Yes indeed, that is a link-bait title: How do I get my book published? is the webbernet’s third most googled inquiry, after How do I get vomit out of my shoe? and HOW DO I TURN OFF CAPSLOCK? So, following on from our somewhat unhelpful “Should I Get an MFA?”, we present a guide to getting that creepy manuscript of yours into the hands of unsuspecting shoppers.
First up, ask yourself if you have written a good book. You probably haven’t; most books aren’t good. Of course, some books that are not good still get published.
But unless you are recounting that one time you were shot in the face by your husband’s frolicsome teenage lover, you should probably assume your book needs to be good in order to be published. Here are some signs your book is not good:
- It contains the sentence “As they were resting, Mariuccia prepared a delicious stew with the lukewarm placenta.”
- Your book is called Peas: The Hidden Menace.
- You find the whole you’re/your thing so darn confusing.
- There is only one female character in your book, and her name is Antigone Bean. She wears smudgy blue eyeliner and a dirty denim jacket. She has a tragic past, but cannot speak about it. She draws willows in notebooks. She is irresponsible and irresistible!
- You would describe your book as being about “finding” something—love; self; self-respect. (Unless that something is your keys, in which case I am very curious how those 80,000 words are going to play out, Nicholson Baker.)
- You wept a lot while writing it.
So far, so maybe not not-good? Great! Show your book to several cruel and clever friends, and ask them to be brutal. Make sure one of them has a talent for proofreading, since almost any manuscript with a mistake on the first page will be rejected. Do not think “But it doesn’t have to be perfect! The publisher will fix it!” Most people who work in publishing love words, and endeavor to use them well; if you don’t demonstrate a similar love of language, they’re going to think you’re a clodpate. Also, please remember that publishers drink heavily from 11am onwards, and the drink makes them cruel. They are looking for reasons to laugh at you. Don’t give them the satisfaction!
Note that you will need to send this potentially not-utterly-shit book to an appropriate publisher. This is a tricky step for many people. I used to work for a company that published cookbooks—that was all we published: muffins; sausages; quick and easy meals for two—and yet we received many, many submissions from memoirists, children’s book authors, and poets. Dear Sir [my vagina has already condemned you to the dustbin, you dickwizzle!], I have written a children’s book entitled Lester The Giraffe Goes To The Crematorium. It is a confronting tale for children aged 3-5. Would you be interested in publishing it? No! No! Unless Lester the Giraffe can be turned into a nice casserole in twenty minutes and served with a side of blanched escarole, no! What is wrong with you? This step is not difficult. Here we go:
Identify the type of book you have written. Go to a bookstore. Find a book of the same type. Now take out a pen and write down the name of the company that published that book. Bingo!
Finally, the submission itself. Some publishers will only accept submissions that have been vetted by an agent, in which case you’ll need to find an agent. Good luck with that. Other publishers are happy to glance at any old tat that shows up in their slush pile. Some agents and publishers only want to see a query letter, while others prefer to receive the entire manuscript. It’s a crapshoot. If google won’t help you discover the particular requirements of your prospective agent or publisher, I’d just go for broke and send ’em the entire thing.
Your manuscript should be presented in the dullest font imaginable. If you insist on using a whimsical, curlicued font—it’s just so me!—let me save you some money on postage and tell you to promptly throw your manuscript into a pond. Also, do NOT bind your manuscript into some kind of book facsimile. Nothing makes a publisher laugh harder than evidence that you took a trip to the printing department at Kinkos. (Also, everyone knows that the printing department at Kinkos is situated in the midsection of Satan’s fiery rectum.) Here is a conversation that has taken place nowhere ever:
“So, Robert, shall we publish A Fiery Fondness or Make Mine a Mochachino?”
“I like the second one, Jemima. The manuscript has been thoughtfully bound to look quite like a book, and therefore I think it would be more suitable as a book. You see, because I possess no imagination, or indeed any basic cognitive abilities, I appreciate that the author has taken the time to show me that this manuscript could indeed be successfully formed into a book shape.”
“Great, Bobby! Me too!” [High fives.]
No sir, you will not fool anyone into thinking you have written a book just by making it look like a book.
You’ll need to include a cover letter. Don’t make it odd. Here is an example of an odd cover letter we once received:
Don’t do that. In your cover letter, do not state that your chiropractor enjoyed the book, or that you once had a short story published in the online journal Sunny Summer Tuesdays. No one cares. Do not use fancy paper; you are not inviting the publisher to a garden party. Also, please be aware that writing “I retain all copyright to my work”—or drawing a little © on every page of your manuscript—will instantly reveal you to be nuts; writers who are paranoid about their ideas being stolen are the maddest of the mad. No one is going to steal your daft idea—and if they did, writing “I retain all copyright to my work” in your cover letter is not going to make a blind bit of legal difference in your awesome lawsuit against Bob’s Rectangular Books Inc. Do not mention the possibility of an advance, you gauche bastard. And do not mention that writing the book has healed you in any way. That’s just gross. (As Maya Angelou once said, “Your eczema? Your business!”)
You should also include a one-page synopsis of your book. Make it interesting. If you cannot write an interesting synopsis of your book, I’m afraid you will need to write another book.
I hope this has been helpful. And fear not—if you find you have no talent for writing, you can glue an empty Fresh Direct box to a fox carcass, title it Darling Hunter: Mind Waves III, and call yourself The Mighty Stan. The world of conceptual art will welcome you.