Things I Didn’t Know About Publishing (And Things I Know I Still Don’t Know) Let’s Discuss

October 19, 2018 Let's Discuss, Writing Tips 40

When I started writing, I wasn’t really doing it with the hope or expectation of getting published. I honestly felt like I was starting too “late.” I mean, when I was younger, I had dreams of being a writer. I took novel writing classes and did workshops and tried (and failed) to be disciplined and actually write. Then life happened and kids happened, and the dream sort of got away from me…

But I still wanted to write, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo and I did just that. I wrote a book. (Actually, to be clear, I first signed up for NaNo and wrote 50,000 words of a book that wasn’t going anywhere—someday I might plot that one out better and try again. THEN, the next year, I wrote a book.)

For over a year, I did nothing with that book. I wrote it, but I had no idea how to even fathom getting it published, and I didn’t know if it was good enough to even think that way. After all, I wasn’t a real writer—I was just a mom who wrote a thing. 

Then, on a whim, I bid on an auction and won a full-book edit from an editor at Penguin UK. I have no idea what possessed me to do this, but I won. I did some editing while the auction was going on and then I sent it off to her…

And she liked it.

She gave me some great input for edits, but she actually said she thought I could get an agent with the book the way it was. And she told me that if things didn’t pan out with this book, I should keep writing and try again because I had writing talent. I was sort of blown away. More than blown away. These words unlocked something inside me. Something that made me feel like a writer. Suddenly, I hadn’t just written a thing, I had authored a book.

But there was still SO MUCH I didn’t know about publishing. I was incredibly naive. Honestly, this is still true (but now I know a lot of what I don’t know … which is that crucial step). Still, I have learned a whole lot. I thought I’d share some of those revelations with you here.

(Some of the) Things I Didn’t Know About Publishing:

  • The process of getting your book ready for querying after you’ve “finished” it is LONG. Probably at least a year (it was more for me, but I wasn’t working on it in earnest that whole time).
  • Before you even submit to an agent, it’s expected that you will have already had the book critiqued (by multiple people) and polished and possibly even edited.
    • I knew my manuscript wasn’t perfect, but I thought I would find an agent and they would help me with the editing process. This is true, to an extent, but I’ve learned in the past year that agents expect that you’ve already been through this process and have gone through several rounds of edits before you submit to them.
    • Now, of course, an agent can’t know how much editing has gone into a book before they get it, but they expect it to be really polished. They will work with you on edits (sometimes extensive edits), but they want it to be in a state where it could practically be publishable as is.
    • (I realized after my first publishing conference that when the editor told me I could probably get an agent with the book as it was, she was being optimistic—though she stressed that she wasn’t just saying it to be nice. Sure, I might have been able to get someone to work with me, but I learned that I’d up my chances immensely by editing. A lot.)
  • The first ten pages of your manuscript are critical. 
    • You have to convince an agent within the first ten pages (really, the first page) that they want to read your book. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve edited my first chapter (it’s a lot).
    • Some agents and editors have said they need to be hooked by that first paragraph. They want the very first sentence to tell us something critical about who the MC is and what they’re fighting for. (This is HARD, by the way.)
  • Writing the perfect query is incredibly important. And also hard. 
    • Seriously, you spend countless hours writing this 250-word description of your book that will (hopefully) convince an agent that it’s worth reading.
    • There are books and classes and websites all focused solely on writing a query.
    • You need to research agents before you query them and tailor each query to that agent (try to address their specific wishlists or profiles to show that you have done your homework).
  • Oh, and then you also have to write a one-page synopsis that tells the whole plot of your book and gets people excited about it. In one page.
  • Twitter is a big deal in publishing.
    • While you certainly don’t have to use Twitter to pitch, there are tons of pitching events and such on Twitter.
      • #pitchwars #pitmad #authormentormatch #divpit #pit2pub (and lots more!)
    • So you also need a Twitter pitch. You need to be able to convince people in 280 characters or less that they want to see your book.
    •  There are also lots of hashtags to help you learn more.
      • #askanagent #manuscriptwishlist #MSWL #querytip #tenqueries (and lots more!)
    • But, as visible as all these pitching contests on Twitter are, most people still get published by cold querying, not with Twitter pitches or contests.
  • You need to be prepared to talk coherently about your book in person too. At any moment. You never know when someone will ask for your pitch.
  • You’ll get rejected. A lot. (I actually did know this, but I didn’t know exactly how it would feel. There’s just no preparing yourself for this.)
    • You’ll have moments where you’re flying high because you’ve gotten fabulous feedback, and then moments where you think you’re crazy for thinking you could possibly do this. (But you can’t give up!!)
  • Even if you manage to get published, there’s no guarantee that your next book will get published as well. 
  • Even established authors edit a lot. At a conference I went to, the editor there said that she asked her previously published authors to estimate how much of their books they end up changing in the editing process with her—the average was up to 70%!
  • And even after learning all this, there’s still a ton of stuff you don’t know.
    • But there are so many resources out there. You just have to do the work to find them.

Honestly, that probably isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. I could write a book about all the stuff I don’t know about publishing. But I’m learning. The process might be a little slower than I’d like, but that’s okay. I’m in this for the long haul.

Have you ever jumped into a whole new arena in your life and discovered you were clueless? I want to know!

40 Responses to “Things I Didn’t Know About Publishing (And Things I Know I Still Don’t Know) Let’s Discuss”

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I do have to take each accomplishment and remember to take a minute to celebrate it. Because you’re right that just finishing is HUGE. I went into this whole thing pretty naive, but I do feel like I’m getting somewhere with understanding it all.

  1. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    I feel like the main takeaway is: be patient because it’s a looong process, and be resilient because you will face plenty of rejection. And also that “getting published” is a whole different ballpark from “being a writer!” Writing is one thing, but getting published means editing and writing and marketing and selling and networking and on and on. Great topic, Nicole!

  2. S. J. Pajonas

    I knew most of this but only because I’ve been around the block and back again when it comes to publishing. 🙂 The thing to remember is that continual writing is where you’re going to make your breakthrough. Very few authors make it work on their first, second, or even tenth book. That you learn more by writing more, querying or self-publishing more. Rarely do things get done if you’re writing and re-writing the same thing over and over again (not that I’ve seen YOU do this, but it’s a common mistake for new authors). Keep going! Keep writing, keep learning!

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I agree, though I was actually surprised how MUCH agents and editors expect you to edit before you query. It seems pretty standard for people to do multiple rewrites, and agents seem to indicate that they expect you to have done this. I was surprised—I thought you’d save most of the rewriting for after you get an agent because then you’d be editing in the direction they want you to. (Ah, poor naive me…). I’ve only sent out seven queries so far and gotten six rejections, which is a TINY number compared to the stories out there. I’m gearing up for lots more. (But it still messes with your head a bit.) And, yep, I’m working on finishing up another book, which I’m about 75% done with at this point (well, 75% done with the first draft…).

  3. Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations

    That’s so awesome that the editor at Penguin UK liked your book! That’s so exciting!! I’m sure you’re going to learn much, much more in the years to come as you go through this journey. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned so far! Good luck!!

  4. Brandee @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Nicole. I think it’s fantastic that you bid on the editing…and WON! I’m still working on my first novel – almost done – but I guess I’ll need to be ready for LOTS of editing time. That’s okay though. Even if my friends are the only ones to ever read it, I’ll feel accomplished. 😉 I look forward to hearing how your progress in the process. Good luck!!

    Brandee @ (un)Conventional Bookworms recently posted: Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts #160 ~ Lady Luck
    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I’m so excited for you that your book is almost finished. Every author out there will tell you that getting it done is half the battle, and it’s what marks you as a true writer. So many people start, but don’t follow through. Because writing is PAINFUL sometimes. LOL!

  5. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    NICOLE! I legit teared up when I read about the editor’s feedback! I am so happy for you that I don’t even have the words- and you deserve this, my friend. All your hard work, paying off, I could not be happier for yoU!

    Publishing is SO daunting. It’s probably why I have always felt the same as you- like okay, I can “write a thing” but anything beyond that… yeah no. I mean, maybe someday, but this isn’t it hahaha. I don’t think I have the emotional fortitude to deal with it all honestly. But you are awesome and have a great support system and I really believe that amazing things are in store for you, my dear.

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Reviews in a Minute: Siblings and Friends
    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I know that you get me, Shannon. I hope that someday one of your “things” will turn into something beautiful. I get that this isn’t the right time for you, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that it’s never too late. For now, I’ll hold onto the dream for both of us. 🙂

  6. Dani Eide

    Wow! Nicole, what a story. Thanks for sharing. To think it started with you bidding in an auction. Then the editor at Penguin UK liking your work. Your perseverance shows. Thanks for the tips and suggestions. People ask me all the time if I have an agent. I’m like, let me finish writing the thing. Can’t wait to hear more about your journey. ❤️❤️

  7. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    I feel like I know slightly more about publishing than the average person because I spent 6 years working for small presses and literary journals. I think new authors are surprised by how long everything takes. They wouldn’t be surprised if they could log in and look at our Submissions Manager. With poetry and short stories, the submissions came in 100x faster than I could read them and send rejection emails. We were always 6 months behind with reading submissions.

  8. Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books

    This sounds exhausting. It further enforces my opinion that I’m a reader not a writer and I can’t believe I accepted a challenge to seriously participate in NaNoWriMo this year. What if, like yourself, I catch the writing bug and have to go through all this?! 😐

    Lots of luck with your editing, querying and road to publishing!

    Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books recently posted: Weekly Update #34
  9. Lisa Mandina (Lisa Loves Literature)

    Such a great post! I used to write when I was younger. Then kind of quit once I got more interested in teaching, and specifically teaching science. It was the English teachers I worked with that got me back interested in writing, and even clued me into NaNoWriMo. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much editing had to be done before you even attempted to try to get something published! Since I had a friend who self-publishes and totally needs at least one more round of editing, or one more person to look at it before she hits send (yet she doesn’t), I’ve realized how important that really is. I was going to try to enter a Carina Press contest, but the synopsis length they want is insane! They want 5 pages or 1600 words! So I’m debating on it, not sure if I can figure out how to write one that long. I love following your journey through all this. Can’t wait to see what happens next for you!

  10. Laura

    I didn’t know most of this stuff either until I read this post, so thanks for sharing this!
    Best of luck with all your writing and querying! 🙂

  11. ShootingStarsMag

    There was a time when I was really working on my writing, and I was reading everything I could about publishing and agents. And yes, queries are so tough to write…as is making the intro of your story something that really hooks people. It’s a lot, and I don’t necessarily look forward to all of that again, but I do have a goal to publish a book, so I’ll be jumping into that someday soon. LOL

    -Lauren

  12. Daniela Ark

    oh but of course I heart this post so much! YES YES YES to everything. “I know that I know nothing” is so true when it comes to writing and publishing a book! I remember when you won the auction! that was a very happy moment. 🙂 the thing I like to remember is ALL AUTHORS went through this. From King to Poe. No authors knew what he was doing at first and many of them made it so there is hope for the rest of us.

  13. Kathleen Bailey

    Thank you so much for sharing with us! I wrote part of a book a few years ago but haven’t done a thing with it since. I got discouraged when I read that most authors don’t publish the first book they wrote. I only wanted to publish that one. I don’t want to write more than one and that is fiction based on fact so I wanted it out there.

  14. Tonyalee

    I’m so excited for you!!! I love seeing my friends do something they love and learn in the process. I think for publishing, it’s always evolving. What is happening now, or works, probably wont soon and it’ll get harder. Does that make sense?

    I’ve always wanted to be a writer so I am living vicariously through you lol

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