I understand, when you’re putting pen to paper for the first time, the desire to become a published novelist. You maybe fancy yourself as a Bohemian type, having read the tales of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris. There’s a deep sensation that’s difficult to explain – you write, and you want to see your words bound in a book and sitting on a shelf in a big fat pile of other such books that you’ve written. Soon your emotions are bound up in months or years of graft and it means something.
The interweb came along. Suddenly there were all sorts of platforms in which you could have your words read by people. Online activity changed our perceptions about how to become a novelist, but unfortunately the reality is much as it was before. The internet doesn’t tell you that.
So here are some things that most likely won’t help you get published. That is, in the sense of having an editor buy your work, make a book, and put it on a shelf in a bookstore.
1) Start a Facebook group and adding lots of people as fans. You expect a major New York or London editor to stumble fresh out of a slush-pile session onto that obscure page in a glut of others? Really? You think by adding a heck of a lot of people this is any different than the digital version of vanity publishing?
2) Twittering your novel. Just no, unless you’re Japanese and your culture is wild enough up to cope with concepts such as micro-novels. Twittering and adding folk is essentially another form of spamming, and no one really cares; just because you add a million people and they “follow” you, doesn’t mean they’re reading a word of what you’ve written. Twitter is an information stream, a social network to dip in an out of, and most importantly: it’s not a book.
3) Blogging your novel a chapter at a time. Okay, I’ll concede that this can work, but it is extremely rare. You’ve heard the stories about that one author who maybe had his or her blog seen by an editor, or who managed to get thousands of followers which led to a publication deal. I’d suggest that such writers might have had his or her manuscript accepted if sent to a publisher or agent anyway, and the blog was, for the main part, merely extra media. You still need to be a good writer, and you still need the distance miracle of an editor having the time to read your blog.
4) Asking lots of other writers to read your work. See Scalzi’s post on the matter. He’s right.
5) Self-publishing with a vanity press, and then sending that to a publisher. Big no. Adverts are all over the internet offering temptation: you can get published by sending along your work with a pile of cash and oh look! you’re published and while you’re at it you can buy some v1agra for longer-lasting pleasure!
It’s really not the same. Self-publishing does have its place: local books, perhaps, or for non-fiction, but for first-time fiction it’s vanity, and a big no. It’s an expensive way of stapling your manuscript together and asking people to pay for it. There is no editorial work (structural or line-edits), no good cover art, no way to get it into modern bookstores, and most of all, no respect. You will be loathed by booksellers for harassing them to stock a vanity work. You send it into editors and you’re likely to be pre-judged – something you do not want to happen. Note: If you want to know how to prepare a manuscript properly, my agent has some FAQs (scan down).
What I’m saying is, instead of doing all of this stuff that has diminishing returns on your dignity, you could spend your time doing things which are valuable: perfecting your craft, taking a look at what editors are currently looking to buy, researching your book, editing, rewriting, making coffee, thinking about improving. If you’re good, you’ll get there, but it can take years. I know this – it’s hard work, but keep at it. Some of what I’ve said might seem harsh, but I’ve worked in bookselling, editorial, and as a writer, and these things will really save heartache over the years.
(I’ll follow up with a bunch of notes I once gave to a creative writing group on the best things you can do to increase your chances of publication.)
EDIT: just to add that these aren’t demeaning some of the options (humour aside); I’m merely stating that time can be spent better doing other things…