Step 1 of publishing a novel might seem like a "duh" - write a novel first! You can't very well publish something which doesn't even exist yet. However, you can actually garner the interest of agents and editors without a completed manuscript, as I can attest to. So what do I think the first step actually is? Overcome your fear of failure (or even success) and put yourself out there. As Wayne Gretsky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
As many of you already know, I have literally wanted to be a writer since I was six years old. And through my younger years, I did a lot to help make that a reality. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I entered contests and won some. I got an English/journalism degree. I worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years. I published a magazine article. I edited a book for a friend who self-published. I created newsletters for various organizations. I wrote five preschool Christmas plays, which are performed annually. I write a Christmas poem every year for all the friends and family on my Christmas card list. But in the end, I just got "too busy" to pursue getting any of my fiction published. Why? Was I really THAT busy? I don't think so.
Confession time: I'm afraid of the unknown, and I'm afraid of change. I think in my case, it was actually fear of succeeding that has kept me from pursuing this lifelong dream. I mean, after all, getting a manuscript ready for publication takes a LOT of work. Do I really want that? And if it gets published, then they're going to want another book and another and another. Do I have that many books in me? The whole thing was just overwhelming to me. Mind you, I wasn't thinking any of these thoughts consciously, but now that I'm finally moving in the right direction, I've been reflecting on why it took me so long.
When my little ones were still little, I set a goal for my fiction writing. I decided that when I turned 40, and my children were old enough to fend for themselves a little more, I would really get serious about my writing. But 13 years and two grandchildren later, I am just now finally making it happen. What is that all about?! Why did it take that long? FEAR! So here is my advice to you for Step One of your publishing journey.
Overcome your fear, put it behind you and get serious about living out your dream. If you are afraid of success like I was, that's crazy! Ultimately, we want success, don't we? Just don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed. If you are constantly looking at the big picture, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. One of the things that works best for me is to mentally bite things off in little pieces. Just finish one thing at a time. Set small goals. For example, my first goal has been to set aside writing time every day. So here's what I'm doing. I get up an hour earlier every day than I normally would. And I write for that one hour. Then if I have more time throughout the day to spend writing, that's great. But if not, I have met my daily goal, and that feels terrific. If you don't have a full hour, that's okay. Dedicate what you do have. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you set aside time and dedicate it to your writing (no matter how much it ends up being.)
If you're afraid of failure, that makes more sense to me. But here's the thing - just like Mr. Gretsky said, the only sure-fire way to guarantee failure is to never try. If you give up, you have already failed, which is the one thing you're afraid of. But if you try and fail, you can learn from that and either try again or decide it's not in the cards for you after all. But the one thing you won't do is regret not trying. And who knows? You just might be the next J.K. Rowling or Debbie Macomber or Francine Rivers.
You'll never know if you don't try.