Hi, I’m an unpublished author. I’ve discovered a one-step process for getting published. I’m on Step One.
Why would you go to an unpublished author for advice on getting published? You wouldn’t, of course. You’d go to Neil Gaiman. Here’s his advice: “Write. Finish things. Keep writing.”
Too boring? Not sparkly enough? Try Robert Heinlein instead. His First Rule for Writers is “You must write.” His Second Rule is “You must finish what you write.”
Or maybe Stephen King: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Even a newbie like me can sense a pattern. With that in mind, I now present:
The One-Step Guide to Getting Published
1. Keep working.
It took me a long time to truly grasp this. In school I was always that kid who got straight A’s without really trying. I mean, yeah, I did the work, but I rarely worked hard. Why would I? I knew I could skate by without it.
Then, in high school, I wrote my first novel. It was very, very bad.
Turns out, writing is difficult. My original strategy – getting through it as quick as I could, and not revising – was great for high school essays, but not so much for novels. I knew I would have to try harder next time.
Even so, it took me a while to really understand, in my marrow, that this was it. The silver bullet. The golden ticket. The Big Secret. The panacea.
Maybe that seems obvious, and you’re already doing it. Phenomenal. My job here is done, nothing more to see.
On the other hand, maybe that seems discouraging. Maybe even depressing. You were hoping for something more inspirational.
But to me, “Keep working” is profoundly inspirational. Because once you realize that it really is that simple – just keep working – you’ve got a solution to every problem.
Can’t seem to finish that novel? Keep writing, every day. You’ll finish – I promise.
Finished your novel, and it sucks? Keep revising, every day. It’ll get better – I promise.
Got twenty rejections from twenty agents? Revise your query letter, then send it to twenty more. It’ll improve your odds – I promise.
Been rejected by positively every agent, editor, and assistant with a pulse? Write another book, and then another one after that. You’ll get better – I promise.
Burned out from all that work? Take a day off, relax, recharge. And then keep working.
To be sure, you have to work smart. You can’t repeat the same mistakes and expect different results. So make yourself smarter. Read great books, and figure out what makes them tick. Read agent blogs and editor blogs to understand the publishing industry. Read advice from authors (like Chuck Wendig), and they’ll tell you how they did it. Get honest feedback on your writing, and take it seriously, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. Because it will hurt, over and over again.
And by all means, drink deep on whatever passion or genius or inner fire launched you into this writing thing in the first place. Because that’s what it’s all about. Without that inner fire, you might as well be scribbling a grocery list.
But all of it – all of it – is work.
Perhaps you believe you are a Special Flower, a True Genius, and this rule about work doesn’t apply to you. Well, guess what? You are a Special Flower; that is, in fact, the point. But Special Flowers don’t get a pass on the rule. See, “Keep working” isn’t about grinding down those unique and glorious dreams you have. It’s about lifting them up, making them real.
And if you want to talk True Genius, they don’t come much Geniuser than John Steinbeck. Here’s what he had to say:
“If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades given my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterward upheld my teacher’s side, not mine. The low grades on my college stories were echoed in the rejection slips, in the hundreds of rejection slips.”
Or, try Samuel Johnson:
“Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”
Or Ray Bradbury:
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
It really is that easy. It really is that hard.
Go forth and write.
Yes! A Steinbeck quote!