If you can’t do Step 9 immediately, go back to Step 8. If you can’t do that, go back to Step 7, and so on.
9. Get a Publisher
Your typescript is ready to go. It’s just great. You can do nothing more to improve it. Your Agent (see 8) agrees. Send it out in full confidence. Await contract.
8. Get an Agent
Your typescript is ready to go. You by yourself can do nothing more to improve it, not that you can see. Send it off to a carefully selected Agent or five, and hope. (Or, if you’ve already tried all the Agents you can think of, try small presses directly.)
7. Tell a Great Story
By great story, I don’t necessarily mean twisty thrillery post-apocalyptic S/M love triangle with car chases and nukes. I mean something that will bear re-reading as well as reading. Something that changed you as you wrote it, and will change readers as they read it (not in a schmaltzy way). Something that can fascinate someone who has read a lot of stories. Something with grain as well as heft.
6. Learn to Tell a Great Story
You can only do this by writing not-great stories, thinking they’re great, going back to them, realising they’re not, starting again. Many times. Getting past number 6 may take you years, or decades. Or you may never make it past. Or you may skip from 4 to 8. Some lucky/unlucky writers do. But there is no wasted effort. Just as there are no short cuts. Frequent returns to 0 are necessary.
5. Learn What a Great Story Is
Read the books that trouble other writers. Read Ulysses. Read Emma. Read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Read My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Be troubled. Read the stories that it’s hard to recover from. Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’, Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Good Country People’, John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’, Lorrie Moore’s ‘People Like That Are the Only People Here’. Then recover from them, somewhat.
4. Learn to Tell a Story Quite Well
This might involve taking a Creative Writing MA or MFA, or joining a local writing group, but it might also be you, at home, or in any warm place you can find, figuring out the basics of taking the reader by the hand, not squeezing too tight, not letting go, not dissolving it in acid and cackling with manic laughter, but leading them to where they didn’t expect to go.
3. Learn What a Good Story Is
Read. Read anything. Then read some more. Then re-read. Then read what has been written about the thing you just read. Then fall completely under the influence of a writer you’ve discovered for three months or more. Then hate them. Then sneakily look at them again, years later, and realise they do have some virtues. Every good writer is a great reader.
2. Learn to Tell a Story Badly
This can be difficult. Try to revel in being incompetent. Look around and figure out what most annoys you in the work of writers you don’t like. Have a go at doing what they do, but with glee and manic energy. Then read this out to a couple of friends. Then leave it behind forever. Time for 3.
1. Learn to Punctuate and to Present Your Work Attractively
If you don’t do both these things, you stand a very small chance of being published. You will get better at both if you pay attention whilst doing 3. (If you are dyslexic, or have other issues with punctuation and presentation, use grammar- and spellcheck. Get someone to proofread your work. Don’t think it’s not important, or that someone will do this for you later, because they’re so impressed by your storytelling.)
0. Have patience.