How to Find the Rodeo

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 20, 2015

RodeoIf the ride to getting published is a rodeo, then you need to find places to ride. In other words, you need a game plan for your manuscript. Just as a cowboy might map out the range of rodeos in his area, so will a writer map out her places to present her manuscript. If a cowboy rides broncs, he won’t be interested in the bull riding festivals. If a writer writes mysteries, she won’t send her manuscript to a publisher of romance. Thus it is important to research the rodeos.

First, let’s clarify different paths to publication.ย  We want to be clear on which rodeo we are seeking.

A writer has more options than ever to get published:

  1. Independent (indie) publishing (self-publishing)
  2. Commercial publishing (traditional publishing)

My rodeo arena of choice is the traditional publishing path. I received my Bachelor of Arts in creative writing in 1998. Back then, I was encouraged to seek an MFA to get published. I even met with a literary agent who voiced the same advice. Reality was that I needed to find a job before I could continue.

Fast-forward to 2012 and I was ready to make the leap to finish at least one of my manuscripts. In that span of time, an MFA lost some relevancy. First, too much time elapsed after my first degree and I no longer had professors to recommend me and second, I really didn’t care to go in debt any further on student loans. The return for income as a writer does not equal the debt for earning degrees.

So I skipped the MFA. But all along, I’ve worked at keeping my creative skills sharp by attending annual workshops on craft. And I built a writing portfolio from my freelancing. It’s important to keep creativity in tact, to learn and to grow. I also read books on craft and good novels that I truly enjoyed to read.

Next I had to do what I set out to do — write that novel! I took a different kind of workshop that focused on preparing a manuscript for book publication. It helped me arrange my scenes and eventually chapters. I sent it to beta readers and revised it. Then I sent it to an editor for an analysis and revised it twice more. After that, I sent it to an editor for copy-editing. And I revised, line by line in accordance to her changes and suggestions.

I mention all this because of the rodeo arena I have selected — commercial publishing. There is a higher standard and a concern for marketability. My choice means that I might be asked to use a different saddle or even horse if I get a chance to ride. That means, I might have to make changes to make it acceptable for publication because commercial publishing houses want what they think they can sell.

And the word “sell” is key here. It will make you answer questions like:

  1. What genre is your book?
  2. Who would want to read it and why?
  3. What other books are similar to yours?
  4. How is your book different?
  5. Will it sell?

If you are uncomfortable with these questions, take stock of that now. Because this rodeo arena is a hard ride! If you have a book that you want to publish the way you wrote it, traditional publishing may not be the right venue. In fact, you’ll most likely earn less profit. So why do it? Personally, it ties back to my own training in the craft and to get “picked up” would be to fulfill a long-held goal. It feels more “credible” to get published by a commercial house.

Those are merely my own thoughts. You need to think long and hard on your reasoning. However, if this is your chosen path know that we have greater opportunities than ever before.

For example, many large commercial houses have created imprints for specific genres. There are more smaller commercial houses and many are specific to the region where you live or to the stories you want to write.

Therefore, we’ve come to the most important strategy to make this publishing ride work: Research!

Once you have defined your genre and target audience, you need to decide if you are going to go directly to publishers or to a literary agent who can represent you to publishers. It depends upon the size of publishing house you are seeking (some only accept manuscript submissions from agents) and how much time you are willing to wait. It can be a long process to find an agent and longer yet for them to sell your manuscript.

If you are interested in smaller publishing houses, regional presses, or even the growing hybrids (like Booktrope), you most likely won’t need an agent. Whatever you decide, have your manuscript scrubbed clean (and don’t blunder like I did and send a dirty copy). While you are finishing the polishing touches (best achieved through a trusted and professional editor; I use the Write Divas) research the best matches for your manuscript.

How do you find the publishers (or agents)? Here’s several ideas:

  1. Subscribe to the magazine, “Writer’s Digest” or at least follow their editor blogs.
  2. Purchase a current copy of “Writer’s Market” that comes with an online publisher database (if this is not affordable, go to your local library and use the reference guide there).
  3. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers.” C. Hope Clark often includes publishing houses and agents seeking clients.
  4. If you live in a large metropolitan area, use your telephone yellow pages.

What do you want to research once you find the resources?

  1. Look up your resources online because bookmarking your selections is the quickest way to organize and filter your search. I set up folders designating publishing houses by “commercial,” “regional” and “hybrid.” I keep a separate folder for agents.
  2. Find out if your manuscript fits. Even agents seek specific genres. Carefully readย  what they do not accept. Sometimes, in our excitement, we miss the words, “do not.”
  3. Find out if they are accepting submissions.
  4. Find out how they want submissions. This can vary widely so read their guidelines thoroughly.
  5. Note how long they will take to get back to you, or if they will. Many agents or publishers will only contact you “if interested.”

Set up a strategy:

  1. Start with your best matches.
  2. Reread the guidelines and if time has passed since you last researched, make sure they are still accepting submissions.
  3. Be thoughtful and thorough with your submission (don’t blunder out the gate like I did, and if you do, get back in there and ride again).
  4. Just do it! Hit send! Post the package! Many a cowboy has sat on the bull’s back in the bucking shoot and decided not to ride; but he sticks to it. So will you! Set aside fear and doubt.
  5. Expect rejection. I know a writer who posts all her rejections with joy because it means she had the courage to ride and she’s one less rejection closer to her goal.
  6. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback, consider it.
  7. Explore options for attending conferences that focus on getting published more than on craft. Make sure the conference has a good line-up of literary agents and publishers. Don’t go to a huge conference; find something in between to give you the chance to meet publishers and agents.

I’m a new rider, so if you have further experience or knowledge, please share! How have you gone about finding a publishing house for your book?

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  1. Sherri

    This is great stuff, thanks so much Charli for all this wonderful information. I hope to go for the traditional publishing route so your advice is invaluable. And always the reminder that even when we fall, we must get get right back into that saddle, no matter what ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Charli Mills

      It’s worth a go!

  2. TanGental

    The one thing, the real tyranny is I am hopeless, utterly useless at genre. I have no idea where to stick Dead Flies. Humour? I suppose. Coming of age? Perhaps. I do understand the kudos, the sense of achievement that would come with being picked up but, and for me it is the biggest but I can’t be spending so long on all the malarkey that goes with getting rejected. I did give it a go; I did all you said and zip happened. Which is fine, because I expected it. You keep going, Charli and we will cheer you on the road. I may well go back to it but only when I have three books out there already and that is this year sorted!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m going to try and if the bull pen fills up with too much malarkey, I’ll try something else. And, I hear you on the genre thing. Whew! I’m female so I claim “women’s fiction”! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Annecdotist

        I think defining genre is difficult and I’ve come across some interpretation of “women’s fiction” that means something along the lines of Fifty Shades of Grey. What’s wrong with commercial fiction as a genre, Charli?
        I love how you continue to come up with more and more analogies to horseriding, this one is beautiful: My choice means that I might be asked to use a different saddle or even horse if I get a chance to ride.
        I have to say I am SO relieved to be out of the Rodeo for the time being. The most painful thing was garnering what seemed to be genuine interest which, after increasingly long delays, amounted to nothing. I can see why you Geoff and others opt out of the traditional routes in favour of self publishing and, who knows, I might join you there at some point, and I know how lucky I am to have a publisher, albeit one well below the power of the big five.
        I wish you all the best, Charli, and everyone else trying to mount those galloping horses. Hope you get the call.

      • Charli Mills

        Oh…not interested in riding the fifty shades of bull! I still see my books as commercial fiction. Women’s fiction comes under the umbrella of commercial fiction and deals with women’s issues. I’m not into the “issues” as much as I am the “voice” of women. Writing Rock Creek really brought it home for me — in many instances the voices of women are either not included or are glossed over. Rock Creek not only challenged me to create three unique women that each represented an aspect of the role of women in the late 1850s frontier, it also made me realize that Miracle of Ducks was a voice of women left behind in wars. Stereotypically, men get the glory as the warriors and women are in the background as the weeping wives. I wanted a unique female lead who goes on her own journey. It doesn’t have to be big to be heroic. So I decided if I’m going to get defined as an author, I wouldn’t mind continuing to write about women in unexpected roles or ways in narrative driven novels, which is the hallmark of commercial fiction. Of course, the Rodeo may reveal something else I hadn’t considered! Well, Anne, keep your bull-riding glove handy for the next ride! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Norah

    This is a great post with lots of wonderful advice, Charli. I appreciate the way you have so honestly shared your ride. I share your feelings about traditional publishing and having a book picked up by a publisher and the authenticity that would make you feel. My current path is not that way. I did try many years ago with texts for picture books and short stories but had no success, then other things got in the way of persisting. During the past twenty years I have done some writing for educational publishers and at the moment I am focused on educational writing of my own to publish on a website. Once that is done I may try again to go the traditional route for picture books and short stories, but I’m not sure there’s enough life left in these old bones. I’ll keep working in that direction and achieve what I can.
    I wish you enormous success with your book. I’m proud to riding along with you on your journey. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Charli Mills

      Your journey has been similar to mine and I do believe that early attempts shape what we do now. And as to life in old bones, where there is yet breath, there is life! I’m proud to ride at your side, too! We all have different goals, different rides, but a similar journey to communicate, connect, teach and learn. That’s the writing life and you got it in your bones!

      • Norah

        You’re right about the breath. I’m not out of puff yet, but there’s still a long ride ahead. What makes it so pleasurable is the company we keep along the way! Thanks for yours. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. ruchira

    I kicked myself with joy when I could answer those three questions about my book proposed by you ๐Ÿ˜‰

    however, now need to get going with the rest of the to-do list ๐Ÿ™‚

    thanks for writing such an elaborate blog on this…will start my researching, and will inform you if i come across anything exciting ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Charli Mills

      Yay, Ruchira! It’s good to be clear on your choice, the difficulty of the ride, but also that it is possible. It means research and refining your ride from time to time, but you can get n that bull and ride! And please do share anything from your research. We all have something to learn and teach. ๐Ÿ™‚

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