So step one: Edit. After you’ve written your first draft, it’s going to be tempting to go back to page one and edit immediately. I would tell you to wait a bit. For me, I set my manuscripts aside for 2-4 weeks. This allows me to come back to the story with fresh eyes. What happens when you try to edit immediately, is you’re too close to the story to actually see your mistakes. Imagine walking in a forest for 2 months. After a while, everything is just trees. You stop seeing the small nuances of anything. Your story is no different. You’ve been staring at it for a long time. So step away and come back with fresh eyes. Then make the corrections you need to.
Now you’re book is ready! You’ve written it! You’ve edited it! Let’s publish! …Hold on there Tiger! I know. You’re excited to show the world your beautiful story, but it’s not ready for the bright lights just yet. So here I’m going to talk about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I’ll address traditional publishing first as it’s what most new authors aspire to. So when I was first querying, I had a bad case of wrong thinking, and I don’t want you guys to make this same mistake. My wrong thinking was this: If an agent likes my story, they are going to have it edited anyway. So I don’t need to have it perfect before a potential agent sees it. Oh how naïve I was.
Here is what is wrong with this thinking: Imagine your story as a resume. Because that’s what it is to an agent. You’re applying for a job, and a potentially high paying one at that. Would you send in your resume filled with typos? I imagine not. So my input here is: it isn’t a bad investment of time or money to have an editor look at your MS before you submit. Get it back. Make corrections. Have it proofread again after those corrections. Make final corrections. Now, you’re ready to submit a query that isn’t going to be disqualified on a technicality. Seriously, if you misspell prologue, the agent is never going to even read the first word of your story. And look at it this way: IF, heaven forbid, you don’t find an agent, your book is edited and you have a self-publishable MS ready to go. Do you need to have it edited before you submit? No. You can submit a query written in crayon if you want to. But I promise you, editing is not going to hurt your chances of getting a request for a full manuscript.
A brief aside before we go back to talking about queries: If you do decide to self-publish, editing is only one part of the equation. First, let me encourage you, if you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up. Stephen King, John Grisham, and J.K. Rowling all have something in common: They were ALL widely rejected by agents. They persevered until they finally got a yes. You only need ONE yes. Ten-thousand no’s and one yes, is still a yes. If you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up! If however you have decided to self-publish (and there are good some reasons to do this) you will need to have a cover made and have your book formatted. My advice to you is, don’t skimp on the money here. This is your baby. It deserves the best. Pay the money to have a professional cover made and to have it professionally formatted. You will have a book you can be proud of. I know it’s tempting to maybe make your own cover and save some money, but I implore you to resist this temptation. You wouldn’t ask a race car driver to be your mechanic. You wouldn’t ask a horse jockey to be your veterinarian. In that same guise, an author shouldn’t be a cover maker. You don’t know what’s trending. You don’t understand what makes a reader pass up one book and pick up another. You don’t understand how colors and combinations can create a certain mood and feel for a story before the reader ever opens the book. Another thing to consider is many promotional companies won’t allow you to promote through them without a professional cover. Bookbub can make an author’s career in a single day. Want to promote through them? You need a professional cover. Do some research. Find a cover maker you like. Get a cover that will make your baby shine!
Ok, so back to traditional publishing and the seemingly daunting task of querying: Research potential agents before you query them. Agents are looking for very specific things, so before you query, go onto Publisher’s Marketplace, and find out which agents are looking for the type of story you write. Frequently, the potential agent will tell you exactly how to query them. These are not polite suggestions. Follow their instructions exactly. And if you don’t know the difference between a blurb and a summary, go online and look it up. Failing to follow instructions can get you disqualified immediately. Another thing to mention here is, know what type of story you have. Is your manuscript a MG or a YA novel? Failing to submit it correctly can get you disqualified. So if you don’t know the difference between a MG and a YA, look it up. This will help you target agents who are looking for what you have.
Not all agents are created equal. If you find an agent who is accepting queries for your type of book, look and see who they represent. Then go on Amazon and check those books sales. This will tell you a lot about the agent. Believe it or not, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who prey on authors. Let me give you an example: Hi! My name is Rob and I’m a literary agent. I can get your book tons of exposure! For only $1000.00, I will guarantee you thousands of views on your book as well as a full fb and twitter campaign! This is a scam meant to make ME money. I get $1000.00. You get, essentially nothing. I share your book on my twitter page a bunch of times and on fb. But does that actually lead to sales or get your book published by any of the big publishers? Nope! I (in this scenario) would be a scammer. And believe me, there are TONS of them out there. Many go by the name of a “vanity press.” Avoid these completely. If an “agent,” ever asks for money from you, run far and fast. Real agents make their money off of sales, and will never ask a dime from the author. There used to be a site called, Predators and Editors that would tell authors who these people are. It’s since been shut down. There is however a blog called, Writer Beware that has taken up the torch. Do your research before you query. Choose the agents you really really really want to work with. It can make the difference between you flipping burgers, or writing for a living.
Ok, finally; learn how to query before you write your query. There are quite a few resources on query writing, most of which can be found by a quick internet search. My personal favorite is literary agent Kristin Nelson from Nelson Literary. On her site she shares a ton of information on how to write a quality query, and also includes query letters from books she chose to represent, and why she liked them. Again, think of your query as a resume. There are very real do’s and don’ts. So learn them up front. Then take what you’ve learned and write a quality query. Then edit it. Then take your query to beta readers and get feedback. Then rewrite it. Just like your MS, it needs to be shiny. This is true of your summary as well as anything else the potential agent asks for. Shiny.
I think this is a good place to stop for the day. It’s enough to get you started and help you avoid some of the pitfalls. I know I said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Don’t give up! If you forget everything else I wrote here, please remember that. Don’t give up. If you want to be traditionally published, keep at it. If you’re being widely rejected, you can always make changes. You can rewrite your query or your summary, or even the novel. But keep trying. You only need ONE yes. Until next time, metaphors be with you!
Please check out my new release, The Bookshop and the Junglest, available now through Amazon!