#PublishPath – Step One: Have something worth publishing.
So I finished a short story.
I work as a line editor, content writer, and overall freelance writing professional. I write almost everyday, but don't always have time to focus on my personal projects. But through hard work, and re-adjusting my schedule, I finally finished a short story that I've been tinkering with for months, called 'The Cow'.
And I think it's finally time to send it out into the world.
This is a little nerve-wracking for me. While I am a published author, it's been several years since I queried my fiction. I know the basics, but figuring out how to get this particular piece published is going to be a learning experience.
So I thought... why not take you guys along for the ride?
Over the next few weeks / months / hopefully not years, I'm going to show you what I did get this short story published. I'll walk you through the tried-and true methods of querying fiction, talk about the tricks that ended up working for me, and discuss any missteps I make along the way.
Now I know from experience that, before I do anything else, I need to make sure that 'The Cow' is ready to be sent off into the world. If your story isn't up to snuff, it won't matter how hard you work to get it published - no one will pick it up.
So here are the steps I took to make absolutely positively sure my short story was ready to make the rounds.
A) I stuck it in a drawer for at least six weeks.
This step is absolutely crucial, especially if you'll be writing AND editing the work. Writing something great gives you a happy buzz that makes you feel like everything is right in the world and you're the greatest literary genius of all time. There's nothing wrong with this. Enjoy that feeling. Savor it. But make sure it wears off by the time you start editing. Otherwise you won't be able to look at the work critically.
I stuck my work in the drawer and did everything I could to stop thinking about it. I started working on WIPs I had been putting off. I did some home repairs and worked on my taxes. When I finally brought it out again, I was instantly irritated at all the little mistakes I could suddenly see - a sure sign that the buzz was gone.
B) I took it to a writing group critique session.
When you finally get your work out of the drawer, you'll need to take it on the road. Writing groups expose your work to a wide range of writers, and help you get multiple types of feedback at the same time. Not every critique may be helpful, but you can pick and choose the advice you get and accept the help that works for you.
I took The Cow to a recent critique organized by The Writer's Group. In reading one particularly troublesome fragment of the work out loud, I got some incredible feedback about several areas that I needed to clear up, and some ideas about what needed to happen with the ending.
C) I sent it to my Beta Readers
Having beta readers is like getting a soft open for a small business. You can see what works, what doesn't, and the overall reception to what you've done. It also gives you plenty of time to fix problems before you show it to a wider audience.
The trick with Beta readers is that you have to ask them specific questions about the piece. Asking if they liked it will only get you vague responses like "It was good.. I think." or "I think you need to work on it a little more." While that kind of feedback can help you gauge an overall feel, that's not what you need at this point in the process. Right now you need someone to point out specific problems or strong spots. So make sure you ask questions about plot, characters, tone, etc, so your beta readers don't there-there you into complacency.
I showed my latest piece to three Beta readers - one pro and two close family members. While I do advise a more 2-to-1 mix of pro readers versus family-and-friends readers, in this case it produced great feedback.
One of my family-and-friends readers was an older gentleman who hates to go to the movies, watch TV, or read books. Every time I've forced him to do so, he's tried to leave halfway through because he doesn't want to 'waste time watching a story [he's] already seen.'
When he read The Cow, he jumped out of his seat and said 'Holy SHIT' out loud. It was a great sign that I was on the right track.
D) I did a full edit and stuck it in the drawer again.
The last two major rounds of critique and fact finding will have given you a list of edits you'll want to make. Make all those corrections, do a full read-through to make sure things are as firmed up as possible... then stick the whole mess back in the drawer again.
The cook time on this can be a little shorter, but I still recommend about 3 weeks. I took this time to start a novel and start working on creating a better writing schedule for myself. When I finally picked up 'The Cow' again, I knew I was almost done.
E) I used publishing advice books to check the structure and trim the fat.
Man, publishing is hard. If only there was a book out there with all the steps a writer needs to take to make sure their work is done!
Well, there are. Hundreds of books. Hundreds of blogs posts, podcasts, vlogs, and ebooks. All tailored to help you finally get your foot in the literary door. And while none of these resources are a magic bullet, you should find one that works with you and your writing style and utilize it in the last full edit you'll do on your work.
I found that The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Save The Cat by Blake Snyder are great books to either read or rediscover when you get to this point of the process. Mainly because they focus on structure and trimming fat while keeping the emotional core of a story intact.
After all this, I had a story that - if nothing else - was ready for a complete stranger to read.
So where will I go from here? We'll discuss that next week, in Step Two.