Yesterday, I received a very polite letter from a reader in my e-mail inbox. They wanted to know if I had any advice for aspiring writers who had submitted a manuscript for publication and been rejected. Although I dashed it off quickly, I feel that the response I came up with is worthwhile enough to post.
Yes, I have some suggestions for you, and also encouragement. You’re not the only one who has been rejected. TSS was not picked up by the first publishers I went to, and I had to keep at it. I know how discouraging it can be to see your work turned down. That comes to my first piece of advice: develop a thick skin. Make sure that you don’t take the rejection of your work as a rejection of you. Even though it may feel like it means that the publishers don’t like YOU as a writer, what it usually means is that they don’t want this particular novel at this particular time for their particular clients. So keep that in mind.
My second piece of advice is to build a fanbase. Post on any forum you can find. Tell your friends. Well, the ones that you don’t mind showing femslash to, that is. Make new online friends. Have your friends tell their friends. Post on as many sites as possible. That way, when you do publish a book, you’ll have people willing to buy it. Also, lots of these friends and acquaintances will comment, and that is a good thing. Whenever someone comments on your work (unless it’s like a 2 word comment – those make me smile, but I generally don’t type huge responses to them), respond. If they give you specific advice, ask questions. “What didn’t work about this? What can I do to make this transition smoother?”
This kind of connects to my third piece of advice. Get an excellent beta reader, and then get ANOTHER excellent beta reader. Ideally, they should also be writers themselves, but there are a few that happen to have a talent for editing but don’t write themselves. One of my betas, Lee, is like that. I force my girlfriend to beta for me as well. Make them be picky. Make sure they are people who a) know you want to be published and b) are not afraid of sparing your feelings (although they should always be polite, constructive, and to the point).
After you have written a novel that you think you want to sell, what you need is a publisher. For lesbian fiction, I don’t advise getting an agent. You won’t need one. It is a genre market, which is both a good and bad thing. The good news is that you have a greater chance of getting published (smaller pool of applicants) and a very loyal fanbase (other lesbians always support each other’s work, I’ve found). The bad news is that you probably won’t become the next JK Rowling. However, I’ve found having a small but vocal, loyal group of followers is often very touching and emotionally rewarding. I feel honored that my work has touched other people at all, so I’m not concerned about numbers.
I’m not sure which publishers you have sent your work to, but make sure they are PRIMARILY publishers of lesbian fiction. Research who the head of the publishing company is. Make sure you know who to address the submission letter to. They usually have staff lists and tell you the name of the person you are querying. Buy other books from them or at least look at their selections. Are they like the novels you are trying to publish? Read the guidelines carefully and make sure everything is submitted exactly like they request. Google ‘Query Letters’ and copy the format of ones you like. Most publishers also request a quick, 100 word bio. If you’ve won any online awards, mention them briefly. If not, go find some contests to enter on lesbian forums/websites. I can recommend The Athenaeum and The Academy of Bards. They have rankings that are very easy to brag about if your story places high.
My second-to-last piece of advice is to make a website. It doesn’t have to be much, but a central clearing house of all your work and a brief bio is never harmful to anyone. When you get rejected (if it is by personal note and not form letter), ALWAYS respond thanking them for their time and consideration. You might be working with this publishing house in the future. The lesbian fiction market, like the lesbian dating pool, is rather small. Good impressions go a long way. Also, I suggest giving your query letters to your beta readers beforehand so they can check for spelling errors. It never hurts!
One last thought – if you have submitted the same novel multiple times to multiple publishers, consider writing a new one. You can always go back to the first one later once you’ve got a few other novels under your belt and you have already signed a publishing contract.
Good luck. If there’s anything else I can do for you, please let me know.