You just spent weeks, months, years writing and revising your book. You have poured every bit of time you could spare, spent restless nights and coffee riddled mornings clanking away on your keyboard. You have finished that fucking novel. Finally.
So it’s normal to think that now, it’s time for people to read your genius, to throw a parade for you and your book and also give you a movie deal. It’s time to fire up your Gmail and query the hell out of your novel, because that was the whole point, and you have to do it NOW because you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, & patience be damned. You’ve waited long enough. Your work will speak for itself, right?
Well, not really.
I hate to break it to you but you’re not the only writer who has worked hard on their manuscript. Sure there are hundreds (thousands?) of us who have just sort of thrown something together and are hoping for the best, but a lot of writers work HARD on their books. The thing is, hard work does not put you above the fray or mean anyone owes you anything. Working hard on your book is uh sort of expected.
Where I’ve noted a lot of writers falter is what comes after you’ve finished that first draft, or even the fourth. There is so much more that goes into making a book not just not terrible, but truly great.
- Revise, rewrite, and rewrite some more
Never, and I mean NEVER send a first draft out to agents. Unless you’re Stephen King (which you are not because he doesn’t read this blog) you don’t have it like that, not yet. You need to edit, you need to rewrite. THIS is when the hard work begins, where the good writing comes out of what’s probably just an OK first draft. I finished the first draft of my manuscript in September of last year (2014), and had I sent it out as it was, had I sent the SECOND draft out (or even the third) I would’ve been hard pressed to find an agent who would take me on. The writing just wasn’t there yet. I needed to flesh scenes out, re-read chapters and make my character arcs work better. There was just so much to improve on that had I not let myself step away from my manuscript to let it breath, then jump back in and begin revisions I would’ve been doing my story, and all my work up to that point, an injustice.
2. Beta Readers
Once you’re past the revision stage, and you feel your book has been edited and worked over enough for readers, it’s time to send to your CP (critique partners) or beta readers. Listen, you wrote this damn thing so of course you think it’s good. IT’S YOUR BOOK FFS. You need outside perspective, you need someone who’s going to tell you what works and what doesn’t. As my good friend and beta reader Megan from Extra Ink Edits pointed out, three is a good number for beta readers.
If you have a friend who likes to read, and also happens to be that one friend who is brutally honest, pick them. If you write YA like I do, and have a sixteen year old niece/nephew that is willing to read your book, pick them. Pick people who represent your audience, people who will be as impartial as possible, people who will encourage you, and above all people who will help make your book better. You don’t have to take all the advice they give you, but if all of your betas point out the same things it’s probably worth looking into. You also have to be honest with yourself during this process. Really look over your novel, is it the best it can be or are you glossing over obvious problems because it’s too much work or seems scary to fix them? When you’re not honest about the state of your own work, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.
3. Researching The Business of Writing
One literary agent I follow on Twitter mentioned on her blog that about eighty percent of the writers in her inbox didn’t follow submission guidelines and therefore eliminate themselves from the running automatically. That’s a high number, and chances are if you’re not taking the time to research the business of writing, your part of that group. What do I mean by the business of writing? I mean anything related to what happens after you’ve truly (see above) finished your book. The querying, submission and publication process. According to a a blog post on Writers Relief, several industry professionals mentioned not following submission guidelines being amongst the worst mistakes a writer can make. Here are a few quotes from that blog post:
Diverse Voices Quarterly: “This may seem like a no-brainer, but not following submission guidelines is the worst thing.”
Inkwell: “The worst thing a writer can do when making a submission is to disregard the submission guidelines. We receive submissions from too many writers who state they don’t have computers so please excuse their out-of-date submission or forgive them for handwriting the entire manuscript, they simply didn’t know what to do because they can’t visit our website—or worse, say nothing at all. Not adhering to the guidelines torpedoes a submission.”
Philadelphia Stories: “The very worst thing an author can do when submitting work for publication is to ignore the submission guidelines. It’s really that simple.”
Softblow Poetry Journal: “The worst things: submitting without reading the instructions given by the editors or the guidelines set down by the journal…”
Notice a pattern? Every place you submit to has different guidelines, and thinking you are the exception to the rule when it comes to these guidelines will only get you swiftly rejected.
Another reason to research the querying process is to see the etiquette involved. The uninformed writer might think it’s perfectly fine to call an agent the day after querying them (or at all), to stop by their office, to email them a week later and nudge on your submission. But if you’ve taken the time to research, to follow agents on Twitter perhaps or read blog posts about their likes/dislikes when it comes to the querying process, you’ll know all these things are a big fat oh-no-no.
I get it that you’re excited, and that it sucks to wait, but usually you only get one chance to query an agent and if you ruin that chance, you’re most likely f’d for life when it comes to them. Not to mention:
It’s not worth it! Just be patient, take a deep breath and start reading about the process, work on your writing, talk to a fellow writer, expend that nervous energy elsewhere, but not in getting on an agent’s nerves.
Another thing to take into account is some agents like when you personalize their query by saying why you choose to send them your work. If you don’t research them you won’t know this, and it could help get you extra brownie points. Also make sure that personalization doesn’t equal = “your agency has a proven track record of…” anybody could say that. Instead, you should mention specific things the agent has said in interviews, maybe on their #MSWL even, but always be sure the information is still accurate. Don’t quote a blog post from 2008 since their wish list might (and probably has) changed since then.
It’s tempting to stay holed up in your writing nook, and just blast that query letter the moment you’ve typed your last word, staying blind to the outside world, to the advice of blogs and literary agents and other writer friends. After all, they don’t know your work, or how hard it was to get to this point. You just know that once an agent reads those first few pages, they’ll be hooked. You’re going to go with your gut, do what feels right, and just jump in head first. But this is a mistake. One that could potentially cost you getting an agent, and after all that hard work, is it really worth it?
Since I’m not a jerkasauraus, here is a list of resources for all you non-researching writers looking to convert:
- Literary Rambles : Informative interviews with agents broken down by what they rep, and links to other articles/interviews with said agents.
- How To Write the Perfect Query Letter: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter
- The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests: http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/
- Query Shark: A site dedicated to the revision of query letters http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
- The Writing Excuses podcast: An excellent show with great advice on the writing process, querying and more. http://www.writingexcuses.com/
- Carly Watters Blog: One of my favorite literary agent blogs. Informative, clear and incredibly helpful. http://carlywatters.com/
- A list of literary agent blogs: http://www.sharischwarz.com/p/on-writing.html
- Publishers Marketplace: A great place to research agents. http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
- Manuscript Wishlist: Research agents, what they’re hoping to see in their inbox and cool features that let you search by genre and tags. https://mswlparagraph.wordpress.com/
Immerse yourself in the writing community you are hoping to break into, do your research, be honest with yourself about your novel, work hard on your writing and hope for the best!
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