How Does a First-Time Author Break into the Publishing Industry?

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Answered by: Celeste, An Expert in the Getting Published Category
For aspiring writers, there is nothing more thrilling or intimidating than getting that first publication to your name. Ironically, it is not a lack of options in the publishing industry that presents the trouble, but the sheer excess of options instead.

In the past, there were firm boundaries between author and publisher that, while limiting, at least presented a definite set of steps for writers to follow: you write your piece, send out a wave of queries to every suitable editor you can find, take your lumps in the form of innumerable rejection slips, and eventually be accepted for publication, whereupon your piece runs the editing gauntlet on its way to public distribution.

At times brutal, yes, but simple at least for its well-established rules and deliverable rewards. Once you were accepted, you were to be a published writer, your course plotted, and the process carried out as expected by the professionals who knew all the right steps to follow.

Today, thanks to the advent of internet-based publishers and the booming field of digital self-publishing, the industry has expanded to unprecedented dimensions, allowing for virtually any individual with an internet connection at their disposal to technically become "published" through any number of channels. However, rather than simply make the lauded world of publishing more accessible and less exclusive to the selected elite, it presented a whole new problem that, for many, may seem insurmountable: with so many options, and countless millions of other writers taking advantage of them already, where could yet another writer find a place for themselves, and where do they even begin to try?

Despite all of the noise in the industry today, it remains a process that can be methodically addressed, if you simply take it one step at a time.

Firstly, being a writer new to the scene, you must ensure you have a completed piece to work with; this is, of course, not accounting for editors and publications which accept queries for commissioned pieces, for that would be a different process altogether, and not one that these steps will cover. It is important to note that whether it is a manuscript, article, or essay, the piece you wish to publish is only "completed" when you have already thoroughly edited it to the best of your abilities, and/or hired a professional editor to bring it up to the level of a publishable text.

Secondly, you need to decide whether you wish to self-publish or to seek traditional publication. Within the modernised and digitised industry, each holds its own benefits and pitfalls. Traditional publication involves plenty of rejection along the way and a slower publication process even upon acceptance, but it grants the author the credibility of being backed by a professional organisation and, varying based on the size of the publisher, results in greater publicity and distribution for their work. Self-publishing, on the other hand, involves needing to handle every detail of publication yourself -- editing, formatting, layout, cover design, distribution, marketing -- or needing to take on the cost of paying someone to handle it all for you, but it eliminates the rejection process, allows for the possibility of nearly instantaneous publication, and gives the author more control over their copyright and any profits.

And thirdly, within either traditional or self-publishing, you need to get yourself established with a publisher. In traditional publishing, this will mean the legendary and dreaded querying process; in some cases, you may query the publisher directly, though in many cases, you will need to query literary agents to represent you to the publishers. Either way, for this process, you need to have a firm grasp of the genre and age-group your work is geared toward. From that, compile a submission list based on the proper research to ensure that you send queries only to agents and/or publishers whose submission preferences fit your work; you will save yourself a lot of time and extra rejections by not, for example, writing a sci-fi for pre-teens, and then sending a slew of query letters to agents and publishers who specify that they only want to represent works like memoirs or westerns. In self-publishing, on the other hand, rather than focus on your work's genre and age-range, it is all about selecting the self-publisher (online, or otherwise) whose platform specifications suit your technical acumen, your wish-list for distribution possibilities, and your spending budget; always go for the platform that suits where you currently are in your capabilities, and not where you wish or aim to be.

As a first-time author looking to break into the publishing industry, do your homework. Whichever direction you take, ensure through careful consideration and research that it suits both your personal preferences and your professional goals, both in the short- and long-term.

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