Advice for publishing a novel

You published writers out there:

I am trying to write a book myself. Since I have no clue how a lot of this works, I appeal to my Doper friends for some advice.

How do I go about publishing? Any techniques you would recommend? Anything I should keep in mind? Assume I am clueless about publishing.

I am writing a SciFi book, if that helps. It’s a novel… probably will end up anywhere from 200 to 300 pages, I’m not sure yet.

Thanks for any advice you can give. I would really appreciate it.


Shad – I’ve published science fiction professionally and am treasurer-elect of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

General advice:

  1. Money flows towards the writer. If anyone suggests you should be paying to be published, run away.

  2. Step one: Finish the novel. You can’t market it unless you have something in hand (successful writers can sell on an outline, but they have a track record. Until you publish, you don’t).

  3. You can find markets by subscribing to Science Fiction Chronicle ( Their market list is one of the best, including a good list of book publishers. Fiction Writers Market is also a useful source, though it get out of date very rapidly. You can also subscribe to the SFWA Bulletin( for markets and other tidbits.

  4. Send out the completed book to as many publishers as you can, one at a time (simultaneous submissions will only piss people off). It’s best if you can send the entire manuscript, but only a handful of publishers are willing to read it. You need to learn how to outline your book.

  5. Also look into agents. Beware any agent who asks for money up front (see #1). Remember: never, under any circumstances whatsoever, pay money to an agent. Legit agents don’t charge until they sell your book. Scam artists give all sorts of phoney excuses as to why they need your money; don’t believe them. You can send queries to agents while you’re marketing your novel.

  6. Talk with other SF writers. Go to a science fiction convention in your area (tell me where it is and I may be able to give you some leads). You can also get a wealth of information from the newsgroups as (try to see the public groups, many of which have very useful information to a beginner.

  7. While you’re marketing your novel, write another. It’s good practice. :slight_smile:

  8. No one has any idea how to write a novel. It’s all trial and error. :slight_smile: Just write something you’d love to read and work on it until it’s as good as you can get it. Then work on it some more, and send it off.

If you need further advice, e-mail me.

You may want to check out

Works wonders.
I have a question… Why is it that everyone wants to be a successful novelist? Is it on the same level as wanting to be an astronaut or a rock star? Seems like everyone I know, including myself, is suffering from some mass delusion: that other people will pay money for something that we write.
I hope we’re not in for too rude an awakening.

Personally I want to do something that is noticed, and hopefully making someone happy in the process. Plus, i’d love to write for a living… that would make me so happy.

So maybe I’m deluded, but that’s what I want to do. Plus: Its just fun to write a neat story.

Chuck: when you say don’t do multiple submissions, do you mean don;t send to multiple publishers at once? Or do you mean just don’t keep sending in to the same publisher?

And seriously: what are the chances? I mean is it like becoming an actor or something, a million to 1 shot? Or is there a reasonable chance that I’ll at least be able to make a living from it, even if I dont turn into the next Orson Scott Card or something. :slight_smile:

Hey Shadenwawa;

I’m “published” only because I work for a software company and produce user manuals (but I’m a technical writer, it pays the bills, and it lets me write everyday), but PLEASE go and get yourself a copy of the Writer’s Market. The book is updated and revised annually, and gives you the most valuable and practical information you can find in one place.

The fiction market is a lot like the Hollywood movie market (the Stephen Kings, John Grishams, Tom Clancys and Patricia Cornwells, are little different from the Tom Cruises, Tom Hankses, Julia Robertses and Harrison Fords). Publishers are looking primarily to buy works from “bankable” writers who have solid track records, and who are known to sell well on airport snack shop book shelves.

Some fields, like fantasy, are notoriously difficult to break through. Unsolicited works submitted to publishers (those that are not brought to them by literary agents) The best thing you can do is to read the Writer’s Market and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. You need to know who the publishers are, what their submission policies are, how many new authors they pick in a year, etc. (all of which is covered in the book).

I was talking about simultaneous submissions, where you send the same manuscript to several publishers at once. A very big no-no. Simultaneous submissions can screw up the publisher very badly, so unless they say so (or unless your agent – and you need an agent – wants to run an auction), never send them. Multiple submissions are when you send the same publisher several manuscripts at once. A faux pas, but not as likely to get anyone mad at you.

And seriously: what are the chances? I mean is it like becoming an actor or something, a million to 1 shot? Or is there a reasonable chance that I’ll at least be able to make a living from it, even if I dont turn into the next Orson Scott Card or something. {/quote]

It’s not a matter of chance. It’s a matter of ability. If you have the ability to become a successful writer, then you’ll become one. Do you, in particular, have that ability? I couldn’t say. If I saw your work, the best I could say is whether it currently was publishable – but if I said it wasn’t, you could improve it, or write something much better some other time.

You write because you can’t not write. If you write something publishable, and get it published (two different things), that’s great. If you can’t, at least you tried. Have fun with it and worry about selling it once you’re done.

It’s a harmless delusion, and you never know. Someone may be willing to pay money for what you write. Don’t expect to get rich, though. The vast majority of writers earn only a few thousand a year – if that much. For every Stephen King there are thousands of writers don’t earn enough to live on. That can include some familiar names.

People who want to be writers do it because they want the fame and fortune. People who are writers do it because they need to write.

That’s not strictly true, and especially not true in SF and fantasy. Certainly, publishers are happy to have the big names, but all the big names were little names once. If a new writer is good enough, she’ll get published. In fact, a new author is much preferable to an author who had one or two books out that didn’t make a splash. Some authors, in fact, have even created pseudonyms so they wouldn’t be associated with their earlier novels (chain bookstores check the sales figures by name; if an author didn’t sell in the past, they cut their orders).

“Bankable” authors are unknowns who managed to catch on. Some shortsighted publishers think only in terms of “bankable,” but smart publishers know different. Science fiction and fantasy publishers are looking for authors who can write books that will make them money. There’s no reason that can’t be you.

Good suggestion, but the book they want is [i[Fiction* Writer’s Market. They spun that off WM a few years ago. WM is primarily concerned with nonfiction; FWM, fiction. Same publisher, though.

Also note that some of the information in both books is obsolete by the time they’re published. Double check before sending things off.

Good luck.

I don’t have much useful advice, but I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you. I’m a non-fiction writer, which is another whole kettle of fish.

It’s almost impossible to make a living as a writer—maybe 10% of published writers can do it; the rest of us have “pay-the-rent” jobs and use our writing as hobbies.

Ukulele Ike is out of town on a business trip today (at least that’s HIS story and he’s sticking to it), but next week, maybe he’ll have some advice for you . . .