Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ten Tips on Getting Published by Sandi Kahn Shelton

I have a special, special guest today. Sandi Kahn Shelton just so happens to be touring with us this month and of course I just HAD to have her do a guest spot at The Writer's Life. I asked Sandi to give me ten tips on getting published which I think you will enjoy. Take it away, Sandi!

Ten Tips on Getting Published by Sandi Kahn Shelton

The first thing my writing-workshop students want to know is how can they get published. The truth is, there’s no sure-fire way, especially these days with the publishing industry suffering the effects of the poor economy, just like everybody else. But, still, there are a few things that writers can do to maximize their chances, and here are a few tips I’ve gathered through the years, both from my own experience and from talking to other writers.

1. Know that you’re in it for the long haul. If you truly want to get yourself in print, you MIGHT be able to just luck out and write some fascinating book on your very first try—but for most of us, the road to publication is a much longer trip. If you ask most published authors how long they have been writing, you may be shocked to discover that it was a process that took years and years and years. When my first novel was published (after working on it in all my spare moments for a shocking SEVENTEEN YEARS) my son, after congratulating me, said, “So what do you figure your hourly wage would be on this book?” I laughed. But I would have to say I earned probably two and a half cents an hour, which is of course not the point. The point is: in order to get it right, you are most likely going to spend a LOT of time writing and writing and revising and revising.

2. Write every day. Every single day. It keeps the juices flowing, it invites the ideas in, and mostly it communicates to the mind that you’re really serious about doing this. Believe me, incredible things will happen when you set aside time and let your writing flow.

3. Keep a journal. It doesn’t matter what kind of journal. A friend of mine keeps a gratitude journal and writes down five things every day that she’s grateful for. Another friend does three quick pages each morning before she gets out of bed, writing about whatever is uppermost in her mind. I used to write every night before going to bed, telling the details of the day. The point is that if you make this appointment with yourself each day, you’ll start to notice all the rich things around you and experience your life in a wider way. Plus, your journal may be a possible jumping off point for stories, essays and novels you may want to write.

4. Carry index cards around with you. How many ideas simply slip away because we haven’t had something to write on? I’ve finally learned to carry a pen and an index card with me wherever I go, because I’m constantly getting The Best Ideas Ever just when my mind thinks I can’t possibly write them down. As much as I tell myself I’ll always remember this stunning new fact I just remembered about my main character, I never remember. I have to write everything down.

5. Read other writers. Read good ones, bad ones, fiction and non-fiction—everything! There is so much to be learned—what you like, what you don’t like, what kind of voice and point of view each writer employs. This is the way to learn the art of writing: the different ways of creating plot, suspense, characters.

6. Take writing classes. This is actually a controversial matter, taking classes. Sometimes new writers can be discouraged by classes which may be too ruthless, and then they go away feeling all shrivelled up and as though they have no talent whatsoever and should not even try again. But there’s nothing like a good writing class with people who encourage rather than tear down, and who know that first drafts are to be nurtured along, not brutalized, and who can offer constructive suggestions. So if you take a writing class that feels like an episode of “The Biggest Loser,” move on and find another.

7. Share your work with a trusted writing partner. Writers need feedback. Find somebody whom you trust to read your words and tell you the truth about what works and what doesn’t. Try not to get mad at that person if she or he happens to indicate that your work isn’t already Shakespeare-perfect. Take deep breaths and decide for yourself if what you’ve heard might have just the tiniest grain of truth to it.

8. Don’t hand in work until you’re really satisfied with it and until it’s as perfect as you can make it. That means no typos, no grammatical errors. Make the story as sound as you possibly can. It’s true that it’s the editor’s job to edit, but still, you don’t want to create a bad impression. And once a piece has been turned down, it’s difficult to get the same editor to look at it again. Don’t burn your bridges with work that isn’t in the shape you would like to see it published.

9. But, wait! Don’t be such a perfectionist that you won’t ever send anything out! You see, like everything else in life, it’s a fine line. I have friends who just keep doing “one more draft” and then “one MORE draft” and meanwhile editors have been born, retired and have now died with these drafts remaining unseen. Know when it’s time to let go. Again, this is where friends and your writing partner can be so valuable in giving you a nudge.

10. Know ultimately that publication is not the road to complete happiness. You’re not going to be a different person once you’re published. Sometimes my students indicate that they imagine that the sun always shines on published writers in a way that it just doesn’t on the rest of humanity. Sadly, this is not true. I won’t deny that getting published was a wonderful thing when it happened to me, and I am grateful every day for this life that allows me to write. But I still suffer from insecurities and self-doubt and envy and disappointment and bad hair days. It doesn’t even bring piles of money in most cases. Life pretty much stays the same, with all its good and bad. This means it’s important to write to please yourself, for the sheer joy and NEED of it, not for some imagined dazzling prize at the end. And that way, if publication does happen for you, it can be icing on the cake, the cherry on the top of the sundae.

Sandi Kahn Shelton is the author of three novels, all contemporary novels about relationships and family, including What Comes After Crazy, A Piece of Normal, and the latest, Kissing Games of the World. She’s also the author of three nonfiction humor books about parenting, and is a feature reporter for the New Haven Register. For years she wrote the “Wit’s End” column for Working Mother magazine, and she has been a contributor to Redbook, Salon, Reader’s Digest, and Woman’s Day. She’s been a writer for longer than she can actually remember—but she does remember her first sale. When she was 6 years old, her mother wouldn’t give her money for the ice cream truck, so she ran home and wrote a story and sold it to the neighbors for 20 cents. It was called “The King Who Slept For Three Hours and Forty-five Seconds” and she saw this as the beginning of a promising career path that would keep her in frozen desserts for the rest of her life. You can visit her website at www.sandishelton.com,and her blog at www.sandishelton.com/blog.