The whole process of becoming a successful writer, at its essence, can be boiled down to three simple steps:
1. Write the manuscript of your novel (or short story, poem, etc.).
2. Have your work edited to a publishable standard.
3. Find an appropriate publisher and submit your writing.
Regarding step 3, one of the most common errors new writers make is submitting their writing to publishers who have no interest in the style, genre, or content of their work. There are few publishers who do not have VERY specific parameters of what publish. If your writing falls outside of those parameters, the chance that your submission will be accepted by that publisher is close to 0%, no matter how good your writing might be.
First, let’s backtrack for a second. If you have amassed a body of writing that’s been edited and is ready for publication, but have no idea how to get published, it is critical that you become familiar with these two resources:
Duotrope.com – Duotrope is a subscription-based (only $5/month) catalog of most every high-quality literary journal, contest, and many publishers. Duotrope is highly recommended for any writer looking to find a home for their short fiction or poetry. For contests, I personally prefer using Poets & Writers (pw.org). For manuscripts of novels or nonfiction, the Writer’s Market is a far better resource.
Using Duotrope, you can search over 5,000 literary journals by a variety of limiters, allowing you to find journals that are a match for your genre, form, etc. Once you find a match using Duotrope, it is essential that you carefully read through at least one full issue of the magazine (or at least ten pieces of fiction or poetry for those that are not issue-based). Does your work convey similar themes? Is your writing style similar to that of the writers they publish? How does the content of your writing compare to the content of the authors published in the magazine? If you perform your due diligence and truly study the publication, then you will be aware of whether or not your writing is a match. If it is not, do not bother wasting your (not to mention the publisher’s) time by submitting your writing, as it will not be accepted.
I have not found a single public library in the United States that does not have a copy of the Writer’s Market in their reference section, and many have older editions available to check out. The Writer’s Market is an invaluable resource for anyone who has written a novel (or a long work of non-fiction). This book has an index of publishers that you can browse through, with quick descriptions about the publishers. Using the Writer’s Market, you can quickly identify potential homes for your fiction amongst a variety of independent publishers. Once you notice a potential match, I recommend that you visit the publisher’s website and read some of the blurbs of the books they’ve put out. Again, are they similar to your manuscript in genre, style, and content? If so, you should submit your manuscript and see what happens. If not, do not waste your time, as you will not have your manuscript accepted.
Of course, there is also the self-publishing route, which has its own advantages and drawbacks, but that is a topic for another post.
In short, the key to getting your writing published is to ensure that your writing is a direct match for what the publisher puts out. If your writing fits a publisher’s niche, you have a good chance of getting your work accepted.