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Sure, I remember the urgency, the desperation, to get an agent and get published. Partly that's because I'm not twenty-something anymore, and partly it's because I
Having been through the trenches and having gotten more rejections than I can count before getting an agent myself, I'd like to share a little bit of what I learned. Let's start by busting some myths.
- You have to know someone to get an agent or get published. Most agents are open to receiving queries provided you follow their guidelines. Get on QueryTracker.net, search the genre you are looking for, and you'll get the email address and submission guideline information right there. Or at least you'll get the web address where their submission guidelines are posted.
For a nominal fee, you can even mark and track your submission there to find out what you have outstanding and where it is in the agent queue--i.e., how many other submissions have gone to that agent and are being tracked on QueryTracker. (Bear in mind that this isn't by any means anything more than a fraction of the queries and submissions the agents are looking at, but it lets you see approximately how quickly they are likely to get to yours.)
- To get attention for your manuscript, you have to jump through hoops or make yourself stand out. The only thing that needs to stand out is your manuscript. Accosting an agent at a conference or trade show, sending them chocolate along with your query letter, or even going to their offices in person, isn't going to change how they feel about your manuscript when they read it. Unless they love the manuscript and think they can sell it, they're not going to take it on even if you knock their socks off with your winning personality.
- The odds of getting an agent are so slim, you should query a hundred agents at once. Um, no. Trust me, I learned the hard way that a good query letter and a solid opening to your manuscript will get requests. If you send to fifteen agents you have carefully selected because they are looking for the kind of manuscript you have written and you don't get several requests, there is a problem with either your query letter, your story premise, or your writing. Don't query more until you figure out which. Take one of the inexpensive Writer's Digest workshops where agents review query letters and sample pages, attend a conference and pay for the critique, go through an online contest, or even go through our free First Five Pages Workshop. These will all help you figure out whether the problem is with the beginning of your manuscript or with your query letter.
- A query letter doesn't have to be perfect. Agents are going to look at the first pages of the manuscript anyway. Some agents will read the opening pages of your manuscript first and some will read the query letter first. But the chances are, even if they love your opening and see that you can write their socks off, they still need to know that you have an actual book that they can sell. That means they have to see that you know what your story is about. It took me a while to figure out that the trouble I was having putting together a hook and brief synopsis of what my book was about was because my book wasn't really clear enough yet and the hook wasn't strong enough. For the manuscript that landed an agent and a book deal, I wrote the query letter before I started writing the book. That query letter basically became the pitch my agent sent out on submission, and it is, in large part, the copy that's going on the book jacket. I still can't come up with a good query letter that accurately describes what my first two books are about. Which means I still need to work on those books. (And no, I don't need to query those books any more, but if I ever decide to resurrect them and send them to my agent, I would still want to be sure that I had a good, solid pitch. The fact that I can't define them well means they're not really ready for human consumption.)
- Agents (and/or editors) don't really know what they're doing, so you should just go ahead and self-publish if you've been rejected by everyone. Self-publishing is not a solution to rejection. If your book is good, it will likely find a home in traditional publishing, even if it means going to a smaller press. But that doesn't mean that traditional publishing is for everyone either.
The bottom line is that you have to examine what you really want out of publishing, and you have to:
- know the strength of your manuscript,
- your ability and willingness to market it,
- and your ability to write additional work very quickly.
Independent publishing works best for writers who have:
- a manuscript that agents (or editors) are saying they love but can't sell,
- manuscripts that need to get to market very quickly,
- authors who have an established network of potential readers already,
- very motivated and entrepreneurial authors who are willing to spend a lot of time and possibly money to market their own work.
Indie-publishing also requires hiring a professional editor, a professional copyeditor, a professional proofreader, a professional cover-designer, and a professional book-formatter. Some of these may be the same person, but the steps can't be skipped.
Readers deserve good content, and putting out a manuscript that is less than professional, and less than it could potentially be, isn't going to help you in your career as an author. And yes, I'm assuming with all of this, that if you are/were looking for an agent, it's because you want to publish more than just one book
Most importantly, what I've learned after getting an agent and a book deal is that if you want to get published, you have to:
- Write a lot and write mindfully, accepting critiques and learning from them until you can write a good, solid book.
- Read extensively in your genre, read widely overall, and read critically so that you are learning as you are reading.
- Focus on making your work the best it can be rather than on getting published quickly.
- Learn your craft as well as you can before trying to get a book published, because once you have a book deal, you have less time to spend on learning and your next book will need to be done in a year, not in two or five or ten years like your first book.
- Realize that getting published isn't going to magically make you rich or make you a rock star author. Your book still has to be read and loved by readers. Which means you have to have written a good, solid book. (See item 1) in this list. Rinse repeat.)
Want to know how to write a good query letter? Read this.
Want to know what not to put in a query letter? Read this.
Want to smile a little about rejection? Read this.
Want some support because the road is long and hard? You've got mine.
If you're struggling and wondering if you will ever get there, my heart goes out to you. I've been there. I know what you're feeling. I'm sending you huge, huge hugs and love. And I'm telling you that you can make it, despite the overwhelming odds. It may not be with the book you are working on right now, even if that book is wonderful.
The truth is, there are a lot of really, really great books written and submitted to publishers every year by agents and authors who love them. And many of those books will not get published even if the editors love them too.
To a certain extent, getting a book deal requires luck and great timing as well as a solid manuscript. But that doesn't mean you quit. It means you write the next book and hope that the luck and timing are going to be better. Your next book will be better than the first, and that first book won't go away.
Once you have a book deal, you many want to resurrect that first dead manuscript and breathe it back to life after applying what you've learned since you first wrote it.
No writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn't ultimately make it onto the page of your published novel. So keep writing. Keep believing!