Get a free video course on Writing and Mindset Click hereJoin my author mailing list

How to get published

Advice for beginners

The Basics

You’re here because you want to learn how to get published. What small steps can you take first, before you send your work out into the world? There are all sorts of writing books out there and online articles about becoming a writer, I’ve written some myself, but what do you actually need to do first? Before I tell you how to get published, I’m going to give you some of the basics of living the writing life. Set these up and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a writer – that is making writing a regular part of your life – rather than simply talking about doing it one day or taking the notoriously unreliable ‘doing it when inspiration hits’ route. AND you’ll be well on your way to becoming a published writer too.

Time to write

Have a look at your schedule and decide when you can fit in some writing time. Consider where you’re going to write and whether you need complete silence or you prefer to be around other people. This doesn’t have to be every day but try to make it regular if you can, simply because that means you’re more likely to turn up and do it. Consider what gets called your ‘big rocks’: holidays, events, birthdays, big work projects, and work around them. Take the kettle test if this is difficult.

I suggest that you mark your writing sessions in your diary or on a calendar or write them up somewhere you can see and treat them like a job that you have to turn up for. Then celebrate by being nice to yourself afterwards. This sets up a positive reward value in your brain. I’ve written a short book about how to find time to write. Find out more here.

A space to write in

You can write on a tray in bed, at the kitchen table, at a dedicated desk, at the library, in a rented office space, in a café, on trains, or outside on a park bench. (Which would you prefer?) Your writing space can be dedicated to writing, and permanent, or portable and temporary.

  • Make it special somehow, by placing objects or images in it that remind you why you are writing. This could be a special notebook with a postcard tucked inside or a photo.
  • Make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Make it as easy as possible to access.

As with being nice to yourself, this sets up a positive reward value in your brain.

A writing habit

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about creating ‘cues’ that will make habits easier to establish. That might be the cup of coffee you drink before or during your writing session, or the reminder you set on your phone.

Establishing a writing habit is important because (like exercise) the more you do it, the easier it gets to turn up. Write one page a day for a year or two pages every other day (or about 1,600 words a day for a month for NaNoWriMo fans) and you’ll have a book written, daydream about how ‘one day’ you’ll write a book and you won’t.

Find your preferred way of writing

Actually you only need a notebook and a pen to get started but for the medium term, think about whether you prefer to write on a desktop computer, on a tablet, on a laptop or in a notebook, for example. You could also use a hybrid approach, working on a computer and taking notes long hand as you go.

Note the word ‘preferred’! Doing what you prefer is important because you’ll be more likely to do it! Your preferred venue will also dictate how you write to a certain extent. If you want to take your writing out and about and sit outside to do it, a notebook may be easier. When I wrote my short story collection on location, I wrote in a notebook and typed the stories up onto my computer later.

Something to write about

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an idea in order to start writing. But it will make it easier to turn up and write in your dedicated writing space if you have some exercises or writing prompts to start you off. Here are some places to find ideas:

So there you have it, the basics you need to get started as a writer:

  • Identifying time to write
  • Setting up space to write in
  • Establishing a writing habit
  • Finding a preferred way to write
  • Having something to write about

I’ve got two more to add, and they’re to do with the writing community.

Literary citizenship

This is a term coined by the former editor of literary journal Tin House, and discussed at the beginning The Business of Being a Writer by writer and editor Jane Friedman. It means celebrating and promoting the work of your fellow writers and supporting them. In turn, they support you. This might mean:

  • attending readings, events and festivals,
  • reading and reviewing books by other writers,
  • following and sharing on social media,
  • or recommending books to others.

I’ve included books and organisations that have helped me or my students in this post, for instance, without affilate links, and that’s a small / free way for me to say thank you.

Writing support

Develop a support network of fellow writers informally (at university or on social media for instance) and more formally, by joining a local writing group, or an organisation for writers. Try your library. You could also try your local writing organisation like New Writing South down here in the South of England or an online one like TLC’s Being a Writer or Jericho Writers. Writing retreats – like those offered by Arvon, festivals and other events are another way to receive support and to meet like-minded people.

How do you get published?

So now you know the basics of being a regular rather than an ad hoc writer, how do you get published? We can break that down into two categories:

  • Publishing short things
  • Publishing books

I’ve used the plural because a career as a published writer is always about publishing more than one thing.

More binaries

We can also use a different two categories:

  • Self-publishing
  • Traditional publishing

Or another two:

  • Digital
  • Print

Or another two:

  • Small publisher
  • Big publisher

These pairings create binary paradigms – ideas about publishing that form in our heads made up of two options. For example, a writer might think: I’ll either self-publish or I’ll traditionally publish or I’ll publish to kindle but I won’t do print copies or I want a big five publisher and not a small press. All examples of binary paradigms in operation. Let’s think about things a little differently.

Routes to publication

Here are the various routes to publication. They overlap with one another:

  • Traditional route
  • Self-publishing
  • Small press route
  • Digital only or digital first
  • Crowdfunded
  • Hybrid – a mix of the above

Traditional route

The traditional route means going through a publisher. That is, not self-publishing. Excuse the double negative, but not self-publishing is not actually ‘traditional’. A Christmas Carol was self-published in December 1843 to catch the Christmas market, for instance, and yet we tend to think of Charles Dickens as ‘traditional’ in more ways than one. But this route gets called traditional. Enough said. We can think of the traditional route as:

  • going with a well-established press,
  • using a literary agent
  • not self-publishing and not going with a very small press.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY. If a publisher is charging, they are not a traditional publisher. If you’ve going traditional in the UK the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is your friend! In my book How to Write a Novel and Get It Published I go into more detail about routes to publication and you can discover more about the traditional route by downloading the free sample at the bottom of this post.

Self-publishing or independent publishing

Self-publishing means doing it yourself or at least project managing the process yourself. You can take the DIY approach and try to do almost everything for free. At the other extreme, you can take the ‘done for you approach’ and pay thousands. Consider return on investment before parting with any cash! I suggest that your first step should be to seek help from Alli, the Alliance of Independent Authors as they have a directory of information you can use – to avoid the dodgy dealers out there – and a guide to doing it for almost free. Weigh up your options carefully before taking this route. Self-publishing is like setting up a small business if you intend to get an ROI – and always takes time and money. The other routes can learn from this one. The freelance business skills needed are also applicable to the other ways of getting published.

The small press route

Taking the small press route is very similar to the traditional route. You are less likely to need an agent and the advantage is that you may find a route to publication for material that wouldn’t be taken on by an established or large press. Small presses often have submission widows, so make a note of when they fall.  I suggest looking at the Mslexia Guide to Independent Presses and the Guillemot Guide to Very Small Press Publishing. You might also like to go along to the Small Press Fair at Conway Hall in London or look into the Northern Fiction Alliance.

The Mslexia guide in particular will give you a wealth of information on who publishes what. Try to get published by any journal the press also runs (they don’t always but often do) because that will get you on their radar. Always support the press by sharing on social media, buying and reviewing their books, and attending events. Some ask you to buy a book before submitting but you should make this a regular practice anyway if you can afford it.

If you would like to set up your own small press, much of the process is similar to self-publishing, or at least it helps to learn what that involves. Look at the Mslexia and Guillemot guides.

Digital First or Digital Only

The digital first route is available via publishers who champion the ebook and may or may not publish in print. The biggest player is Bookouture. Self-published authors often publish digital only – often with Amazon KDP – or focus mainly on the digital route, only printing copies to sell via Print on Demand if they attend an event where they can reach customers face-to-face.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is less often used by self-published authors but there is at least one book about it – as with any crowdfunding indy authors would use Kickstarter or similar. The main crowdfunding publisher is Unbound. They are the same as a traditional press apart from (crucially) you have to sell the book to readers before it is published. Therefore, the platform building is done in advance and is extremely important. All self-published and small press authors need to platform build in the same way in order to be successful – trad published authors can rely on their publicity team to a certain extent. It’s just that the crowdfunding model forces you to do it upfront.

Route by type

So that was a run down of how to get a book published. What about different types of writing? What are the best routes? There’s no hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, here’s how it works:

  • Poetry and short stories: publish in magazine and journals and enter competitions first, then put a collection together and pitch it to a small press. Agents aren’t usually interested unless you’re making money. It’s less usual to self-publish but not unheard of. You can attempt to crowdfund a short story collection with Unbound.
  • Nonfiction: You need to be an expert in a subject to write a nonfiction book but you can pitch it first before writing it. You can try any of the routes. You can pitch short pieces of nonfiction on topics you know well to magazines, newspapers or blogs. Read the publication first. Short creative nonfiction (for which there are fewer outlets) tends to get treated like short fiction when it comes to submissions.
  • Memoirs tend to be treated like novels when it selling them to agents / publishers.
  • Novels: Again, you can take any of the routes. For traditional publishing you go through a literary agent. Self-publishing tends to be more successful with genre fiction or within very niche markets. Novellas are a harder sell but the process is similar. Download the sample at the bottom of this post to find out more about publishing a novel.

Identify what you love to read first. That will give you BIG CLUES re where you should send your work and what route to take.

Start small

Here’s how to take small steps or in other words, how to publish something small. If you’ve never been published before, try these not so easy seven steps:

  1. Discover things you love to read.
  2. Carry out some research and find out who publishes them.
  3. Read the submissions guidelines carefully.
  4. During your regular writing time, craft pieces that are specifically for each opportunity.
  5. Take a deep breath and send your work out into the world.
  6. Get some support: find other writers who are doing it too!
  7. Keep a record of where you send your work and the deadlines.

This isn’t the only approach, but it’s probably the least stressful. I hope you’ll give it a go. I haven’t talked about competitions here, but that is another route to publication you might like to consider. To help with that I have made a ‘list of lists’ of calls for submissions, including competitions. In the UK, Writing Magazine includes a directory of opportunities so does Mslexia, which I’ve found useful.

Good luck

So there you have it. How to get published, in a nutshell. Start with the basics, because if you get those right, you are much more likely to be successful as a published writer. Remember that the route you take usually depends on what you’re writing and that submission guidelines will be particular to each opportunity. The next step is to set up systems to make your life as a working writer easier. Find out how in this post.

Good luck on your publication journey and happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Here’s a free sample from my book How to Write a Novel and Get It Published. You can download it as a PDF by clicking here.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.