This section is still in development. For now, here are a few things that have been absolutely crucial on my own path to publication:
You have to prove yourself. It’s that simple. First, the work has to be good, and second, it has to get read by “the right people.” So work until it’s good, and then comes the time to figure out how to get it into an agent or editor’s hands. But don’t forget the working part! Too many writers are worrying about publication too soon. Work first. Work!
Go to conferences
I am eternally grateful to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators for creating a place where hopeful writers can congregate and empathize and learn, and also meet editors and other publishing professionals, and see that they are actual people, and even better: the best kind of people -- the kind who love books!
Editors ARE looking for books. They DO want to find exciting new authors. So why is it so hard to get your manuscript in front of an editor’s eyeballs? I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that there are a lot of writers sending in reams of paper to all the publishing houses and agencies, creating daunting and horrifying “slush piles” from which almost no one ever emerges. Do not contribute to the slush pile lightly. Pity the folks who have to deal with that mountain of paper. Do your research, send your manuscripts to appropriate places (like, don’t send a manuscript about white suburban characters to a publisher who specializes in ethnic and multicultural titles, or don’t send a picture book ms to an editor who only does teen fiction.)
Sadly, no matter how awesome a manuscript is, the chances of it being discovered in a slush pile are almost nil. Don’t spend you life waiting around for someone to dig in a slush pile for your book. Go to conferences. By going to conferences, you may luck into a way around the slush pile! For one thing, some editors will let you send a manuscript directly to them if you attended their workshop at a conference. Your manuscript will go right to their own personal slush pile, which is better by far than the general heaping slush pile!
Also important, by hearing editors speak at conferences, you can get a good sense of which ones might be interested in a book like yours. At the conference where I first heard my editor speak, I also attended workshops by a number of editors who, though they seemed like really neat people, were not looking for fantasy adventure books. So I zeroed in on the handful of editors who seemed like a better fit. Of the four editors I heard at conferences and sent my manuscript to, I received offers from three of them! I have never sent a manuscript to an editor I have not heard speak at a conference, though I don’t have a rule about that -- it’s just great to get a sense of who an editor is. It’s a very important relationship, after all!
So, it was incredibly awesome that I got offers on Blackbringer. I don’t mean to gloss over that. It was a glowing high point of my life, and I believe that the reason I got those offers is all about conferences. Aside from helping you meet “the right people,” conferences help you learn how to write books! I can trace the evolution of the Blackbringer manuscript through the workshops I attended in successive years at the SCBWI national conference held in Los Angeles. That conference was sort of the loom on which my book was strung. I learned about writing a middle-grade fantasy series. I met my agent. I met a wonderful editor who helped me along for quite a long time, giving me feedback on early drafts. I heard invaluable pieces of advice from writers and editors and artists and art directors and agents. I learned the business and I worked hard for my luck. I feel very, very lucky, but believe me, I spent much money, time, and bullheaded determination “studying to get lucky!” (that right there is a conference-gleaned phrase, spoken by the writer Graham Salisbury.)
I’ll repeat the Thomas Jefferson quotation again: “I’m a big believer in luck. I find that the harder I work, the more of it I have.”
If you don’t write for children, I don’t know what other conferences to suggest, but I know there are lots and lots, so find them out. Yes, they cost money, but to me, that money has been as well spent as my college tuition!
I found myself starting to get into “the basics” of getting published, but I felt a little defeated by the massiveness of this topic -- I might beef up this section some time. But for now, I'll just say that the above two points are, to me, the most important two points, and I'll say that you need to know the publishing industry if you want to work in it. Don't just start sending manuscripts out willy nilly. That would be kind of like . . . [okay, I'm a bit stuck over a perfect metaphor here] It would be like, er, trying to send a letter to a friend in New York by addressing it just: My Friend, New York. [okay, not a perfect metaphor!] I mean, there's a whole lot more you need to know than that! This is a job, a business, a big, bustling, magnificent profession, and though you spend most of your time alone at home writing, you still need to know about it. So start learning.
I'll try to give more practical info and links here by and by. Good luck and have fun!