT!
One of these people is my literary agent. The other sneezed into my mouth today. Guess which one is which!
Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing industry. If a literary agent likes your book, he (or she) will take your manuscript and show it to editors who trust that the agent isn't going to show them something terrible. A good literary agent can make sure that you won't be kicked out of that lobby by security again.
But how do I find a literary agent? Here's the best website that I know of regarding this search--AgentQuery.com. If you are really for serious on the reals trying to get your book published, this website will tell you everything that you need to know about finding an agent, and it has a fairly comprehensive database of active agents. I'll go into the bare bones of the process, but the website will tell you a lot more, and in a much less ridiculous way.
So you go to AgentQuery and look for agents that represent books like yours, and then you send them emails. Each agent will tell you what it is that they want from a query (Send me a synopsis and your first five pages in the body of an email, Send me the first chapter, etc). Then you send out a bunch of different emails and Hey! Agent McAwesomepants loves your work and wants to represent you. Hooray!
Listen up, because this bit is important: A REAL, LEGITIMATE LITERARY AGENT WILL NEVER ASK YOU FOR MONEY. If they're a good agent, they'll sell your work, and then get a well-earned percentage. Fake, opportunistic liars will take advantage of writers who just really, really want to be published and don't know any better.
Agent McAwesomepants takes your manuscript and shows it to some editors at different publishing houses, and then Editor von Fancysocks says, "Agent McAwesomepants, I love this book that you've sent me! I've shown it to my boss and she loves it too! Let's go to lunch!!!" Everyone in the publishing industry has a deep fear of kitchens and grocery stores so they have to go out to eat all the time or they'll starve and die. Agent McAwesomepants and Editor von Fancysocks come up with a deal, it's presented to you, and Ta Da! In two years your first book comes out. Yes, it can take that long (if not longer).
Of course it's usually not that simple. Some authors spend years and years and years trying to get an agent, and having an agent is no guarantee of getting a book deal. Also, sometimes publishers will look at manuscripts without agent representation, so you could try that route.
But the most important thing to remember, always, is to write. Write and write and write and write and draw and write and write, because if you don't have a story, all this talk about agents and editors and publishers and lunches doesn't really matter. If you are able to tell an amazing, wonderful story, it will get published one way or another, and people will read it and love it.