To see your name in print would be a dream come true for many aspiring writers. But for Chantel Simmons, best-selling author of Stuck in Downward Dog and her more recent novel, Love Struck, her dreams of becoming a published author have already become a reality.
Discover your passion
First-time fiction writers most likely have to write a whole book before finding an agent. For Simmons, that meant setting herself a deadline and writing everyday along with her full-time job. “For the most part, you are just sitting at home writing, so that part is not very glamorous! When I had a full-time job I would have to write every night… I wouldn’t see my friends, otherwise the book wouldn’t get written.”
Put on your comfy pants, visit your favourite coffee shop or whatever turns your creative brain on and start writing and re-writing. Writing a good book is a lengthy process that does not see immediate financial return. If you are writing solely for a paycheck, you should be writing job applications, rather than book chapters.
“You have to be passionate about the topic. It’s not like a get rich quick scheme…If you’re not passionate about it you probably won’t write a very good book,” Simmons says.
Simmons found an agent to represent her book (an agent interacts and negotiates with publishing houses). Most big-name publishing houses require authors to have an agent. Small publishing houses may accept submissions without an agent (the Writers’ Guide to Canadian Publishers lists publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts).
To find an agent, research agencies to find out submission requirements and work on writing an awesome and attention grabbing pitch letter. There are only about 30 literary agents in Canada, making it difficult to find representation.
“You have to be a good writer, you have to have a good idea, you have to have a good pitch letter,” Simmons says.
Don’t quit your day job
Finding an agent or a publisher who wants to publish your book can be a lengthy and stressful process. Simmons began sending her finished manuscript to publishers in late 2005, and her first book, Stuck in Downward Dog, did not come out until 2007 (the publishing process was 18 months, the typical time it takes to publish a book). In addition, profits are largely determined by the success of the book which may not come immediately after publishing.
“I think it’s less stressful if you have a job when you are trying to get published, because then you aren’t waiting for someone to get back to you everyday. You are busy and you also have money coming in…if it is three years before your book comes out then there is a lot of time that you are waiting on,” says Simmons.
Self-publishing your novel
If your main goal is to have a printed copy of your novel, self-publishing may be an appealing route. In the self-publishing process, the author has editorial control of their novel and pays the publisher to print their book. This is a great option for some authors, but mainstream success is not likely (although not impossible–Margaret Atwood, Virgina Woolf and Lisa Genova were once self-published).
“For some people, their goal might be to have a bound book that they wrote and that is what they care about. You can do that your self, but if your goal is to have millions of people read your book, then the publisher will help you sell it,” says Simmons.
In addition, a publisher and agent will take your book through an editing process to make the best written book possible.
No more procrastinating allowed
Get writing! November is National Novel Writing Month. Challenging yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days may be the perfect way to dive into your dreams of becoming a published author.