How it really happened.
I get asked quite frequently, "How did you get published/become an author?" And I usually give the typical generic response of, "Oh, you know, I just wanted to write a book, and then I got lucky!" Ptththtt. Lame answer. A lot of us are happy being self-published (*raises hand*), but its also pretty legit to have a publisher agree that your work is worth taking some sort of risk on. Definitely fist pump worthy!
So okay, how did I go about it? Maybe if I kind of go through it, it will help my fellow writers with their possible endeavors. I get all giddy about organization, so I'll put it in steps:
Write the book. Well, duh, and a lot goes into this part, naturally. When I decided to write Lunula, I had a 1 1/2 year old daughter and a chubby little 5 month old son, I was in college full-time, and mostly wore pajama pants every day. My school has three semesters a year with one 7 week break between semesters 2 and 3. I had had the idea in my head for some time, and just randomly I figured, heck, why not? Get it on paper!
Put it away for several months because you don't think its worth doing anything with.
Realize that hot buttered popcorn! you wrote a freaking book, dude, and you should probably do something with that.
Edit the thing. This is the really tough part, if you ask me. It's impossible to be objective as an author, but I did my best. I went through it about three times on my own, fixing typos and reworking some of it. It was tedious, especially because I had a full school load and crazy babies in the forefront of my mind, but I got through it and thought, heck, that's probably good enough.
Hold it right there.
This is where I made my first crucial mistake. I thought, "Well maybe there are some mistakes, but isn't that what the publisher hires editors for?"
No. Publishers hire editors to smooth wrinkles in the shirt, not mend tears or patch holes. That's your job. And I made that terrible mistake and went on to...
Send out queries. See, without really fine-tuning my book, I sent out queries with a less-than-perfect first chapter and no surprises, I got rejected. A lot. And I was so confused! Isn't this book the next Twilight? What was going on here?
Well, I have to tell you, this is where my luck really came in. My grandmother-in-law is not only an author herself, but she's a phenomenal editor and general wordsmith. She
offered to read it over for me, and so I sent it to her...and then she
saved me from my own noose. She tore into it (nicely, because hey, she's
my grandmother) efficiently, and helped me overhaul the manuscript. So I
basically redid Step 4 with her help, and finally came out with a finished product. A slightly wrinkled, but nevertheless very well-sewn shirt called Lunula. I wish I had some perfect advice for how to make sure your manuscript is as perfect as it can be on your own. I really think the best way is to find someone to read it...someone you trust, and someone who can give good advice. The more publish-ready that sucker is, the less apprehensive a publisher or agent will feel about taking it on. Less work for them means more chances for us. So NOW we can move on to...
Step 5 (for real):
The query letter. I've toyed with sharing my successful query letter, and hey, I'll do it if someone asks me to! But there really are lots of great sites with wonderful tips on making a splendiferous query letter. My best advice is to read the specific agency or publisher's guidelines, and do what they say they want. A lot of them will have blogs (with examples therein), or tips, or guidelines, and I advise you to follow these to the letter. So yes, that means I wrote new query letters for each agent and publisher I sent my manuscript to. I had a folder with the name of each one I had queried and everything.
A few weeks later, I heard back! And that's really how it happened. And yo, I didn't land Random House or anything, but I did find a really rockin' publisher who has been kind and professional with me. They gave me the confidence to feel like a real writer, like I was actually worthy of sharing the stories in my head. Honest to goodness, I have the highest respect for self-published authors because it takes some serious courage to put yourself out there and just go for it.
Obviously I can't give everyone that spiel when they ask, "How did you get published?" So all of this is between you and me, my friend. But as a short version...
I wrote a book, and I got lucky.
Also be sure to check out my follow-up experiences: What Happens After the Publisher Acceptance Letter, Working With an Illustrator, and Publisher Contract).