Michelle’s Tips for Getting Published

I’m often asked how to get published. It’s a simple question, but the answer can be long and complex – and, of course, very much depends on what sort of writing you’re doing.

Recently, Stephen from Colorado, USA asked me whether I had any suggestions for a novice novelist (remember, you can ask me a question, too – click here). I thought you might like to see my answer.

Dear Stephen,

I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the Wolf Brother and Gods and Warriors stories. As to getting published, some things may have changed radically since I was trying to do it back in the 1980s and 90s – but some things haven’t. For instance, I too felt as if I were “stumbling through a maze”, as you put it.  Here are my top tips :

  • ONLY submit your story when you’ve got it the way you really, really want it. Re-write it, leave it for a few weeks, then read it critically and re-write some more.  And so on. (Should you get someone else to read it? That’s up to you, but personally I never have. I think it’s too risky to rely on one person’s opinion.)
  • Send it to an agent or publisher who publishes YOUR kind of story – AND send it in the way they like to receive submissions. This is crucial.  For instance if an agent  wants a letter and the first chapter, send that – and ensure that your letter is short and pithy!  (Don’t be tempted to send the full typescript, it will go straight in the bin.)  How do you find out what different agents & publishers want? In pre-internet days I used two directories of UK publishers & agents, The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook  and the Writer’s Handbook; I imagine both will now be online, and there should be similar resources in the US.  Failing that, agents’ and publishers’ websites often give useful guidance: follow it to the letter.
  • Be prepared for multiple rejections. They hurt, but they’re a fact of life. Rage, grieve, mope; then pick yourself up off the floor and send it out again.   Or write something new.
  • Should you research the market? Hmm. Personally I wouldn’t when it comes to WHAT to write. (For instance, when I was writing Wolf Brother there were no children’s books set in the Stone Age; but did that show a gap in the market, or no demand? I had no idea, but I wanted to write the story, so I did.)  That said, it can help to look at a few books in your genre, to get an idea of basics like novel length and chapter length.  But approach this with care: researching the market can be discouraging. If it makes you lose faith in your story, step away.
  • Above all, KEEP GOING! It took me 16 years to get published, and that’s not unusual. But ponder this: if you give up, you can be 100% certain that you’ll never get there. If you keep at it, you’ve got a chance. That thought kept me going through the dark times when I felt hopeless.  Maybe it will do the same for you.
  • Doubtless there’s lots more guidance on the internet, but these are my top tips.  I hope you find them helpful. And I’d like to wish you the very best of luck with your novel – as and when it sees the light of day!

With best wishes,