Journeying into the literary foray

Writing is easy, getting published is the hard part.

Okay, that statement is really only half true.  Writing is relatively difficult for most.  Putting pen to paper and getting started, letting the words flow from the pen’s tip, takes a bit.  Once going, however, it can be hard to stop the flow as inspiration hits.  How much of that is drivel and how much is gold is what can differentiate between good fiction and just words on a paper.  The writing industry is very objective.

Many people may perceive writing as an easy way to make a living or see it as a legitimate way to supplement their lifestyle.  A down turned economy and massive job loss have boosted the number of people writing to new heights.  At the very least these were the impressions I had when I started my first book many, many years ago.  The truth is as times and media have changed, so has the publishing industry and the challenges they face.  More people are writing than ever.  As we approach November and many people ramp up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I thought I’d share a bit of experience I’ve gained in the short time doing so.

The Back-story

Just over two years ago I made the decision to take writing my first WIP (industry lingo for Work In Progress) seriously and settled into putting a character page, story outline and world outline together.  That fired the passion and over 20,000 words followed.  After that came the stall.  Thankfully a friend suggested I try NaNoWriMo and I was soon writing like a maniac again; almost 2,500 words a day!  My WIP jumped from 21,000 to 79,000 by the time NaNoWriMo was all said and done.  The lingering momentum helped me finish off the document (another 30,000 words later).  Huzzah, I had done it, let the proofing begin!  This took some time but the WIP was finally in a form worth reading and my query letter took shape.

Here are some thoughts from my journey thus far:

Choose your route

What many people don’t realize is there is two primary ways of getting your book out to readers: traditional publishing houses and self publishing.  The latter of the two is fairly strait forward thanks to services like Book Country, Amazon and Apple iBook.  The bulk of book sales are still on paper, however.  Getting into traditional publishing isn’t easy and is mostly a numbers game.  You can pitch to editors at publishing houses but you’re best option is to start querying agents.  Essentially this is a short letter selling your book in a way that it stands out.  And stand out it must, because these agents are getting astronomical numbers of query letters and only accept a handful of them.  Getting your letter right is time consuming – something I’m still trying to figure out despite having queried four agents.  Self publishing isn’t without work either.  Because you often don’t have the resources of a big publishing house behind you – something Book Country actually mitigates somewhat – there is a lot of extra effort in manuscript polishing and marketing.  In either case, be prepared for ups and downs and probably more work than actually writing your first manuscript draft.

Finish first

This is key for a couple reasons.  Primarily agents don’t accept unfinished fiction works but also because it gives a sense of completion.  Need help getting things off the ground?  Sign up for NaNoWriMo.  Having a word count goal daily and a community cheering you on does wonders to get things flowing.  I’ll be firing up my second round of NaNoWriMo this year to get book number 2 started.  The key here is to get words on paper, worry about proofing once the WIP is complete.  Then, once finished, proof it!  Nothing turns readers (and agents) away faster than poor writing and even worse grammar.

Find your Agent

Once you’ve got a neat manuscript in your hand its time to figure out who to send it to.  Some people have advised writing a query letter first, but I would differ on this point.  Once you have firmed up the genre your book is, get online and find out what authors and agents are in that genre.  It REALLY helps if you’ve been reading in that genre a lot lately (whoops, my bad!).  Use sites like Agent Query, Agent Query Connect and Publishers Marketplace to find reputable agents in your genre.  These sites have great resources for building your query letter and how the querying process works in addition to well established communities of hopefuls and published people just like you.  But don’t stop here.  These sites also give very clear instructions to the agent’s preference and querying requirements.  Memorize them.  Go one step further and Google the agent’s name, the agency they work at and the authors in your genre.  The more you get to know the person the better odds of finding out what they look for in a query letter, the writing styles they like and even personal preferences.  Use social media like Twitter to engage with those agents who use it.  Agents like Sara Megibow have proven to be invaluable sources of information.  As you’ll soon find out, any advantage you can get is well worth it.

Workshop your query and listen to ALL the feedback

Self explanatory.  Read everything you can on query letters.  There are forums and blogs full of people with advice.  Take what you have and get it in front of many eyes online.  People will give you a lot of feedback, much of it may be hard to stomach (it was for me).  Take it all and make a better letter; you need all the help you can get because…

The odds are against you, but, never give up

These are really bad odds.  I recall a tweet from Ms. Megibow that said they received over 32,000 queries in 2012.  Of those, she accepted 3 new clients (if memory recalls – don’t quote me!).  Know that every agent you query has these kind of numbers or worse.  Many agents with big name clients may have little time for new clients and can be very choosey.  Your query letter has to shine brightly among thousands of others who may shine just as bright; and that just gets you a partial.  You will get a lot of rejections, treat them as a right of passage!  Many of the people I’ve spoken to sent out dozens of queries before they even got a partial.  I’m 0/4 personally, with number 5 still out there.  The key to surviving all the rejections is to realize that this industry is objective.  Love your story and never give up.  Don’t be afraid to re-visit your manuscript or keep writing new WIPs as you wait for your current project to query.  Just because this one isn’t fairing well doesn’t mean the next one will.

As for me, I continue to fine tune my query letter in preparation for my next round of queries.  This November I’ll be finishing the follow up to my first WIP; those few people who have read it will be happy to have the story come full circle!

Finally, good luck.  You’re going to need it.

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