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How To Get Published Without Knowing Anything About The Industry, by Lia Weston

Alternative titles I toyed with for this post:

  • Stumbling Into Fortuitousness
  • Dumb Luck: A Legitimate Career Path
  • That Agent Blog May Not Be Correct
  • That Writers’ Forum May Not Be Correct

My first novel, The Fortunes of Ruby White, was published in 2010, but if you’ve ever read a publishing, agent or writing-related website, it should never have been published at all. I don’t take it personally. It’s got nothing to do with the book itself. It’s got nothing to do with me, either. It’s The Industry.

I must go back slightly. The Fortunes of Ruby White was my first novel in every sense of the word.  I had never attempted a novel before, nor a novella, nor a short story, nor a blog post. “What the hell were you writing, then?” you may well ask. Everything but those things, basically. I wrote marketing copy about sports books and musculoskeletal injury DVDs. I wrote poetry, mostly in long rhyming-couplet form as someone had once told me it was the worst kind of poetry anyone could ever read, and I like a challenge. I wrote essays at university on psychology, ancient Greek architecture, and philosophy, and when I finished uni I wrote my friends’ essays instead. I wrote long letters in the form of tiny newspapers (“Yoghurt Missing From Local Area Fridge: Operation Acidophilus Retrieval Instigated”) for a friend interstate. Basically, I practiced writing in general, and in between I edited other people’s work, which had the added bonus of teaching me that proofreading art catalogues is its own circle of hell.

But back to the book. The idea for Ruby White came to me before the concept of turning it into a novel ever did. “What if….?” became “…and then what?” I made some notes, wondered about it a bit more, and finally realised that if I wanted to know how her story actually turned out, I would need to write it myself. I won’t go into the mechanics of it here. (I’ll save those for another blog post—ha ha! It contains references to snow peas and crying. You have been warned.) Suffice to say, after quite a long time, I had a finished manuscript. I had no idea if it was any good. [Lesson One: When you tell people you are writing a novel, expect many of them to say, “Oh, I’d love to read it!” This leads directly to Lesson Two: 98% of those people will not read your manuscript; your success rate here is inversely proportional to how badly you need feedback. This leads directly to Lesson Three: Maybe just don’t tell people you’re writing a novel.] As all of my promised readers fell through – bar my mother; thanks, Ma! – I figured I should just post it off to a publishing house and see what happened.

I picked Simon & Schuster as they published a couple of my favourite authors, stuck the manuscript in the post, and crossed my fingers. I then figured I should start researching the industry. What happened next was an exercise in horror. I spent hours with my hands clapped to my face, reading post after post after post on how I’d just done the dumbest thing ever and now had clearly mucked up any chance of ever being published in anything. Ever.

Nearly every single writing website—and, sweet Jesus, there are a LOT of them—gives the same trifecta of advice to would-be novelists:

1. You will never get your first book published.

2. You will never get your first book published without an agent.

3. You will never get your first book published without an agent and via the first publishing house you approach.

Well, guess what? It’s not necessarily true.

I understand that writers need to be prepared for the possibility of rejection. If it doesn’t come from an agent or publisher, you can be darned sure that if your book is lucky enough to make it into a ten-kilometre radius of the reading public, there will be someone who hates it, and usually they’ll be fairly vocal about why and how much. However, if I had started reading all of this You’re Doomed advice before I sent my manuscript off, I would have probably stuck it in a drawer and decided to pursue something easier, such as astrophysics. Instead, I wrote with the naive confidence that someone would like it and somehow it would find its way out into the world. And, somehow, it did. I’m not under any delusions that it is because The Fortunes of Ruby White is The Best Book Ever. What I do know is that:

  1. Publishers do pick things out of the slush pile.
  2. Luck and timing play a part in everything, and publishing is no exception.

I got the right person on the right day with the right kind of humour who liked what I’d written. Conversely, my manuscript could have been picked by someone who was having a crappy day and didn’t like my particular voice (again, a subject for another blog post). But I got lucky. It does happen, despite what you usually read.

So do not be discouraged, gentle writer. Whether you’ve written one novel or ten, whether you’ve got an agent or not, whether you have a web site and head shot and a thousand Twitter followers or no social media platform at all (or are saying, “Platform? What the hell?”), no-one can predict where your writing will go. Write with confidence and joy, write whatever you want, ignore all the nay-sayers, and forge your own path. You may be surprised just where it will lead you.

***

Lia Weston’s author website: www.liaweston.com

Lia Weston’s bio page

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The Fortunes of Ruby WhiteThe Fortunes of Ruby White     What Kate Did NextStillwater CreekThe Exiled

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a wonderful success story! I love reading things like this. Congratulations to you!

    January 30, 2013
  2. Bravo, Lia! A great blog post.

    January 30, 2013
  3. Good post, Lia. I agree, you have to throw your hat into the ring because there’s always a chance. That subjective, lucky moment when the right manuscript gets in front of the right eyes is a thrill for all involved. But when the reverse happens so often, you realise that all the advice in the world on ‘how to get published’ only marginally increases one’s chances.

    January 31, 2013
  4. Thanks so much, Fleur, Jenn and Phillipa!

    Yes, the subjective nature of the industry is unique, and so frustrating. I’ve been speaking with a published friend who writes quite dark material; we’ve been discussing whether we should compromise our particular writing style in order to increase publication chances. It’s a hard one…

    February 2, 2013
    • I can relate to this – should a writer comproise the ‘art’ of their writing to adjust to more middle-class norms?

      October 17, 2013
      • Although I can understand the temptation to change your writing to suit someone else’s expectations, I can’t recommend it without misgivings. If you’re not writing what rings true for you, then I think you’re not going to produce your best work. It’s a hard question, though, and one I still re-visit.

        October 20, 2013
  5. Is it expected now in Australia to also get a professional manuscript assessment and editing along with a positive report before approaching agents or publishers with a manuscript?

    October 17, 2013
    • I don’t think it’s expected, though it’s always an excellent idea to have your work as professionally polished as possible. None of the published authors I know (as in know personally) have had it done, however, nor have I.

      October 20, 2013

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