A Guest Post From Deb Caletti: What I Wish I Knew About Getting Published Before It Happened To Me

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by Larry Brooks on November 20, 2009

Deb CalettiDeb Caletti is a bestselling Young Adult novelist and National Book Award finalist for her 2004 novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart.  Her current book, The Secret Life of Prince Charming, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, one of several her work has received.  If you’d like to learn more about Deb (there’s much to learn, too), or if you’re just in the mood for a smile and an example of what positive energy looks like, go to her site, www.debcaletti.com.

When I first signed with my agent, I sat back and waited for the phone to ring. I was sure that the great news would come at any moment. (If you’re asking what great news, you’re definitely on the wrong site.) I thought the hard part was over. Four years and four more books later, I finally got that call. Now the hard part was really over, right?

What I wished I knew but didn’t then was that every part of this business is a long distance run. The writing of a book is, the selling of a book is, and the selling of another book is. Publishing isn’t a single destination you reach and once reached, where you get to stay. It’s not a royal post, with forever riches and glory and an embarrassing (but also sort of cool) velvet hat. It’s a job. Which means it is work. A lot of work. And it is an unstable job at that. Think less “royal” and more a retail job with bitchy customers where everyone’s always getting laid off. Or a day trader, at the complete financial and emotional mercy of your best guess at the whims of the market.

Secret Life of Prince CharmingThis is a tough business. I knew it was tough before I was published, but didn’t really know. I knew it the way you know an earthquake must be tough if you’ve only ever seen one on the news. In this business, you have to be very good, and you have to stay very good if you want to keep your job. It doesn’t let up unless you are Stephen King, and I’m quite sure “let up” is not even how he (one of the hardest working writers ever) would define his life. And “very good” is only part of the picture. You can mind that part of the store and still a hurricane can come, some plain bad luck that has nothing to do with your talent that wipes you out and sends you back to start. (Yes, I realize this is the second natural disaster mentioned in one paragraph.)

There are no magic keys that can make “it” happen or keep it happening. Knowing the right person will not, doing every P.R. stunt involving every technological device while wearing feathers and peddling a unicycle backwards will not. Your best bet is to remember your job, which is to write really good books and more really good books. This is very hard, and still no guarantee your next masterpiece sees print.

I usually try to tell the truth about all this – not to be discouraging, but so that writers can understand it all in a way that’s more honest than the “Ten Steps to Getting Published” and “P.R. Your Way to a Bestseller” articles of Writer’s Digest. (Not to knock Writer’s Digest. Just saying.) I think it’s important to know the truth and embrace it, if writing is who you are and what you have to do.

And if it’s who you are and what you have to do, all of this is just good information, anyway. It won’t deter you in the least. You’ll keep writing, even if it’s a constant uphill trek in the snow with a yak and all your worldly (or word-ly) possessions.

Visit Deb Caletti at her website, www.debcaletti.com.

{ 6 comments }

Suzannah-Write It Sideways November 20, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for this post, Deb. I’ve never had visions of glory and fame from my writing, so I don’t find this kind of information discouraging. In fact, it makes me feel even more grounded in my pursuit. Being a published writer isn’t some magical journey–like you say, it’s a job that takes a lot of work. Still, I’d like to be able to call it my full-time job one day.
Thank you!

Amy Blogs Chow November 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Thank you, Deb, for this smack over the head. Gonna stop writing n

Launa McNeilly November 20, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Hi Deb, Your words are so true. Once I finished my first book I went on the internet and found an agent. Okay, she says she’s an agent. I paid for a critique, editing a thousand times my self until my brilliant daughter in law took the book and made it right. Phew. I was steered into a joint publishing contract and yes, I have a beautiful hardbound book. It is listed everywhere but basically seen by no one. I did get pity taken on me by my closest Barnes and Noble and they have stocked my book in their store. We are talking just a few but I am ever so grateful. I blog, I converse, I ask questions, and I learn.
My second book is in the hands of my ,ahem, agent and she has been told to farm it out to traditional publishers. I know that is a hit and miss proposition that will probably take years. If ever. So if one thinks they will land a great agent, get a huge check and be published by one of the big time publishers, and then star in the movie they made from your book, God Bless your optimism!! Keep believing, keep writing, and keep your day job! Never give up because just like, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyers, and J.K. Rowling sometimes the stars aline and miracles happen! Let your optimism keep the stories flowing, allow reality to keep you grounded, seek the knowledge to improve your work, and always keep your eyes to the stars.

Sandra November 22, 2009 at 9:42 am

Hi Deb,

I have no dreams of glory.
I just want to get published.
1) Not by myself
2) By someone reputable even if they aren’t a well-known publishing house (though well-known would be nice ;-) )

I want to be able to hand my family and friends that magazine, or book, and say, “I’m a published author.” or to tell people I’m meeting, “I’m an author. I’ve been published in (by) . . .”

I expect it to be hard work. It’d be nice if it weren’t, but it is. And, as with most creative endeavors, there are a gazillion other people out there who are also competent writers hoping for the same thing I am, so the competition is stiff.

I will keep on keeping on.

Jane Friedman November 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Speaking as the publisher of Writer’s Digest: excellent advice, Deb! And advice that Writer’s Digest agrees with.

While I think the Writer’s Digest viewpoint is similar to Deb’s, we clearly have some work to do in changing people’s perception of our content and viewpoint.

As much as writers/authors seek that one magic bullet for publishing fame and fortune, it doesn’t exist. And once a book is published (the mythical dream achieved), we find it’s a huge wake-up call for nearly every author–that point when they realize the real work is just starting.

The Writer’s Digest goal is to educate, inform, and to help wherever we can — and align expectations.

Deb November 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for your comments – good luck to all of you. And thank you, Jane, too, for your thoughtful response. The Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents was my most trusted source when I began taking the steps toward publication. I refer it to each and every new writer who asks me for advice.

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