Thursday, June 9, 2011

Steps to Publication

"I can’t go back to yesterday, I was a different person then."

- Lewis Carroll

There are levels we reach as writers. Some scale the steps, while others stay on one step for what feels like f o r e v e r. But take heart because there are ONLY 10 STEPS:

Step One – Clueless, Sheltered Writer

Started a manuscript. Maybe finished it. Don’t know what to do. Start a blog? Buy a how-to book? Join a group? Contact that cousin who’s brother-in-law’s uncle’s cousin is an editor somewhere.

Or was he an agent?

Step Two – Shiny New Blogger Writer

Watched “Julie and Julia”. Realized how it easy it is to gain a zillion followers without following anyone in return and get some TV time. Then the publishers leave messages on YOUR machine.

And it only takes 1 year.

Step Three – Tarnished Blogger Writer

How do I get my blog to come up on Google? It’s been two weeks and I only have 3 followers, 4 if you count that I’ve followed my own blog by accident, and don’t know how to unfollow. At least my sister left a comment on one of my posts.

When will non-family members find me?

Step Four – Social Networking Overload Writer

Need to have a Twitter Account? Facebook? Tumbler? Linked In? Goodreads? AND blog? Don’t they know I have a full-time job? No matter. My cousin's brother-in-law’s uncle’s cousin is going to get that manuscript any day now. Full-time writer with a big, fat advance here we come!

I don’t have to follow all these people back, do I?

Step Five – Bubble Bursted Writer

All these agent and editor blogs make it sound REALLY HARD to get an agent, let alone a publishing contact. And there are all these RULES. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to send the same query to 50 editors at once. Oh, and I’m not supposed to ask hypothetical questions in queries. Oops!

And I just found out that J.K. Rowling received 17 rejections before getting a publishing contract for Harry Potter. I’d be beside myself if I received that many rejections!

I won’t, right?

Step Six – Drowning in Rejections Writer

After 20 form rejections, one rejecter was kind enough to tell me NOT to begin my book with a dream. So I changed it to a waking up scene, and sent out another 20 queries. Then after receiving another bunch of rejections, I found out NOT to start my book with a wake up scene. So I changed the beginning to the first day of school.

THIS will be the one!

Step Seven – Writing Organization Woes Writer

Joined a writing organization. Attended a conference. I walked around with my nametag, but hardly anyone talked to me. I was afraid to talk to other people because I was too vain to wear my glasses so I couldn’t see anyone’s names. The workshops made me realize all the things I was doing wrong. The keynotes made me cry. I returned home overwhelmed.

And inspired.

Step Eight – Critique Group Conundrum Writer

Joined a critique group. They tore my manuscript apart. I argued every point they made. Then I slumped home, and vented to anyone with a pulse. And ate a pint of ice cream. After a few days, some of their critiques made sense. Secretly, I knew they were better writers than me.

I'm a fraud.

Step Nine – How-To Books Writer

One book said to write 1k words a day while another said not to write everyday while another said to outline my book while another said to I should be a panster. I’m starting to think there’s no one right way to write a book.

What’s a panster?

Step Ten – Multi-Manuscript Writer

Many manuscripts, blog posts, how-to books, critique sessions, and conferences later, and I’m getting the hang of this whole writing, revising, critiquing, and querying process. I've also read a bunch of books in my genre. And I’ve found a social networking balance. Now others ask me for advice, which fills me with pride. Each time I write a new piece, it’s better than the last one. This dream may happen tomorrow or next year, but it will happen. I no longer feel like a poseur.

I am a writer.

"Publishing a book is not a race where the winners come in first. It’s not important WHEN you finish, just that you DO. Oh, and one more thing: Your journey is your own. It won’t look or feel like mine. It shouldn’t. Don’t compare journeys. Just be grateful you can take one more step."

- Elana Johnson

(P.S. Enter to win a copy of Possession by Elana Johnson HERE!)

Writers, which step has been the most difficult one for you?

(P.P.S. Yes, those are my kids walking up the Lincoln Memorial steps last summer.)


  1. Oh this is a great post, Theresa! I love it. I can relate to some of them. But because I have not queried yet for my novels, I cannot answer your question. But I'm enjoying the journey.

    And not knowing what a panster is, yes that's me months ago, LOL. I remember researching the net to find the meaning of the word!

  2. I love this post. I can relate to it all. Right now I'm wondering about no. 4 and if I should join twitter and spend more time on the computer.

    For me the hardest step is getting one manuscript to the finished stage and querying it and moving on. I feel like such a slow writer but I am taking steps.

  3. This is a great post (and hilarious--"I followed my own blog by accident and don't know how to unfollow" *snort laughs*). I started on step 1 but then skipped to steps 5 and 6 before returning to steps 3-4, I think. I probably won't do step 9 because I don't really read craft books (I do read good novels and study them the same way, though). And I'm not sure I've gotten to step 10 yet! Everyone's journey is different, but this definitely covers so many of the experiences for writers in the age of social media!

  4. What a great post! I love it! I don't know what stage I'm at - I still think most people write better than me, I'm still trying to find a social networking balance (I'm about to read "We're Not Alone by Kristen Lamb), and I still haven't figured out if I'm a pantser or a plotter or something in between :) - but I love Elana's quote and all your steps made me laugh!

  5. LOL, only ten steps?! If I could get up out of this crawl position I might make it. I'm Len, I do now know what a panster is (HEHE).

    Have a great one! :D
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  6. I can relate to most of them. Lol glad I didn't rush into sending the queries out though.

  7. May I also add - try an academic route and study the art of creative writing? If anything - they add to general education and enlightenment!

    Take care

  8. Great Post! I think all writers can relate to some or all of your steps.
    Good luck to us all!
    Happy Writing!

  9. A wonderful writer ...AND FUNNY!!!

    P.S. - how DO you unfollow yourself?

  10. Oh aren't these the truth! Been there, done that, with just about all of them :)

  11. Thanks for that, really enjoyed reading it, true and funny... my favorite part is -
    "how it easy it is to gain a zillion followers without following anyone in return and get some TV time. Then the publishers leave messages on YOUR machine.":)
    and my biggest realistion is linked to that quote, that publication might take years, (or decades!) and recently its hit home that I may not get my first novel published anytime soon, (or at all!), that was hard because its my baby but I'll write the second one anyway...
    great post!

  12. You do funny well! I laughed out loud a couple of times. Good job! As for the hardest part of writing for me, it's the part where you try to get yourself to turn off all your distractions and actually face the blank page. I can edit until the cows come home but adding new content is killing me...

  13. Great post! I did chuckle at 'followed my own blog by accident' - yup, I did that. I probably still follow my own blog - somewhere at the back, scared if I delete myself then somehow the whole bundle will fall on my head.

  14. Hi Theresa .. I think I need to start at # 4! Just could do without the down times .. cheers - fun post .. thanks Hilary

  15. Ah, now I see where I'm going wrong. I'm taking the steps in the wrong order! Oh well, no two journeys are the same, right?

    I love the humour in the post.

  16. Fantastic post, Theresa!! I feel like I'm stuck at step six: f o r e v e r.

    I love that you included a quote from Elana - PERFECT! :-)

  17. Hilarious post! Blogging was a huge step for me...and I followed myself! Hmmm, I'm somewhere between a panster and plotter and opened my first piece of creative writing with a dream/wake up!!

    Raising a toast to us all :-)

  18. Love this post! As humorous as it was, I see that I may have a bit of work to do. ;) I'm a bit afraid to join a critique group because of the commitment and I'm afraid that none of my manuscripts are ready. I guess I just have to do it! Someday I'll make it to step 10! Randy Ingermanson explained growing as a writer like the four grades of high school. I've always liked that analogy.

  19. "After 20 form rejections, one rejecter was kind enough to tell me NOT to begin my book with a dream. So I changed it to a waking up scene, and sent out another 20 queries. Then after receiving another bunch of rejections, I found out NOT to start my book with a wake up scene. So I changed the beginning to the first day of school.

    THIS will be the one!"

    Funniest thing ever. :)

  20. This is so funny!!! I think I've been through all these steps :)

  21. I can so relate to all of these steps! I think 4,5,6 are hardest for me. This is such a great post! :)


  22. Theresa, I loved this post. I was nodding at all of them. I have to say the Julia and Julia scenario has crossed my mind.
    We have the added stress of having to try and win major literary competitions to get our names known and then the publishers will take us seriously...for five minutes...and then tell us that our stuff is 'too literary' and needs to be more commercial.
    I am writing two books at the moment, both seem to be staying firmly in my head. Maybe I can send my completed novel by psychic forces to the publishers...

  23. Great post. Loved Elana's quote, it is so true.
    Hardest for me was #9, getting beyond "one right way to Write."

  24. I think I'm bumping up against Step Six--I haven't submitted anything yet, although I have heard about J. K. Rowling's rejections. :P

  25. I laughed and nodded and smiled all the way through this post!! So very true :)

    love Elana's quote too - I loved that post of hers. It helps to hear words like these from successful folks!

  26. Great post! I laughed and kept nodding my head in recognition. Thanks for the inspiration!

  27. great breakdown!
    i think its like dating, you have to wade through all the other fish to find "the one" you click with =)

  28. Haha! Well said. I've been writing for a long time, so I'm not sure how many of those steps I've had. I don't remember, but I'm sure I've gone through all of them.

  29. @ Len, when you do query, good luck!

    Asking the panster question in the post was inspired by you.

    @ Natalie, I've avoided getting a Twitter account.

    It's hard to figure out when to move on from a manuscript.

    @ Sarah, after reading a few how-to books, I feel like I've gotten what I could out of them. I haven't read one in a long time, but I may read a couple more.

    I don't know if I'm quite at stage 10 yet either.

    @ Susanna, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think we all have to figure out how to balance social media from time to time.

    @ Jules, only 10 packed steps! Len made me laugh too.

    @ Connie, thanks! Happy you enjoyed it.

    @ Miranda, I cringe when I think of the quality of my queries and manuscripts when I first queried. You're smarter than me.

    @ Old Kitty, the academic route is definitely viable. But since I was partially/mostly writing about my missteps, I didn't include it.

    @ Choices, I'm glad most writers can relate. I like your line, "Good luck to us all!"

    @ Elembee, good to know you liked it.

    While I'm not following my blog through Google, I did follow by accident on Networked Blogs, and could not figure out how to unfollow!

  30. Love this, Theresa! I could relate to every step!

  31. We saw Julie and Julia and I liked the show, especially since it was about blogging, struggling, gaining followers, and writing a book. Its a great source of inspiration.

  32. I'm not sure which one has been the most difficult for me, but I love the "shiny new blogger writer" one. I just finished watching Julie/Julia, and I had the same thought~ how many people took up blogging after reading this?

  33. @ Joanne, me too! It's amazing what we all must figure out for ourselves.

    @ Words A Day, the average is 6 manuscripts, but you've written so many pieces. Maybe it will be your first or your second. I hope so!

    @ Judy, thank you. I can edit until the cows come home too. I have to be in the right frame of mind for new content as well. I'd like to say when the frame hits, It's a storm, but I can't even say that for the last WIP!

    @ Jayne, I don't think anyone notices once you have a decent # of followers so you name and picture don't appear as a follower on the first page!

    @ Hilary, I'm glad you thought the post was fun. I could do without #4 too!

    @ Tony, yes, everyone's missteps in their writing journey is different. We can't all err in the same order!

    @ Shannon, I think most of us fixate on #6. I could carpet my house with my rejections!

    I love the quote too. I forget which blog I snagged it from. Bad me.

    @ Margo, I'll drink to toasting all of us!

    I think we all fumble through the writing journey. When we can look back and laugh, it's a good sign. Progress!

    @ Madeline, I think growing as a writer is like 4 years of school too. Great analogy.

    I personally don't do well with critique groups. I prefer submitting to one reader at a time.

    @ Sarah, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Sadly, I've done all of these writing faux pas!

  34. @ Solvang Sherrie, I guess we writers are a typical bunch when it comes to the process if not the stories we write. (Well, maybe our first beginning scenes.)

    @ Melissa, I'm glad you liked the post. I'm not a big fan of rejections either.

    @ Brigid, I had no inkling of the sheer # of blogs before I began. Julia started her blog when there weren't so many to read. Though she did have a clever idea!

    I still can't believe how different the Irish publishing process is compared with the US.

    @ GigglesandGuns, I was worried if I didn't follow certain rules, I wasn't doing it right.

    @ The Golden Eagle, I don't know why everyone quotes JK Rowling's 17 measly rejections like I'm supposed to feel better. Sure, it's an excellent book, but still.

    @ Jemi, quotes like Elana's are inspirational to me too. Often we feel like we're the only ones struggling.

    @ Lauri, glad you related and were inspired!

    @ Tara, it IS like dating! I found the love of my life quicker than the agent and editor of my life. Lucky in love but not in publishing!

    @ Carolina, now that you have an agent, I think you're on step 11. Congratulations!

    @ Anita, thank you. Glad you found it funny!

  35. Great post, Theresa. I have found several of these steps difficult, but I think I too have reached Step #10. It doesn't mean the social media gets any easier, or attending conferences where I don't already know anybody. I'm not magically someone else, and yet I am different.


  36. Oh, this was hysterical and OH SO TRUE! I remember back when I was thrilled to death that my sister commented on my blog. Woo hoo! A COMMENT! And of course, I think my husband was my first follower. What a guy!

    As for tearing your manuscript apart and building it back up from start again -- been there, done that, will probably do it again and again. In fact, I now EXPECT and ALLOW my first draft to stink, because I know there are at least 5 more versions to come.

    And hurray for pantsters! I'm one. :D

  37. I don't know that one is more difficult than another one. I think I felt so good when I finished a WHOLE book, and was like WOW! A whole book, and a good story, that's all I need!
    And then you learn that's such a teeny, tiny part of it all...

    GREAT post.

  38. Haha, this is totally my process! Before the whole publishing thing, of course. Darn Julie and Julia for making it look so easy!

  39. That was spot on.

    I am at the very moment procrastinating because I am supposed to be writing my book proposal. Can we add that to the list? Spend Friday nights writing book proposals.

  40. Love this! And Elana's quote is awesome.

    So nice to know we're not alone in this crazy journey.

    And SERIOUSLY about Julia and Julie.

  41. Theresa,

    This post is hilarious. Pity I chose to read it sitting inside the bookstore. Each time someone comes to use the copy, I look a little crazy giggling and laughing out by turns. Yup, this is just what we go through as writers!

    The hardest part for me was feeling that what I was writing wasn't understood. Being Jamaican, some of the stuff I write are probably alien concepts to many. However, once I got to the writing network stage of my journey, my on-site mentors let me know what they understood of the dialogue and cultural stuff and I think that's what helped me to land not one or two, but three publishing contracts one behind the other.

    I think the best part of the journey is the relationships we build with other writers.

    Wonderful post. Gonna tweet.

  42. Great post, Theresa! I think you've captured well the journey of a writer. Rejections are especially hard but it's so important to use those to improve and grow.

  43. Oh lordy. I think I'm all those writers at once. No wonder my head aches! :)

  44. Brilliant, brilliant post! You crystalized the journey perfectly!

  45. LOL! I recognize each of these stages! And I absolutely love that quote by Elana. It's easy to compare ourselves to other writers, but our journey is our own. Awesome, Theresa.

  46. @ Vicki, I feel just as you do. I'm at 10, but I still wrestle with social media. And this is the first year that I attended the conference, and had a circle of friends. And a roommate I was friends with beforehand. It was so much more fun and I was way more confident.

    @ Dianne, I devoured comments in the beginning. My husband was my first follower too! Then came my mother-in-law, sister, and sister-in-law, and a few cousins.

    I don't know what I'd do if I had to outline before writing a book. Where's the fun? If being a panster is good enough for Alice Hoffman, it's good enough for me.

    @ Jolene, it is an amazing feeling to create a whole book all by yourself! Yes, tiny part, but I didn't know that the first time.

    @ Meredith, when Julie began blogging in 2001, how much blogging competition did she have? I didn't know there were zillions of blogs by 2009 when I started.

    @ Missed Periods, I would find a book proposal daunting. I hope it's easier in the summer. Do you teach in the summer or do you have more time to write?

    @ Janet, how do we all make such similar mistakes? It's unreal!

    @ J.L. Campbell, I'm honored I made you laugh at work. I had the same problem when I took Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris to jury duty.

    Good for you for sticking with what worked for you. I've had critique groups tell me I've done something wrong, but their advice didn't always sit well. We have to go with our gut.

    I love the relationship-building. Thanks for tweeting!

    @ Connie, I agree. We need rejection to grow. And I have a feeling rejections will be nothing compared with bad book reviews.

    @ Al, thanks. Hope it was more funny than painful!

    @ Francesca, I am too! We have no idea what we're in for in the beginning, do we?

    @ Lydia, thank you. But making it to 10 says something. I bet few give up at that point.

    @ Julie, I love Elana's quote too. It's easy to be jealous, grass greener and all that. But we have to be proud of our own accomplishments and learn from our own mistakes.

  47. Happy to say I'm on Step 10! Not published yet though...
    But does anyone else have the odd scenario where their family and non-writer friends *don't* follow their blog and writing life?

  48. Oh my...I read step seven and thought 'did she read my blog post about the last conference I attended?' That is spot on!

    Sigh...I guess it is funny because it is true? Ha!

  49. some of those steps I spend a lot of time on and others I never hit at all. I think once I got out of the clueless sheltered writer then everything moved at light speed b/c I was more knowledgable.

  50. This cracked me up, especially #6.

    I'm always inspired after a great conference or workshop. And I have been known to cry during a keynote.

    Yep, on #9. Why does everyone have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to story structure? It's like every how-to book you read changes the rules and names. ;)

  51. Hi Theresa,

    I can so relate to some of it! The list feels so real to me.

  52. Don't know whether to laugh or cry. So much truth in this post, presented amusingly, but with a lot of thought behind it. Haven't done a few of those steps, but I guess consistent drive and motivating force has been the toughest part of my climb.
    Good post.

    Tossing It Out

  53. Only 10 steps? Pfft, getting published must be easy! ;) Hehehe.
    Fantastic post. Sooooo relatable.

  54. Theresa, this is a wonderful post. And the quote at the end is perfection.

  55. @ Deniz, I'm on step 10 too. Yes, I have people in my life who don't take too much of an interest, but most who matter are pretty supportive.

    @ Elbodans, it's nice to know that I'm not alone feeling that way at conferences. I'll have to look for your post.

    @ Laura, I think you're right. Once we stop being clueless, we can fly through some of these steps.

    @ Stina, I think if someone is going to write a how-to book, they have to make it sounds like their way is the best and only way.

    Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the several keynote speakers to make me cry.

    @ Nas, thank you. Glad you could relate.

    @ Arlee, you've done better than me if you've skipped those steps. I'm with you on the drive!

    @ Lynda, yes, only 10 steps. A breeze! Too bad I got stuck on these for a looong time. Glad you related!

    @ Angela, I'm glad you liked it. I love the quote too.

  56. That is absolutely spot-on!! Nothing more to say!

  57. Step 11: Make a deal with the Devil. The only problem now is it is really hot down here. But, sales are good.

  58. @ Rachel, thank you very much!

    @ Walter, I was just thinking of you the other day. Glad you visited! I'm afraid to venture it that step 11. I was hoping my step 11 would be published without horrid consequences for all of eternity.