Getting Your Novel Published

man and woman shaking hands
There's no one path to getting a deal for a novel - but these tips can help. Getty Images

"How do I get my novel published?" In book publishing, that's one of the most common questions, as well as the hardest to answer. (The second hardest is "How do I get my children's book published?”)

Everyone’s path is different, and if that answer were easy, everyone's novel would be on bookstore shelves. But here are some tips to help.

Be a great writer

Well, it’s a start. But it doesn’t guarantee success.

And, of course, we all know admittedly less-than-stellar writers who get novels published—some who even sell gazillions of copies. Here are some other important factors.

Have connections

Connections breed connections breed connections… Why do you think people go into great university writing programs? Seminars, conferences, book festivals—these are all great places to meet your fellow writers, literary agents, and book editors.

You’re too remote for face-to-face connections, you say? There’s no excuse. Tweet other writers and use social media. Network to create a group of like-minded writers in your area in some public place—and, heck, stir up some local publicity for yourselves!

Write a knock-out query letter

Agents don't read a full manuscript - you approach them first to see if they're interested. Here's your guide to writing a compelling query letter. And your query letter (and all your other marketing efforts to follow) will benefit greatly if you have a hook.

Have a "hook"

There are authors who admit to being so-so writers but have found success in a combination of storytelling gifts and subject matter that just happened to be at the crux of a perfect storm of market forces. You should not only know your hook; it should roll off your tongue. Whether it’s vampire romance, an under-served disease, or sexual taboos that haven’t yet found a popular audience, your chosen topic might just hit a nerve.

Be passionate and write as good or better than you want to read

The truth is, some of those aforementioned so-so-writer authors were as shocked by their rabid success as we were—they didn’t set out to write bestsellers. They set out from a deep need to put their passions on paper.

There is indeed a market for many types of books, but the largest, crazy successes seem to be those whose authors felt compelled to write from a place of deep personal passion and need, despite what the conventional wisdom of what the marketplace suggested. And these authors were so passionate they went ahead and published without a traditional publisher taking any interest—until each found amazing success.

Amanda Hocking was an avid reader of paranormal romances before she wrote them; E L James wrote about the sex she felt was missing from the pages of chaste vampire novels,; Lisa Genova imagined what it must feel like to be an Alzheimer’s patient—something Alzheimer’s patients are incapable of telling us. E. Lynn Harris wrote about homosexual and bisexual romances he hadn’t yet seen in print.

These authors hit a communal nerve at a certain point in time. There is no point in trying to replicate those anomalies—life isn’t fair, and the writing life is maybe even less so.

But take their lesson and write from your heart.

Pay attention to your craft

Whether you’re incredibly talented or just sure you that your life depends on your being a writer—or both—you can always get better at your craft while you wait for publication. Not sure what needs work? Then get trusted feedback before you send your novel out. Join writer’s groups or a writers program. Read about the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWL).

And when you’re sure you’re ready to go forward…

Consider getting professional feedback or editing help

It's not a must-do, but plot or character missteps can turn off a reader and editorial stumbles distract from your brilliant work. 

That’s why it’s sometimes advisable to engage a professional to bulletproof your plot or polish your manuscript before you send it out.

Here’s a list of editorial services and their approximate costs. Barring getting a professional, see if you can bribe an obsessive-compulsive English major friend to at least give it a thorough read-through.

How do you get your novel published? Again, there's no easy answer. But doing what you can to network, hone your craft and make sure your novel is in tip-top shape will give you something to do while you’re waiting for agents and editors to take notice of your own personal, passion-driven magnum opus.