First time placing a string of words on the page in your very first attempt at writing a book? It's scary, yes? You're thinking, "Where do I start? Do I really have what it takes to write a coherent novel?"
The answer is YES! You do have what it takes...
...but there are many steps you must take so one day you will see your name on your own book, nestled between works of art you love and admire! So…
Write the book you were meant to write. What does this mean exactly? Write the book you would want to read. It doesn't matter how crazy or wacky. If you are passionate about werewolves and clowns, go for it. Writing to a trend is never a good idea. Back when vampires were hot, I know many thought they would write the next Twilight series. By the time you write your own vampire book, revise it, and possibly snag an agent, the trend is long gone. Trends pop up out of nowhere and disappear almost as fast. Write a book that inspires you!
Read. I know you're thinking, why do I have to read when I want to write? In many ways, this should be the number one thing you should do. Read in the genre you want to write in, be it young adult science fiction or even middle grade fantasy. Whatever it is, read and read A LOT! By getting the sense of what's out on the market, what's popular, you're able to apply the common tropes within your genre and give it a major twist. And many would say, read outside of your genre too. If you write young adult, read some adult books. Explore and expose your mind to as many books as you can. You won't believe the ideas you can gain by doing so!
Make mistakes. Pretty simple, huh? Back when I was a baby writer and sat down to write my first novel about superheroes (yes, you heard it correctly…superheroes), I thought at the time I had learned enough to construct a proper sentence, I knew a story had to have a climax and a satisfying ending. That was about it. I wrote and wrote to my heart's content, not thinking about the rules, what a trope really was and how to make it unique. I did everything wrong. Let's just say after sending out a dozen query letters for a book that was far from ready, I quickly got my wake up call. This leads me to…
Read everything you can about the craft of writing! When I say everything, I mean everything. Read about how to structure a novel using a beat sheet, how to write compelling dialogue, what dialogue tags are and how to make them pop. Read about the art of revision and find the best system for you! Figure out what a query letter should have and a synopsis. Ask questions. If you don't understand something, find someone who does. There is no stupid question because if you ask it, you are one step closer to refining your craft and that's great!
Explore. I'm not talking about exploring the world, though that would be pretty awesome. I'm talking about exploring your writing voice. I know you hear this a lot, agents are looking for voice within a book that makes them beg for more. Believe it or not, when you go into a bookstore, you're looking for that as well even if you aren't aware of it. If you have an irresistible premise, but your voice is lacking, it doesn't matter how awesome your story is. So with that said, experiment and explore with your style of writing. In many ways, this cannot be taught. This is why reading is so important. Study how other writers construct their prose. Learn from seasoned authors.
So you have written a book. Give yourself a pat on the back. It’s an accomplishment that you should be proud of because so many people say they should write a book but never do! What do you do next? Truth, put it away for at least 3 to 4 weeks. What?! Yes, no joke. If you jump into your freshly baked manuscript with the intent of revising, trust me, nothing will happen. You will reread your masterpiece and think everything should stay and nothing needs to change. WRONG! You need to walk away from your baby. You both need space. Because when you come back to it, you'll see it in a new perspective, and killing your darlings (words) will make more sense. And ultimately, your story will thank you.
You have done a few rounds of revisions and with each draft, you start to see your story evolve into something you never thought possible. FANTASTIC! Are you ready to start querying? NO! When you think you are ready to start querying, you aren't. What will make you ready? You can start by getting a handful of beta readers or a few CPs (critique partners) to give you constructive feedback. You need someone other than you to read your manuscript and look at it with objective eyes. Where can you find beta readers and CPs? If you are on the social network, try Twitter or even Facebook. Goodreads has a forum where you can find beta readers. I wouldn't pay for this service, however. You can find them at writing conferences and the SCBWI website. Usually where writers congregate, someone is also looking for a CP or a beta reader. Don't be afraid to reach out!
Once you have received and incorporated feedback from your CPs/beta readers, you may be ready to query. But before you do, I'm serious about this, get feedback on your query letter. And find people who know nothing about your book. A little tip, the best time to write a rough draft of a query is BEFORE you sit down to write your book. Having a solid reference with the core plot of your story will keep you true to what your story is about, especially if you're a panster and you don't follow an outline. Send out your query letter to a handful of writers and polish it until it shines.
Nothing in publishing is fast. Patience is a virtue that you will gain whether you like it or not. Stay positive and write. Write as much as you can. Because nothing distracts you more than a new story! Good luck!
ABOUT THE WRITER
Monica M. Hoffman is a Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy author represented by Laurie McLean and Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI and the writing community.
She dislikes getting up early, but a good cup of coffee can usually motivate her. She enjoys any movie/book (particularly fantasy and Sci-fi) that can make her cry, laugh, or gets her blood pumping from an adrenaline rush.
She’s a Trekkie, Dr. Who, and Star Wars fanatic, and a PC gamer when she’s not writing or reading. You can find her tweets about all things YA lit & entertaining GIFs on Twitter and Facebook.