As many of you may know, I got into mainstream publishing through the backdoor of self-publishing. I didn't send my manuscript to all the major publishing houses, wish upon a star, and then wait for rejection letter after rejection letter to roll in. No. Instead, I wrote some books. But I did it in such a way that allowed me to get recognized by people who knew people. How did I do that, you ask? Well, I've narrowed it down to five things.
1. Do the work!
Having a great idea isn't enough. A painter who's never painted anything will never get noticed let alone stand out as a great painter, regardless of how great their ideas may be. The same is true for authors as well. If you haven't written anything, then you have nothing to show. Books don't write themselves, you know. So do the work. Plot your book, draw up the detailed outlines, create character descriptions, and then write the darn thing.
2. Hire a professional editor!
Completing a manuscript is just the first step in making a great book. Once you have done the work, it's time to get that work up to a professional standard. And the truth of the matter is, many independent, first time self-published authors think they can skip hiring a professional editor and save a few bucks. Don't make this rookie mistake! If you don't have your work professionally edited, no matter how great of a writer you are, it still will be an amateur move. Get it professionally edited.
3. Hire a professional cover artist!
As it turns out, people actually do judge a book by its cover. It may seem unfair, but it's true. A great cover will make or break your first outing as an author. Since first impressions are the ones that usually stick, if you come out with a first-rate, classy, cover -- that's how people will perceive you -- as a first-rate, classy writer with a first-rate, classy product. But if you come out with a second-rate, amateurish cover, well, that's how people will perceive you -- as an amateur who couldn't aspire to anything better than a generic, second-rate cover. So, make a good first impression -- get a professional cover artist for your book cover.
4. Network and get to know your fellow authors!
Something I was never told was just how important networking would be to my career. As it turns out, it's a vital part of publishing and the publishing industry. Who you know does matter! So make friends with other authors. Don't expect Stephen King to reply to your emails. Start with other independent authors who you admire, who share your tastes, and who have been doing this for a lot longer time than you. Chances are they have developed many contacts, know agents, and can give you the name of good editors and cover design artists. Be kind, listen to their advice, don't pester them -- be respectful and mind your space, but don't be afraid to ask questions once in a while. And always keep networking.
5. Always strive to be the consummate professional.
Your attitude and how you deal with others matters. Be professional. Be kind. It sounds easy enough, but I know far too many writers and authors who feel entitled to more than they deserve, occasionally will badmouth other writers, and seem to have nothing better to do than complain that nobody buys their book even though it's supposedly some kind of literary work of genius (according to them). Don't be this person. Never badmouth other writers, artists, etc. for any reason. Treat everybody with respect, even if they are dolling out harsh criticism of your work. This includes being patient and understanding with reviewers who might give you negative reviews. The more you look and act the part of a professional, the more you'll stand out and the more likely it will be that someone will venture to take a chance on you.
There you have it, ladies and gents. When you boil it all down, it's three parts work, one part who you know, and one part how you behave and your attitude. Now, go forth, and write the next great classic!
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.