Monday, May 14, 2007

The Secret

Oddly enough this past week, it seems every blog I read or radio show I listened to had the same theme: What’s the secret to getting published? Miss Snark, The Rejecter, and a Q&A with author Francine Prose on NPR all fielded variations on this question from aspiring authors. The writer calling in to Ms. Prose seemed especially jaded: You can’t get published unless you know somebody!

Not true. I’m a slush pile success, myself. (For those of you not into publishing, the “slush pile” is the mountain of unsolicited queries and manuscripts that teeter in the offices of agents and editors--see pic at left. Slush piles are often dealt with by assistants, who read through quickly, pull the letters/manuscripts that they think will interest their bosses, and dump the rest with rejection letters). I didn’t have anyone pulling strings on my behalf with my agent-to-be; I simply wrote a query letter and sent it off. A few months later, she asked to see the manuscript of Tallulah Falls. The rest, as they say, was history.

But here's the rub: if sending the query was simple, the road leading up to it wasn’t. I had no idea, when I signed up for my very first writing class, that it would take me twelve years to get published. I had no idea that first I had to learn my craft, and then write a novel good enough to get noticed. I certainly had no clue that getting published takes an entirely different set of skills than writing the novel! Each step has been a new challenge and a new learning curve.

It’s easy to look back on it now, and counsel patience. But I remember how impatient I was. How convinced I was, at times, that you can’t get published unless you know someone! Which, translated, means: I’ll never get published!

But I did. And if you’re an aspiring author, you will, too. If you write well. Tell a good story. If you seek out good critique and are willing to learn from it. If you never rest on your laurels and always strive to improve. Because in the end, if you’re a writer, you’ll write. If your first novel doesn’t sell, you’ll write a second. A third. You’ll get better and better, and you’ll never stop writing.

If there’s a secret to getting published, that’s it.

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