I was finished writing. Every word had been carefully crafted into my perfect 300-page newborn: unspoiled and unpublished. However, I knew my bouncing baby manuscript would not be fully realized as a novel until I put it out into the world. Succeed or fail, I had to try.
But how? I have been asked this several times since finding a publisher for my baby. How did I do it?
First, I did my research. For weeks, I dug through websites such as Poet & Writers, Writer’s Market, and Publishers Weekly. I attended classes on the publishing industry. I purchased and read nearly every word of 2013 Writer’s Market: Where and How to Sell What You Write.
Next, I put my gigantic, sometimes fragile ego in check. Had I written the next Pride & Prejudice? No. Had I written a story I believed in; one I wanted to share? Yes. Had I written a story with a great hook? Definitely. My baby was begging to be published, but which avenue should I choose?
Shelving my ego allowed my true publishing goal to emerge. I wanted the experience of working with a professional editor without coughing up the cash, so self-publishing was out. I had also learned aiming for the Big Six as an unrepresented author would be equivalent to flying to the moon. Let’s just say that NASA is not banging on my door.
I was left with one choice: query agents or submit unsolicited to small presses? I decided to roll the dice with small press publishers rather than attaining an agent first. Sharing 10% of nothing didn’t appeal to me.
After compiling a list of over 100 small presses from around the country, I began eliminating those organizations deemed “a bad fit.” I removed all genre specific and nonfiction publishers from my list. My baby is mainstream fiction. Querying the we-pride-ourselves-in-scaring-the-piss-out-of-tweens publishers would be a waste of time, paper, and ink. I read offerings from several small presses, evaluating each for quality and parallels to my book. Yes, I was looking for novels similar to mine. My baby needed siblings, a family of books in which to belong.
After the elimination round, I knew I had a group of real contenders: twenty small presses who accepted simultaneous submissions from unheard-of authors. Most of the presses’ catalogs were comprised entirely of Southern authors writing mainstream fiction. As a woman of the South, I dreamed of being counted among them.
I spent the next month writing twenty query letters, infusing each with specific reasons why my baby would be the perfect addition to their family. I double-checked submission guidelines for each before licking the stamp or pressing send. I was a mother sending her baby off to college. Would she come back to me rejected from the cruel world or return triumphant with the hope of being molded into an even better version of herself?
Nineteen presses tossed her aside. But one, one said, “Welcome home, baby.”