There's always someone diving into the writer pool. Some new, hopeful soul wanting to "make it", or "get published". Someone who decides they're going to be an Author-with-a-capital-A. All of us start off as rookies. And being the newb can be scary. I mean, traditional publishing already comes with this weird cloak of mystery. It can sometimes feel like you need to know the secret handshake just to follow someone on Twitter. So, here is some free Rookie Author 101 advice for those who are doing the writing thing and want to go pro. 1. Research.
Seriously, I can't stress this one enough. I know I've gone on and on about it at length before, but it's ridiculously important. If you're going to start submitting to magazines, agents, publishers, editors and such hoping for publication, your first job (other than writing a good piece) is to do your research. Follow publishing professionals on Twitter and other social media. Join up on the message boards on Absolute Write Water Cooler, QueryTracker, The Grinder, and Preditors and Editors. Whenever you're looking at potential submissions, check them out at the above places. Look up their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. Find out how your favorite authors got where they are and learn from that. Above all else, you need to do this legwork.
2. Get serious about your social media.
If you're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, know that once you start submitting your work to agents, editors and publishers, other people are going to come looking for you. Those same people you've researched? When you submit work to them, they will probably check you out if they're interested in your work. They want to know that you're professional, that you can work well within certain confines of the job, and that you can also be discreet.
How can you appear more professional?
- Don't flame other authors, professionals. Don't like something someone said or did? Get a rejection letter from that agent? Don't go plastering it on your Twitter feed for the world to see.
- Did you get an offer of representation or publication five minutes ago? Sweet! Don't post about it on Facebook yet. In fact, many publishers and agents ask that you don't mention anything until after you've all signed the appropriate contracts. Hell, I've got amazing news that I'm still not at liberty to tell you guys. I've been holding on to it since before Christmas. Part of the publishing industry is keeping things close to the chest. It starts with your social media before you've even gotten your first contract.
- Do NOT post screengrabs of rejection or acceptance letters. Why? First of all, if it contains a professional's email address, that's highly unprofessional. Many agents' emails are public due to the nature of the submissions process, but some agencies rely on a generic slush email and distribute to specific agents after that first contact. Editors? They can be EXTREMELY secretive about their professional emails and with good cause. Can you imagine if your already burgeoning inbox suddenly got a glut of slush stories because some author posted your email address on Twitter? Furthermore, not every acceptance is identical. Your letter may offer something different than the next author, and those terms can be sensitive. And, again, posting these things shows a lack of discretion on your part. Authors who can't be discreet can be harder to work with. Authors who are hard to work with....? They get less work.
- Do NOT solicit advice from strangers on the Internet. You think you want your favorite author to read your story? Don't ask her. Did you get a contract and now you need another set of eyes on it? Do not go asking random authors/strangers on Twitter to do this for you. You're about to make a major business decision. Now, if you've met an editor/agent/author at a convention and they've offered to help you, or if a professional has a blog that is open to questions and such, by all means, use that resource. However, it is bad form to send a total stranger a message asking, "Could you please help me make a legal choice?"
3. Remember that people talk with one another.
That shit you talked online? Yeah, someone saw that. The comment you made at a convention? Someone heard you. The letter you sent to that agent who rejected you? She told her colleagues about it.
Publishing is a very tight community. We all talk to each other and word travels quickly. Remember that.
4. Talk to other people.
See that above comment? Make it work for you. Talk to other authors in the querying process. Get involved on forums, use private chats, and talk. Just as word about authors behaving badly will spread quickly, so will news of an agent being a dick. We authors talk. We know who to avoid, who is a total douche at conventions, who is an absolute dream to hang out with even though her Twitter is acerbic and vulgar....we know which editors get back to authors quickly and we know which agents take 6 months to request a partial. Make the community work in your favor by digging into it and being a part of it.
5. Remember Wheaton's Law.
Don't be a dick.
Seriously. Everyone has an off day. Everyone gets rejected, or pissed off, or confused, or scared. Writing can be lonely. Pursuing publication can be terrifying and isolating (because your friends and family don't always get it.) But remember that everyone you're dealing with is a person with their own story. That agent is just getting back from maternity leave. That editor who hasn't responded in the past two hours? Just had neck surgery. That author you're trying to talk with at a convention is on a deadline, stressed about family and really doesn't do well with crowds. One of the best lessons to learn early in your career is to treat people with respect and humanity. Be kind.
Not everyone has an Obi Wan Kenobi to show them the ropes of the publishing industry. A lot of people have learned by doing, making mistakes and getting back up. But a lot of resources exist to make your job a little easier. Blogs, message boards, books, social media feeds, websites... it's all there for you to use to your advantage. (You'll still make mistakes, but hopefully they'll be less painful than they otherwise might be if you go it alone.)