When you’ve been writing for a while and are excited about your project, you’ll typically start wondering when you'll be ready to publish. The dream of having your own book on a shelf in a bookstore or library is a cherished one for almost all writers, so it’s natural that our thoughts turn to publishing fairly early on in the process.
But before you get too excited and start cold-calling agents, let’s start with a basic question: are you really ready to publish? (And how would you know?)
Your Ready to Publish Checklist
Here is a quick checklist you can run through to help determine if you are, in fact, ready to publish.
__Is your book finished? I mean, really finished. Have you revised, sought feedback, revised again, edited, copy-edited and then let it sit for a while before you gave it one last review?
__Do you know for a fact that this is the best possible version of your book that you are capable of at this moment in time? (That feeling might change the minute you hit “send” on a submission, but it’s good to at least start there!)
__Is your manuscript formatted correctly, in the accepted industry standard format? (i.e. 12 pt font, Times New Roman, double-spaced for narrative, single-spaced for poetry, 1 inch margins)
__Did you take time to celebrate this major life milestone of having finished a book — an achievement many writers dream of but give up on before they cross the finish line? (If not, do not pass go — stop right now and CELEBRATE your incredible self, woman! Get your friends together and let them toast you and tell you how amazing you are. It’s a big freakin’ deal. You’ll never finish your first book ever again, so make sure you enjoy every step of the process.)
__If you’re writing individual pieces of work that are now part of a collection, have you published those individual pieces — poems, stories, essays — in literary magazines?
__Do you know if you want to go the traditional publishing route, or join the ranks of indie authors and self-publish? Have you educated yourself and thought through the pros and cons of each option?
__If you intend to publish in the traditional way, have you done your research? Do you know if your particular book will need an agent, or if you at least want to try to interest an agent before reaching out to literary presses on your own?
__What have other authors writing similar books done; who represents them? Do you have a shortlist (or a long one!) of preferred agents and/or publishers, ranked in order of priority?
__If you’re approaching agents, do you know who each agent on your shortlist represents who writes similar work?
__Have you written a kickass query letter to sell agents or editors on reading the first page of your book? (Hopefully, the first page sells the second, and so on!)
__If you’re going straight to literary presses, do you know which presses publish work similar to yours and does your kickass query letter make a compelling case for why they should look at your book?
__If you have friends who’ve published before you, have you asked them about their experiences with agents, publishers and editors so you know who to avoid and who might be interested in work like yours? If possible, have you asked your friends for recommendations and introductions, or even just to use their name. (“Barbara Smith suggested I send the manuscript your way.”)
__If you want to self-publish, have you researched possible options and spoken to other indie authors? (Perhaps sought out someone with an online course or some coaching to help ease the way in this process?)
__Have you considered how you’ll handle the possible rejection that may be coming, and do you have a firm plan of action for what you’ll do if your book is rejected? (I recommend a 24-hour “woe-is-me” limit and the book goes back out to the next person on your list.)
__Have you considered how you’ll celebrate if you get an offer to represent you and/or an offer to publish? Do you have resources in place to review possible contracts that might be coming your way? (Pro tip: buy champagne, stick it in the back of the fridge. Decide in advance when you’ll pop that cork!)
__Do you have an idea for what you’ll write next, and a plan of action to begin writing it NOW, while you’re seeking a home for your finished book?
If you answered YES to all of the above, then congratulations — you’re ready to publish. Buckle up, Buttercup — it’s gonna be a ride!
I know this list may feel like a lot, but every item on it is necessary. Don’t cheat yourself or your book: do the work.
Publishing a book is a great moment in a writer’s life, but I believe it comes second to the writing itself. I wish you every success in your published career as an author, but more than that, I wish you a long and happy writing life PERIOD…one where the words themselves are what matter most.
Strangely enough, in my experience that’s also how most writers end up successfully published.