The first thing that happens when you finish a book is that all of your friends and family ask, “So, are you going to get it published now?” As someone who’s just finished his fourth book, I’ve grown accustomed to it. People know I’m working after school, on weekends, and whenever I can to pursue my dream of becoming a published author. It’s kind of a big deal to me, and something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. But the “when are you going to get published” conversation is absolutely a loaded one and there are a lot of things people don’t know about how the process works. So here’s what it really looks like to follow the traditional route of publishing:
Step 1 – Finish your book. – A lot of people view this as simply getting to the end. But they don’t know that authors do endless rounds of edits (as in, I read my book about ten times from start to finish). Often times, we have writing groups reading through chapters or even the entire book. Then we also have beta readers diving in and giving feedback. Finishing a book is an amazing feeling, but no author should feel their first attempt is ready for the presses. You have to revise and sharpen and improve.
Step 2 – Find agents that represent your book. – This is a delicate process. There are hundreds and hundreds of literary agents. These people work specifically with authors as a support system to enhance their careers. Successful agents want successful authors and will work tirelessly to make sure they find the right editors, publishers, and opportunities. I just completed a YA science fiction novel. It won’t help me to submit that to someone who represents only steamy romances. So I take to the internet, Twitter, and other sources to find out which agents represent my genre. Often the list is an Excel sheet of about 50-60 agents, with personalized notes about what they are looking for and what their submission requirements are.
Step 3 – Writing a Query Letter – You have one page. That’s it. One page to impress and woo a weary, weary eye. Adams Literary claims to receive over 10,000 submissions every year. That’s 10,000 people just like me, hoping to have their dreams come true of becoming a published author. And they’re not even one of the big agencies! I saw a literary agent on Twitter claim to be on her 500th query of the week. And that was on a Wednesday.
Your query advertises what your book is. Think of the writing on the back cover of a typical novel. What do they have there to catch your attention? How do they draw you into the story? These queries should do just that, but should also be designed to accomplish that for agents who are reading thousands and thousands just like them. It also advertises you as an author and should demonstrate your knowledge of where your book fits into the market.
Step 3 – Preparing Documents – Agents want different things. Some would like a synopsis included. Some want just the query and others want to have your first 30 pages attached. I usually end up with a folder of the following documents: First 10 pages, First 25 pages, First 50 pages, Full Manuscript, Query Letter, Synopsis, Character Descriptions, Second Book Opening Chapters. With these on hand, I have a good way of attaching or emailing whatever is requested of me.
Step 4 – Submit your queries – If an author is just sending out stock emails to every agent on their list, they need to reconsider. Twitter is filled with agents asking for personalization. Reference a tweet they wrote. Specifically connect to their About Me section on whatever website is available. If you really want to connect, look at the authors they represent and try to see if there are any connections to be drawn between your book and theirs. When you’ve done some of that, you start submitting. The number one rule is to follow the rules. I hear agents complaining all the time that people don’t follow the guidelines posted on their site. They expect authors to treat it as a job interview. If you can’t follow the four basic rules they’ve set, it leads them to believe you will be difficult to work with.
Step 5 – Wait… A long, painful wait. – Not all agents respond. If eight weeks are gone, then they’ve said no. Some will respond though. You’ll get nos. A lot of nos. That’s ok. You’re a writer and writers can’t quit after a few nos, or even a few thousand nos. Hang in there.
Step 6 – Requests – Oftentimes, the first request that literary agents make is a partial request. Your query intrigued them and they’d like to see more. They may ask for 20 pages or 50 or 100. Be ready to send a fully edited and revised document.
Step 7 – Full Requests – And if they really, really like your query… or they really liked the partial pages, they’ll request the full manuscript. Some will ask for an exclusive look, others will not. But you should have a fully edited manuscript ready to send.
Step 8 – Make or Break – This is the hard step for people to understand. You can write a really good book, and it won’t get published if an agent doesn’t fall in love with it. Keep in mind that these are people who work for a living. They are not trying to wreck your dreams. They’re trying to support families or themselves by doing something they love. No respectable agent will charge you money prior to a publishing deal. Agents work off of the success of their authors. The more you make, the more they make. I’ve had several opportunities with literary agents at this level. They loved my query or my opening pages or my characters. Many times they dove down into the plots and had fun with what I’d written. But the reason my first two books didn’t publish is because these literary agents, who value their time and energy, didn’t FALL for them. And that’s how it works. They have to be head over heels for it. They have to be ready to fight for that book. They have to feel like they can win the fight that will inevitably come.
Step 9 – Do it all again… – So this is just a glimpse, but it should really help people to understand that this is not a simple process. Oftentimes, it’s painful. You created a product that is utterly precious to you. Greyglance was my first book. I loved it. I was so, so proud. I got a lot of bites, but in the end it’s still on my computer instead of in print. When in Fancy was my second book. Same thing. Lot of interest, but in the end no one picked it up.
But here’s the thing. I’m getting better. Every single day, I get closer. Every time I sit down and write and grind out a new manuscript, I’m getting closer. Koth’s Anatomy? It’s going to get published. The Babel Files? Just might be the book that lands me an agent. I can’t control that though. I just can’t. I cannot control who will like what I’m writing or which agent will finally feel like I deserve to be represented and fought for. I can only control my own side of this equation. How much dedication am I putting forth? How many words did I write today? How many scenes did I edit? How many new books am I reading? How am I growing?
At the end of the day, finding that first agent and getting that first book published is going to feel utterly magical. It will feel like lightning striking. But that ignores all of the tireless energy I put into the process beforehand. So when you ask me if I’m getting published, don’t be annoyed if I shrug my shoulders, smile, and say I’m working on it. I’m not playing coy or being falsely humble. I’m not lost or without hope or any of that. I really just am working on it. Every, single day.
Last Note: I’d also add that this purely for traditional publishing. At any point, I could take my work to Amazon and pursue my own self-publishing. I’m choosing the traditional route because I love the idea of having an advocate familiar with the publishing world who will fight tirelessly for my success. I also admire these people and would like to employ one of them. But I know there are definitely other roads people can take. This just happens to be mine!