When my first novel Somewhere I Belong was launched on November 1, 2014, someone asked me whether I was proud about having been published. My immediate answer was “no.” I felt grateful that my publisher had taken a risk on an unknown author and relieved that the process of writing, re-writing, and revising was finally over. I was happy, for sure, but not proud. And I didn’t think I had been published through some stroke of luck either. I had put in a lot of hard work. For years, I had studied the short story and novel forms on my own, through writing groups, and through formal writing courses. I read and continue to read the best fiction on the market. I study writers’ techniques. I look for their methods in writing dialogue, in creating settings, in shaping the personalities of each character, and in plotting out a believable story. If I find a book to be badly written, I immediately put it down: I only want to study from masters of the craft. I sought out advice from published authors. I applied for opportunities to study under award-winning writers and was awarded these opportunities because I had presented polished fiction with well-crafted story arcs and compelling characters. I was grateful for having been accorded a number of excellent learning opportunities. But not proud. I listened to advice, revised where directed to do so, and submitted and resubmitted until I got it right. And I never argued with a more experienced writer or editor on any aspects of my writing. In short, I left my ego out of it.
Learning the craft of fiction is a process. It’s like learning a new language in that it takes time to absorb all of the elements of fiction writing and to synthesize them into the writing. It took years to learn how to write a good story, and years more to understand the elements of the novel. I joined writing groups and sought feedback. Some, I gladly accepted, some I rejected outright. (If you join a writing group, you will find that most members are well intended, but that some understand the craft of fiction and others don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about.) And once I had completed what I thought was a compelling story, from beginning to end, I set out in search of a publisher. This is, perhaps, the only process wherein I can truly say that I had a stroke of luck. I had already been published, in a short story anthology, by the first press I approached. When I presented my letter, story synopsis and two sample chapters to Acorn Press Canada, the publisher replied within three months and asked me for the full manuscript. She wanted to send it to her editorial board for review. Several months later, I had a contract. And I had only approached one publisher. There followed a several-weeks-long editorial process between me and the structural/copy editor Acorn Press had chosen, and another couple of weeks of copy editing by the Press’s in-house editor.
As I also work as an editor, members of my writing group and some of my close friends wondered why I needed one. Everyone needs a second set of eyes. Writers can be too close to their work; few have the ability to see both the forest and the trees. My editor noted issues with the story arc and the arcs of two major characters. I followed up on every suggestion and, in the end, Somewhere I Belong became a much better book than it otherwise would have been. Both my editor and my publisher noted how easy I had been to work with. My reply was that I had left my ego out of the process. Having received my publishing contract, there was no way I was going to argue with an experienced book editor, particularly when my publisher was picking up the tab. I wanted Somewhere I Belong to be the best book possible. I wanted it to be well received on the market, and I want to write a sequel and publish that too.
Getting published is a long and arduous process. It takes a lot of work. Your writing has to be concise and well crafted. Your story and characters have to be believable and compelling.
You have to be willing to make numerous adjustments to your manuscript before it goes to press. And you have know what good writing is, leave your ego out of it, and let those more experienced in the writing and publishing process help you produce the best book possible. Here is a terrific website that offers some eye-opening advice on getting published: