After Sarah-Jane Lehoux stopped by last week to tell us about her debut novel THIEF, she offered to return and share what she'd learned in the process of going from unpublished to published.
A Writer’s Life for Me
Writing has always been a part of my life. I have always been an introvert, and have felt more like an observer rather than a participant in life. Creating stories was a way for me to gain control, a way to make sense of the world, to communicate with others when I was too shy to open my mouth. I never viewed it as a viable career choice, and no one ever told me otherwise.
I did what I needed to in order to make a living--went to university, racked up student loans, found a decent paying job--but I always turned to writing for comfort and enjoyment. As I grew older, I began to realize that I wanted more.
I joined a forum online, and took part in a sort of round robin story telling exercise. It was so much fun for me. All day at work, I would think about what to write next, and I would rush home, anxious to read what everyone else had posted. Unfortunately, that little story died out rather quickly. The other posters were busy with their own lives and didn’t seem to want or be able to put in the effort I wanted to. I lied in bed one night, thinking about the character I had created and I decided I wasn’t done with her. I was going to tell her story from the beginning; tell it the way that I wanted it told, without worrying about what anyone else thought.
And that’s exactly what I did. It was harder than I thought. I had never written anything longer than a short story. Up to that point, I never thought I was capable of writing a novel. I proved myself wrong. And when I finally typed out the words ‘the end’, I knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
So then what? I knew I was meant to be a writer, but how was I supposed to convince others of that?
I began to research. Thankfully, we live in an age where the world is right at our fingertips. I scoured the internet for every article on how to get published I could find. Talk about information overload! So allow me to condense what I found.
1. Create your product
I know it’s difficult to think of your story as a product, but when you are trying to get published, that’s exactly what it is. Give yourself some emotional distance from your story. It will help in the long run when you are faced with rejections and bad reviews. Edit the heck out of your story, and when you think it’s perfect, edit it some more. To do this, move on to #2.
2. Improve your skills
You don’t need to go to school to be a writer, but you do need to have a good grasp of grammar and a working knowledge of the basics of story telling. Consider joining a writing group to get critiques. Do not rely on your friends and family to help with this. You need honest, unbiased opinions, and your loved ones won’t really be capable of that.
3. Research your options
Be mindful of your target audience. Find a publisher/agent who deals with this demographic. There are plenty of resources out there to help you find the best places to submit your story to. My favourites are
4. Follow the rules
Once you find a place to submit to, make sure you follow their submission guidelines to a t! I have seen stories rejected for their cover letters. I have seen stories rejected because the email was addressed to the wrong staff member. Publishers/agents are inundated with stories, and quite frankly, they are always looking for ways to lessen their burden. Do not ruin your chances by looking like you think you are above the rules.
5. Build your web presence
I created a website and blog for myself long before I had a single publishing credit to my name. Why? Nowadays, publishers/agents, expect their authors to do a lot of marketing/promotion on their own. By developing a web presence, you are demonstrating that you’re serious about your work and you are capable of attracting an audience. It was thanks to my website that Mundania Press gave my novel a second look after they had already rejected me.
6. Build your portfolio
Trying to get your novel published? Try writing some flash fiction and short stories, and submit them to various ezines. My very first acceptance came from a non-paying website, and the story was just a little something that took about a week to write. In the grand scheme of things, it was insignificant, but the acceptance gave me confidence to keep going and it also helped to build up my reputation.
7. Develop a thick skin
You will get rejected. This is just a fact of life. Suck it up and keep submitting. Don’t sit on your hands while your waiting to hear back from a publisher/editor. Start working on your next project. If you throw in the towel after your first setback, you aren’t a writer. A writer keeps writing even though no one is reading.
Now that my novel has been released, I’m discovering that there is still a lot I have to learn. Getting published was not the end all and be all that I once thought it was. There’s marketing and promotion, and of course, there’s still writing. Write, submit, repeat. It’s not exactly what I imagined, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thanks for this, Sarah-Jean. Everything she wrote is exactly what I'd suggest. Been there! Stay tuned for our next Interview. Heidi Kling, author of SEA will be telling us about her debut novel.