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Top 3 questions I receive about publishing

(I'd like to say that I'm writing this blog post for the benefit of readers, but really, I'm writing it for me.) These are the top three questions I receive from authors and writers (questions I receive from fellow editors and questions I receive from people who want to be editors are different categories entirely!).

Writers and authors, if you've ever wondered what your peers may be asking of the freelance editor in their life, here's your opportunity to find out. I intend to make this an informal blog series, as I'm asked many of the same questions, and I hope by putting the information in one place it can serve as a potential resource for future writers and authors who peruse the pages of my website (should they find it!).

1. I've finished my first draft. What should I do next?

This is an easy answer—find readers. A first draft that is truly a first draft (as in, the author hasn't done any self-edits or revisions, or had anyone else read it) is not ready for professional editing. It's not ready to be read by a wide audience.

Some writers easily create a self-editing or revision plan for themselves and are able to stick with it and take their book through multiple drafts before enlisting the help of alpha or beta readers, or a professional editor (for a manuscript review or evaluation, for instance).

Other writers, especially debut authors or writers who are going through the writing, revising, and drafting process for the first time, may not feel so confident in their approach to self-editing. They may be unsure of where to begin or what to look for. Of course, reading books or other resources on writing craft and how to revise can help in such cases, giving the author a revision roadmap to work from.

Others, however, may find it more helpful to put their book in front of another person (for the first time) to receive a general "feel" for how the book reads, what's working well, and what needs work. Bonus points if the person is a wide reader within the writer's genre (they'll know all the genre expectations, common tropes, narrative structure, etc. necessary to make a solid book for that genre).

This is the idea behind my Custom Manuscript Masterplan (or manuscript review) service. It’s an ideal offering for the askers of this question because the review provides reader reactions and editorial feedback from a broad perspective in one place, giving the author a way to move toward meaningful revision of their work.

Alpha and beta readers (who are not usually professional editors but might be) may comment on some of the same elements that an editor does in a review, but their feedback might be more heavily focused on reader reaction, areas of the book they liked or disliked, etc. This is also valuable feedback, showing the author which areas of the book are effective at conveying the story and which aren't.

(One downfall of alpha and beta readers, however, is the apparent difficulty in finding them and holding them to actually reading the book and providing feedback! Unfortunately, this is an accepted pitfall of this part of the process, since most alpha and beta readers are unpaid and not beholden to any kind of agreement or contract.)

Long story short, there are two ways forward for a writer with a first draft: 1) immersion in writing craft and creation of a revision plan to guide future drafts, or 2) seeking reader (and perhaps, editorial) feedback to guide the self-editing process. Neither path is wrong. Writers will need to know themselves and understand what they are ready to endure. No one wants their work to receive criticism, but being able to receive critical feedback without defensiveness (whether constructive or not) is vital to the improvement of the book. I'm not saying you should allow strangers over the internet to tear you and your book apart, but an openness to receiving correction and acceptance that a first draft is not a perfect draft are the only way to move forward.

2. What are my publishing options?

If you've been even a minute in the writing and publishing sphere, then you'll know that there is a lot (a lot!) of discussion about the future of publishing—self-publishing, hybrid publishing, the Big 5, digital vs. print, AI, how to earn (quantity vs. quality), free speech, censorship, gatekeeping, the sheer glut of books in the market, audiobooks, BookTok and the role of social media, piracy, marketing, backlists, serialized storytelling platforms (like Wattpad and Kindle Vella), subscriptions, and the list goes on.

There are others who have been in the publishing industry much longer than I have who have spoken and written extensively and comprehensively on all of these topics (and I imagine will continue to do so!). What I think I can say confidently is that writers of today should not be too narrow minded in their approach to publishing. There isn't a single formula for success (though there are plenty of people out there who will tell you—and try to sell to you—that this is true). The myriad of approaches to publishing can feel overwhelming, but a writer with goals will find themselves with a much clearer path forward.

What is certain is that traditional publishing is no longer the "true" or only path to publication. Research and find out what path resonates with you. You might find that writing short stories and submitting them to digital publications or literary magazines is the way to go. Or perhaps self-publishing on a regular basis, building up your backlist and a core of readers through targeted marketing is where you want to place your time and energy. Small presses and independent publishers offer a lot of the perks of the Big 5 at a more personal level.

There are many considerations to keep in mind as you seek publication. I have always found Jane Friedman's The Key Book Publishing Paths to be an incredible resource.

3. How do I go about querying traditional publishers and agents/editors?

First, a bit of honesty—this is a difficult and often frustrating path. Most of the major traditional publishers receive hundreds of thousands of submissions every day. Unsolicited ones will end up in the slush pile (never to be read again). If you do not have the time and energy to personalize a query letter and send it to dozens of agents or acquisition editors, then I do not recommend this path.

As for the how-to:

  • Complete your book and ensure it is as “clean” as it possibly can be, especially the first chapter (whether you hire an editor or not to help with this is up to you).

  • Write a query letter template that you can personalize for each submission (keep it less than a page). If you're writing nonfiction, make sure you have a complete table of contents. You may also need a book proposal.

  • Use websites like QueryTracker, Publishers Marketplace, Manuscript Wish List, and Duotrope to find agents/publishers and track your submissions.

  • Submit, submit, submit (dozens, if not hundreds of times).

And then, celebrate each win—a personalized response, a request for the first chapter, a request for the full manuscript, or even a book deal. But also, know your own limits. Determine at what point (a year of querying one book for instance with no bites) you'll decide to move on and what you plan to do next (query another book, self-publish, seek a small press, etc.).



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