How to Get Your Book Published

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Try This - Jun 29, 2021
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In a rough way the short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter.
– Annie Proulx II

Are you ready to contact that agent, or send your novel off to the self-publishing printers? Maybe. But, maybe not. There is one thing you absolutely must do first: and I don't mean include a SASE with your manuscript.
Before wrapping up that novel every serious writer should finish a short story, if not several.
Completing a novel without having written a short story or two is akin to running a full marathon without ever having completed a 10k. You might be able to do it, but it’ll be far easier, with far better results, if you’ve already done the latter.
To draw out the exercise comparison a little further (because, as you know, we love a good metaphor around here), it’s best to stretch those storytelling muscles with smaller projects first, refining your technique, familiarizing yourself with narrative structure, and warming up before you go after long-form writing.
So, while the first step of getting your book published might seem to be “finish your book,” back up a bit, and complete a short story. Think of it as a prerequisite: walk before you run.
Not convinced? Well, don’t take my word for it. National Book Award Finalist Charles Baxter, for example, began by writing novels but admits they weren’t very good. He says, “I started writing short stories in order to learn how to manage form—really, how to write fiction. Writing short stories taught me how to write plausible fiction.”
The proof is in the pudding: he’s since gone on to write several stellar novels, short story collections, poetry collections and two non-fiction works on the craft of writing. In "short", he's a writers' writer.
Why don't more writers create short stories?
In our most recent poll, we asked those who had written, are writing, or want to write a novel whether they had ever completed a short story. I was a bit surprised by the results. Almost a quarter of respondents stated they had never managed to finish one, or even started at all. I decided to take a closer look at the poll results. Namely, the comments section.
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Some said they’ve only wanted to write novels, and don’t see the point in practicing short-form writing since that isn’t their goal. Others stated their ideas are simply too big to capture in such a small span.
Of those who had actually completed a short story, many said it was only for a high school or creative writing class, and they haven’t taken up that torch since. With all this in mind, here are a few reasons I believe short story writing is an excellent precursor to novel writing.
Four reasons you should write a short story before a novel
1. Short stories allow you to hone your craft in 10,000 words or fewer.
Alex Award and Shirley Jackson Award winner Kevin Wilson said:
I learned how to write by working in the short story form. It seemed an ideal way to figure out craft, because it offered great rewards without the soul-shattering grief of spending five years working on a novel that sucks. If I spent a month or two working on a story and it was bad, then I didn't feel like I'd ruined my life. So I wrote a lot of stories and tried to improve and, little by little, I did.
It’s easy to lose yourself, and a whole lot of time, in the wide-open space of a novel, without really improving. Short stories provide an opportunity to experiment with and hone your unique narrative style and voice within the confines of 5-10,000 words, rather than 100,000.
Simply put, it's just easier to change course, take risks, and revise when you have less blood, sweat and tears invested in a project.
2. Short stories provide an opportunity to explore your novel idea.
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Short stories for me are a lens on one corner of the world and novels are the world itself.
– Amelia Gray

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While you don’t have to write a short story about the same material you’re developing for your novel, it can be extremely helpful. Consider focusing on a story set in the same world or an event that occurs in your protagonist's backstory.
Our friend, Charles Baxter, says this about novel writing: "A novel is not a summary of its plot but a collection of instances, of luminous specific details that take us in the direction of the unsaid and unseen."
Luminous. Specific. Details. That man can write! Take a page from his playbook. Developing an instance of your novel through the short story form just may provide an opportunity to improve your long-form technique.
3. Short stories allow you to finish something, anything!
Writing an entire novel can be scary. Start with a short story instead. One poll respondent said that completing a story, and getting it published, gave them the confidence to keep working on their novel. Once you complete your short piece, let that accomplishment fuel you through to the end of your long-form writing project, secure in the knowledge that you have it in you to finish.
4. Short stories force you to practice word economy.
Some feel the short story form isn't roomy enough, but as Polonius says in Act II Scene II of Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. I agree, as did one of our respondents, who commented that they love the short story because it pushes them to compact their ideas into a limited space.
There is tremendous value in being able to distill a story to its essence in the short story form. Once you do, you will find it easier to write muscular, effective, long-form fiction.
Regardless of what you write, every word counts, and a short story is an ideal place to develop a habit of concision. For those who say they are too long-winded for short-form, I challenge you to say what’s on your mind in as few words as possible. Long doesn't have to mean long-winded. Your readers will thank you!
So, even if you’ve only ever considered yourself a novelist, or an aspiring one, try your hand at keeping it short and sweet. Post your story in the Bardsy library and then pat yourself on the back. You’ve just taken the first step towards getting your book published.
Try this: Write a few lines about a character who sees a strange message written in fireworks during a 4th of July show. What does it say, and who is the message intended for? Don’t forget to send us your paragraph, so we can share a selection of our favorites next week!
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