Monday, June 6, 2011

In Case You're Interested

Recently I’ve had a couple of aspiring writers approach me and ask about getting published. I find this interesting in light of the fact that I have gone the non-traditional route of self-publishing my books.

However, I did try the established way for a few years. I wrote my books (four) and sent out queries. I even had an agent for awhile who tried to sell one of my books for me. With the economy taking hits and the publishing houses tightening their belts and being less inclined to take on new authors, I made the decision to take on the task myself.

But for those of you who are interested in signing on with an agent and seeing if you can get your book published, here are some things you need to know.

First, if you are writing a novel, you need to finish the book before you start finding an agent. Agents may want to see partials or full manuscripts if your query letter interests them. Telling them you have a great idea for a book doesn’t work.

After you have written your book and before you start sending queries, make sure it is the best it can be. Edit it. Put it away for awhile, then pull it out and edit it again. Give it to beta readers and listen, really listen, to what they have to say about it. Revise and edit again. Make your book as polished and finished as you can.

Second, you need to write a really great query letter. Several agents have blogs/websites where they give you examples of well written queries that will help you get noticed. If you don’t know, a query letter is a letter that is sent to literary agents that tell them, in a single page, who you are, what your book is about, and why they might be interested in representing it. It’ll probably be the most important letter you write.

Third, never send your manuscript to a publisher. With very few exceptions publishers only accept manuscripts from agents. And when an agent asks to see your work, send them only what they’ve asked for. If they wish to see six pages, send them the first six pages of your book. Don’t select six pages at random that you feel shows off your writing style. If they want 50 pages, they want 50, not 49, not 52.

Another point I think is important is when an agent asks for the full manuscript, they often ask for exclusivity. My feeling was to send it with the stipulation that they could have it exclusively for a set amount of time, say four or six weeks. I made the mistake once of sending it exclusively to an agent without this.  They kept it for a couple of months before I contacted them and told them I would be taking that back and sending it out again.

And when you do give an agent an exclusive you must honor that. You must not send out your book while they have it as an exclusive.

Remember the publishing world is a small one. If you treat an agent badly, even if they do not represent you, word will get around about you. If your book is rejected by an agent, don’t send off an email or letter blasting them for not liking your book. Your book will not be loved by anyone the way you love it, and you need to develop a thick skin if you are going to be a writer.

Agents/agencies blogs and websites are the best place to find an agent. Send your novel to agents who represent your type of work. If an agent doesn’t represent YA books, don’t send your techno-thriller to them! Agent Query is a good starting point. (There is a link to them on this blog.) You can search for agents by genre there, and if that agent has a website there should be link to them for you to check out what they are looking for and how to submit.

Every agent is different. Find out about them and what they are looking for before sending something off to them.

Finally, don’t give up or get discouraged. Believe in yourself, believe in your work. Being a writer is not something that happens quickly or easily, and getting an agent, publishing and marketing are harder than writing the book itself. Don’t give up. It’ll happen.

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