So You Wrote a Book: What Now?
Recently, an aspiring novelist who attended one of my workshops at Imaginarium contacted me for advice. She had just finished writing her book and wanted some guidance. I love to help people when I can, so I promised to respond as soon as things calmed down. After answering her questions, I realized I haven't posted about getting your book published in a LONG time, so I'm taking a lot of what I told her and sharing it here. Hopefully, it will help several of you.First of all, if you've finished writing a book, CONGRATULATIONS! The percentage of people writing a book who actually finish the book is very small. It's a major milestone most people will never achieve.
Next StepsI shared with her what I've learned and wished I knew at the beginning of my journey to get THE WATCHERS OF MONIAH trilogy published. Depending on your publication goals, some of this might apply and some might not.
Attend workshops, conferences, and critique groupsOften writers finish their novel without any guidance or feedback from others. This is why I recommend attending workshops, conferences, and critique groups while you're writing, too. You can learn so much, and you'll begin to build your network, or tribe, of writers before you finish. I can't stress enough the importance of learning from others with similar goals as you. I belong to a multi-genre writing group, and I listen to everyone's feedback, but that doesn't mean I use all of it. Just because someone tells you to change something, doesn’t mean you should. If most of the group suggests there's a problem, then consider addressing it. Otherwise, you have the final say.
Find beta readersIf you're manuscript has been workshopped and revised, it's time to find some people who will read the entire manuscript and give you overall feedback. You want as many eyes on your work as possible before you submit. That said, make sure you vet the people who are giving you feedback. If they don’t read your genre, keep that in mind.
Get a developmental editYou might choose to do this prior to the beta readers or after or both. A developmental editor looks at the plot and flow of your story. What's missing? What works? What's confusing? What needs to be fleshed out? They're looking for ways to polish your story. They are worth the money you pay them! I've used a developmental editor for every manuscript I've written including the one I'm revising right now.
Research query letters and synopsesMost writers hate writing query letters, myself included. It's tough to trim an 80,000+ word manuscript down to one paragraph, maybe two, of your letter. You will find tons of information on the internet about this, but it's important to hit the most significant points of the inciting event. Where was your protagonist prior to the incident and how did it impact them? Also, I've always heard not to end your story description with a question. For example: "How will she beat the odds and win back her crown?"
I really struggled with the first sentence of my query letter. How do I introduce myself and my book and get to the point of the story without wasting space? My developmental editor gave me this sentence. It's so simple, but I needed someone else to tell me. This is the one I used in my query letters:
Of course, substitute your book’s info instead. If you have had the story workshopped, beta read, and/or developmentally edited add that to your introduction. I didn't know that at the time, but recently I've heard several agents say they are more likely to consider a manuscript when they know the writer did some, if not all, of these.
You, also, need a short (1 page) and a long (2 pages) synopsis. This is even harder than a query letter, so research these, too. Everything can’t go in your synopsis, but you want to give a good overview of the story arc including the ending.
Research agents and publishersIf you want to pursue the traditional route of publishing, it's time to submit once you have your polished manuscript, a query letter, and a synopsis. Read each agent's or publisher's submission guidelines carefully. Do what they say. Send only what they ask for and use the formatting they stipulate. If they don’t state formatting requirements then use the standard for the industry. Here’s a good formatting resource.
Take time to heavily research the agents before you submit to them. Their bio is a great start but don't stop there. A lot of agents and publishers have a social media presence, especially on Twitter. (You won't find readers on Twitter as a rule, but you will find the publishing industry there.) What’s on their wishlist? What books are they reading? Who have they signed in the last year? Identify something they have recently done that makes you believe they are a match for you. That might be recent authors they’ve signed or recent publications. Whatever you find, you want to reference this in your query.
If that doesn’t work for you then look carefully at what they are currently asking for and connect your query to that request.
Don't submit to everyone at the same timeYou might get one shot at an agent, so you want to be sure your submission works well before you send it out to everyone. It’s a good idea to identify a list of 30-50 agents or publishers who represent your genre. Rank them 1, 2, or 3 where 1 indicates your ideal. Start submitting to the ones you ranked as 3 first. Submit to 5-10 at a time. When you receive a rejection, send your query to the next one on the list. Please be sure they are accepting queries still when you send it. This can change.
If you aren’t getting any interest then revise your query. This is why you start with your less ideal agents first. If you are getting requests for partial or full manuscripts than your pitch is probably working. If you see a lot of interest, you know it's safe to submit to the ones your ranked as 1 or 2.
Keep writingWhile you're submitting, keep writing. Often an agent will ask you what else you're working on. If you can't answer that, then they'll worry whether you have more than one book in you. So write!
I know some writers who have never published that first manuscript. They published the next one or the fourth one they wrote. It's ok. Once you're written a book, it's available. You can pull it out, dust it off, and submit it or pitch it when the time is right. Meanwhile, keep writing!