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I've read that nonfiction sells more books than fiction does, but I like writing fiction and want to become an author. What can I do to increase my chances of being published by a traditional fiction publishing house?
Your sources are absolutely correct. Nonfiction sells more books than fiction. We're an impatient society and when we read, we tend to want to read books that will help us do something, learn something, or otherwise improve our lives. Many people regard reading fiction as a frivolous pursuit, hence, fewer book sales. However, take heart, many novels sell lots and lots of books.
You increase your chances of getting published by a traditional house that publishes fiction in a variety of ways.
First, build your resume. Get published elsewhere in either fiction or nonfiction. A plethora of newspapers and magazines exist in this country and they're all looking for copy. Get published again and again – short nonfiction articles, long nonfiction articles, hard news, feature articles, short fiction. Pick one or pick all of them, but get published. This will allow you to demonstrate to any editor to whom you submit that you are a professional. In return, that editor will give your work more thoughtful look.
Second, build your platform. The more you get published, the bigger your platform because more people see your name. The more people who see your name, the more they will recognize it the next time they see it or hear it. You can do this in several ways. Become an expert in some subject that's always in the news and present yourself as such to radio and TV producers so you can get air time. Offer yourself as a speaker to service organizations, corporations, and other groups. Write regular columns for newspapers and/or other publications. Do whatever it takes to build "brand recognition."
Third, understand the publishing business. Editors don't want to deal with novices. They don't have the time or the resources to explain how things work, so if they see that you have an understanding of the industry, they will more likely want to work with you. Again, this speaks to your professionalism.
Fourth, get a grip on promotion. In all your correspondence with any editor, recognize the importance of author promotion and your willingness to do it. Remember, publishers don't want to spend their time and resources developing an author and their work if the author is not going to sell any books.
Fifth, write a great manuscript. Hone your craft. Make sure you've written the very best fiction you can. Make sure your plot flows and holds together; that your word choice, syntax, and construction are appropriate; that your characters are three-dimensional and real; that you have tied up all the loose ends at the end; that you have fulfilled the promise of your genre; and that your manuscript is free of grammatical and typographical errors. Also, make sure your manuscript meets the publisher's guidelines regarding word count, subject matter, point-of-view issues, and so forth. In short, provide what they're looking for.
With all that going for you, it would indeed prove difficult for any editor to turn you down.
Is writing for free actually worth my time as a writer?
Samual Goldberg, ON
Write for free? Welcome to the club. I can give you a resounding, and absolute, "Yes!" I wrote for three years for free before I finally sold my first piece for real money, and then it was only $20, but I queried with some other freebies that I had published.
To publish in the well-paying national markets you need clips, and lots of them. Often, the only way for a new writer to get them is to write for free. Local and regional markets will accept work from new writers without clips, so those are your best bet in getting started. Call your local newspaper and ask to write movie reviews, book reviews, restaurant reviews, or human interest features. Explore the possibility of writing for some regional magazines in your area. And when you publish, keep copies those clips so you can send them with future queries to editors in larger markets. Those clips are your payment.
At first, you may only have two or three clips so you'll send copies of those with your query letters. As you accumulate more, you'll send more, similar to the kinds of assignments you'd like to get. For example, if you query an editor about a tourist attraction in your town, send a copy of an article you did about a different tourist attraction to give that editor an idea of your style.
Eventually, you'll have enough clips to allow you to approach editors in larger markets that pay better. Finally, with enough clips and experience, you can work your way into national publications and leave the free markets completely behind for other new writers.
Think of writing for free as your education in the big, wide world of publishing. Eventually, you'll graduate with honours and take home your diploma – paying work.
Keep the faith. You can do it.
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