The Word: A Quick Guide to Getting Signed

I think I can clearly say with confidence that we’ve all heard how hard it is to become a published author. Some getting dozens of rejection letters and never getting signed. Sometimes, there is even stories of people writing all their lives and getting published, finally, in later years. When I was a little girl, I looked at the library shelves. Through the books gifted. I dreamed of being one of ‘those people’ one of the published writers. I went through phases of accepting it to never be and pushing myself to keep trying.

I eventually found independent publishing. I began in the industry with research and working in graphic design. I produced covers and graphics for other authors. I have shared this story before, but the shortest version is one of my clients discovered I wrote and wasn’t anymore, encouragement occurred, and I originally self-published, but along the way I networked. Networking is vital, you must do this to succeed, and it’s very useful. I researched legitimate publishing houses and small presses, this all led to me becoming published with the now defunct publishing house Burning Willow Press.

I cannot remember if I held a conversation about why they signed me, but I had time to ask one of my current publishing house the big ‘why’ question. With permission, I will share the important part of the conversation I had with Rebekah Jonesy of Three Furies Press.

Bachman: Why did y’all sign me? What about the book did you like? (The book in question is Maxwell Demon)

Jonesy: The complex world and history with a fairly straightforward plot. It sucked me right in. Like I knew the characters and got to experience a new world with them as my guides. Add in the rockstar author who will work to put herself out there, and hustle for book sales while constantly reaching out and coordinating with her publisher, and it was just too good to pass up. I can pass up a good book with a bad author, and a rickety story if the author will work with us on it. This time I had the best of both, so win/win for my company and me.

Bachman: Such kind words. Can I quote you? For my article.

Jonesy: Have at it. Oh, and of course your books NEVER end how I think they will at the beginning, or even middle of the book. There’s always a creative change that happens, not a twist, because it is still straightforward. And that intrigues me every time and makes me want to read more of your books.

In that exchange, you can see a lot of what you need to get published. The guide is my shared experience and my advice. I feel it’s important to add that I have also had my share of rejection, but all that encouraged me to work hard, learn better writing techniques, and keep trying. Your take away at the end of this article is the following list.

  • Learn your craft. Read as much as you can on the skills of writing. Remember, anyone can put a pencil to paper, but those that are truly skilled/gifted with words cannot write a wonderful story, but become an actual signed storyteller.
  • Publishers are more likely to sign you if you have a history of promoting yourself. If you do not believe in your work why should they? This can be a trail of marketing or even a long road of career foundation building. They will watch your social medias, like everyone else.
  • Publishers are not the enemy. If you submit a story and get rejected listen to why they’re rejecting it. Often, the story will not be declined forever. If you pay attention and resubmit that is. Often the ‘rejected letter’ is a list of corrections in disguise. Some publishers don’t want to hurt your feelings. Do note sometimes a rejection truly is just that, but really understand the rejection letter. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

Here’s a rough idea of the process before, during, and after publishing enters.

  • Write the story. DO NOT submit the first draft, approach with a fully flushed out tale on paper with the best editing you can do or hire.
  • Research publishers taking submissions. DO NOT reach out to them if their website clearly states they’re not taking submissions. Also, DO NOT submit to a company if it clearly states ‘no unsolicited submissions’, this means have an agent. If you submit anyway, they usually reject instantly. If you can’t follow the simple directions on their website, you’ll not be worth their time and/or give the impression you will not be easy to work with. You could have the next great American classic on your hands and they will not look it at. It’ll go to the slush pile’s bottom or even in the trash bin. Avoid the vanity presses. You’ll known them with their fancy package deals. For example: they will publish your book, soft and hardcover editions. They will include merch like posters and bookmarks. All you have to do is pay them x-amount of money. I have talked about these horrible businesses in the past. They seem perfect and that’s their trap. They always catch the business naïve. NO legitimate publisher will ask you to pay them. It’s bizarre to even consider it.
  • Prepare a query letter. Sometimes a company’s website will list what they want to know from you upon submission. For me, I explained who I was, my history of writing, and my experience in the industry. I also included my marketing plan experience with samples. This is the time to ‘sell yourself’ to the publisher. Make it superb. Along with the letter, prepare the first few chapters of the story and a blurb/summary of the story. Also, if it’s a series, include that information and where the story plans to go. Also add any marketing plan you have at that point in time if it’s different, how you plan to stand out, and anything else relevant.
  • After you’ve listened to the above and submitted you now will wait. Sometimes it’s hours and sometimes it’s months. Whatever you do, I recommend selecting one body of work per publisher. If you submit one story to multiple companies, it’s likely they all or some will want you and your work around the same time. It’s just easier and less stressful to put one work to one company.
  • If you get rejected read the letter, contact them, and even maybe thank them for their time. If you need to ask them to explain further do it. Sometimes they will not provide more and accept the rejection as just that, they get busy. Sometimes though, they will explain, and be willing to work with you on getting the manuscript up to their standards of publication.
  • If you get accepted you don’t have time to rest. All those months of working the book now got you to the point to do more. Once the story is in their hands, they will edited again and again by them, restructured with formatting and style, and ripped apart. You may even start thinking they’ve ruined the book, but you need to remember they’re seeing it with fresher eyes than your own. They will see things you’re not seeing or at least not seeing anymore. They’re professionals and want the best product for market. This is a business after all.
  • During the process you will be contact, at least in my experience, randomly for things needed. Here and there, these aren’t very specific and range well within the realm of eventual expectations.
  • They may even help you develop a marketing plan for each book or the series, if that is what you have, overall. They may even put you in contact within their network of trusted colleagues. (See networking is important) It’s good to remember each book is its ‘own business’ under the umbrella of you being your brand, a lot of steps will repeat for every release.

I re-edited this to add some editing advice. If you’re paying for an editor remember if you get a group of editors in a room to edit your story they all will say something different. This doesn’t mean one is more right it’s just their editing style. It’s just as fluid as the style an author may use to write a story.

My experience will vary from your own. I often do a lot of my own graphic work or formatting, but that doesn’t mean you will get to or have to. It depends person to person or even company to company. I enjoy doing a lot of my work, but willing to let share the workload.

What exactly am I? I am what’s considered a ‘hybrid’. I publish with companies and on my own. This is ideal for me. I have the freedom I need as a working freelancer in the business. I also get the freedom to publish when or what I want, but for projects that are signed I get the help I need. A boost to help me stay productive along with the easy of knowing someone’s going to be there if I have a question or need feedback.

The inspiration for this article came to me after seeing far too much hate online directed at publishers. Those not getting signed and lashing out of jealousy, judgement, and overall a misunderstanding of how things work. There are myths. We share some out of humor, but professionals know it’s all fun and games because the work can get stressful. Plus, who doesn’t need a good chuckle?

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