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Alicia asks, "I'm a young, fiction writer and I've never felt so helpless. Can I find some one to help me edit? What if EVERY literary agent turns me away? Where am I to turn? Do I just keep writing and sending and submitting until some day? I do have a bachelor's degree, but I'm not in any "writing" community, nor was I an English major (philosophy) (so it's not like I have professors to help me out in the practical part of publishing). Thanks for dealing with my confusion.

Hi Alicia,

First of all, don't despair because every fiction writer and probably every writer has felt completely helpless at one time or another. The key phrase in your message was "practical part of publishing." It is a practical skill and needs to be learned. Whatever brilliance a writer may have can be completely lost in the publishing game. That's why writing can be so frustrating.

You should be aware, too, that there are a lot of con games in the publishing world. Don't pay agents to read your stuff. Watch out for "book doctors." Always check the references of people who you pay to edit. One of the best things you can do is check local writing groups. They usually have critique groups that can be helpful. In fact, go online and get to Google.com and put in "writing critique group" into the search area and you may find a group you want to join.

The path for fiction writing is fairly clear-cut. Start by publishing in small, literary magazines on or off-line. There are a lot of publications that can help you such as CLMP Directory of Literary Magazines and Presses or the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market. If you live in a college town or a city that has lots of hip bookstores go look in the magazine section and buy some copies. Read as much as you can in the small press area.

There are several reasons to submit to these literary magazines. For one, you get publishing credits and feel less helpless. Two, editors troll the better magazines for new talent. That is, book editors. And, I suspect that agents do as well. Third, anthologies are collected from these efforts and those are looked at very closely by book editors.

When you build up some publishing clips then you can assemble those and take them to an agent. A lot depends on whether you are writing "mainstream fiction," or "literary fiction," but in any case, both have their markets. The one for literary fiction is not as prosperous and you probably wouldn't need an agent for that. Not right away. But, what you need to learn is how to sell your effort to an editor.

That is done through a proposal, some sample chapters, a cover letter that tells what the story is about and who you think the audience is for the book.

You can mention other similar fiction to back up your case that your book should be published.

That is the basic outline of how things get done. Here are some basic tips:

  • Read a publication before you send it work and see how your effort will fit into it.
  • Send for or read the guidelines and follow them.
  • Always proofread your manuscript very carefully.
  • Include a cover letter about who you are.
  • Make sure contact info is on every page of the manuscript.

Be patient, especially with the small, literary press that is dealing with a lot of submissions and small, unpaid staff for the most part.

If you see publishing as a process that moves at its own speed and, seemingly, its own will you can deflect some of the demoralizing aspects of it.

Remember too, that you exist in a very competitive environment and editors, big and small, are handling massive numbers of people who want the same result as yourself. So make sure you submit to the right places and that your manuscript is perfect or nearly so.

As long as you have a decent goal in front of you such as, "I am going to publish a novel by the time I'm 30," or something like that, you will do the little things to get there. And the first step is to start submitting your fiction to the small, literary magazines.

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