Trust me to do things in a way nobody else does.
I've been going to some meetings of writer's organizations here in Toronto lately, to meet some more people in the business, network and make friends.
Some things I've been asked by other authors who haven't been published yet are: "How did you get published? How did you get an agent? And can you make a living by writing?"
1.How did you get published?
It took me six years from the time I began writing the book until the time it saw publication. I actually had two books pretty much written before I got a publishing deal. I had an agent at one point, but then he stood me up when I went to see him in England, (okay I was half an hour later because I missed my train, but come on, I was coming from Canada!). I soon came to regret parting with him, as I wandered in the unpublished, unagented wilderness for four years before I hooked up with Dundurn Press. I actually submitted my query letter to Dundurn two years before, but they ignored it. I finally got my manuscript read because my Mom knew somebody who knew somebod who knew somebody who worked at Scholastic Educational Books in Toronto. I sent the manuscript to them. They said it wasn't strictly educational and sent it to the regular Scholastic press. The regular Scholastic press said they had a novel coming out that was too similar to my novel so they passed on it. I then sent it out to many other small publishers all over the world, until finally trying Scholastic again. Wendy Graham at Scholastic must have taken pity on me, because she gave me the name of a friend of hers who worked at Dundurn, Tara Pardal. Tara actually no longer worked there it turned out, however she did recommend me to the editor Beth Bruder, which allowed me to get under the transom instead of just being ignored. Of course then, after calling several times to follow up on my manuscript I discovered that Dundurn had lost it. I think they then felt so guilty that when I sent it back to them again someone actually read it. It then had to go through several levels of approvals before it finally made it to the editor. I changed and edited some portions, which I think improved the book's readability and then it went to the publisher. As you can see, not a very straightforward path to follow to publication. All I think you can learn from my story here is that determination and good contacts make all the difference.
2. How did you get an agent?
I never got a proper agent. I got in with Dundurn unagented. I thought once I got a publishing deal I'd be set and have my pick of agents. Reality check! Even with a published novel under my belt and a second novel in the series up for contract, I am still getting rejected by agents and still haven't found an agent.
Ironically, when it comes to my screenwriting career I've had an agent for seven years and he's still never found me a single paid screenwriting gig. When I hooked up with him originally I thought I had it made, only to be disappointed.
3. Can you make a living by writing?
There are a few answers to this question.
If, like me you are a first time novelist with zero industry connections, then barring obscene amounts of good luck absolutely not.
However if you a) have great luck the first time out b) manage to stay in the game long enough and build up a loyal fan base then yes, you might be able to make a half-decent living. Usual it takes authors a long, long, time to break even for all their time commitments financially, but the job is so rewarding in other ways that some of us don't care, (much).
c) If you are Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. I'm sure Mr. Hill is a very good author, but face it, having an internationally best-selling author as your dad can't hurt your publishing and agenting chances. Unfortunately, merit and effort often account for less than family connections and money. It sucks, but it's the truth.
But if you just won't lie down, if you are determined enough to brave the gauntlet, well eventually something you do will work and you'll get what you want. It'll just take a lot more effort!