As I promised, I'm giving you an overview of the novel publishing process. If you're a writer looking to self-publish, note that this post will not be for you. Personally, I'm not into self-publishing. I've chosen instead to put in the effort for the traditional route, and that's what I'm sharing here today!
1) Write a novel.
Contrary to popular belief, you do have to have a completed book before you try and
publish it, haha. Nonfiction operates on proposals and is a whole other kind of process, but for fiction, you want to have the manuscript ready first.
2) Edit your novel.
Most of writing is, in fact, editing. You want your work to be as polished and awesome as possible before you start putting it out there. You are selling this to the industry, and they want as great of a piece as they can get. Yes, they're going to do some editing themselves. No, that does not mean you can let it slide. Make the best product you can on your own.
Start by stepping away from your work once you've finished your first draft. It's important to get some space to improve your perspective. You won't be able to see your mistakes until you've had some time away from them. Come back later to get the job done.
Once you've done some editing, get it to some readers who can offer even more perspective. Be sure to get a lot of varied views from people with different skill areas. It helps to start with a less critical reader who can pump your ego up before you face the crushing blow of critique. Then look over the responses and figure out what you need to change.
If you can, start with the big storyline stuff before you get down to editing the exact wording. Over time, you will find your own special writerly weaknesses and learn how to counter them. For example, I am a plot-rusher. I'm so excited about the big picture and seeing what happens that I tend to leave out important filler. So in edits, I get to go back and fill it in! Then I make sure that everything else is good. I eliminate or reduce my number of a lot of words that weaken the prose. My personal weaknesses here are passive voice and iterations of the words "look" and "eyes."
Once you run out of issues to edit, it's time to move on.
3) Finalize the pitch material.
You may actually draft these documents during the writing and editing process, but at this point, you need to edit and polish them. Pitch material is what you send out to agents in order to get them interested in working with you. Because this material is all about summarizing, organizing, and marketing your ideas, it has the side effect of clarifying your ideas. (This is why writing this material early on in the process can be helpful.)
Here's what you need:
At this point in the process, you've got to fully switch from artist to business thinking, which means being smart, professional, and exact. It's a lot of the same kind of stuff required when applying for a regular job. A query letter is a mix between a cover letter and a project proposal. A plot synopsis is like a more detailed project proposal. Samples are often requested, which is why you need that book ready! You also may be asked for an author bio or a marketing plan, and if you attend special writerly events, you'll have to condense your query letter down even further: 140 characters for a Twitter pitch online or a minute long "elevator pitch" for in person.
The query letter is the most key part, however. It begins with a pitch of your manuscript (make it exciting but professional, like on the inside flap of a book), followed by a paragraph with the title, category/genre, word count, and a couple of comparable titles. You don't want comps that are so blockbuster-popular that you'll sound obvious and egotistical, but you want some well-written, recent titles that have the same kind of theme, style, and/or genre as your book. Then write a paragraph with any relevant writing credits you may have, followed by a closing paragraph where you offer the manuscript to the agent and thank them. You may also want to write a paragraph with your reason for choosing that particular agent to send to. Make sure that your query is one page only and professional!
4) Choose who to send your materials out to.
This is a very important step that involves a lot of research. There's no point in marketing your novel if you're marketing it to the wrong people. So first, you need to choose whether to send out to literary agents or skip straight to publishers. Nowadays it is very rare to get a publishing deal unless you have a literary agent as an intermediary. The agents select the best clients they find, prepare them more, and then send them to publishers, who know that the novels are higher quality than most because the agent already found them. Agents also assist you with the entire rest of the process, including contract negotiations, which makes them very helpful.
Once you've decided on that yourself,Writer's Market and the website QueryTracker are reference sources that can help you find agents and editors. Each one will have different genres they specialize in. Narrow down the field to the agents that work with your novel type, and look at their websites. Be sure you're looking not just at the overall agency, but at the individual agents to find which one fits you best. You will be expected to address that person directly in your letter, and it's to your advantage to know about them. Check places like Predator or Editor online to make sure the agency isn't a scam. Find who the agents have worked with and what books they've sold to be sure they're trusted by publishers. Look at their social media to see how they interact with others--that part's kind of fun if you like social media, like I do!
Once you have a list of agents you'd like to work with, find what their requirements are. Each one will have slightly different rules about what materials they want sent where, and they'll have different response times. (Many of them are so busy, they don't respond at all unless they want to read more.) Get that information and follow it to the letter. Again, professionalism! Be the person others want to work with.
5) Send out your work.
I recommend sending out to a handful of agents at a time--multiple agents because you're very unlikely to get a yes the first few times, but not too many because it can get confusing and you need time to correct your work based on responses. Keep track in a spreadsheet so you know if they've exceeded their response time and if it's time to a) check in or b) move on, depending on what their website says.
Remember, you will be rejected. It happens to all of us. I've now been rejected 76 times. If I'm not your prime example, look up any author. J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times, for example, which is actually phenomenal. It happens. It's part of the process. Be strong, never give up, but be ready to move on.
If you're being rejected over and over again without any requests for more material, take another look at your work. Edit it again. Send it to more friends to critique. Remember that a lot of this is about the current market and individual taste. If it's really just not happening, you might have to "trunk" that novel. If you've been writing another book in the time that you've spent sending out (which you should have been), you can move on to sending out that one. Sometimes books you write end up just being for you. That's valuable, so don't feel bad that they weren't meant for publication. Move forward until you get to the book that does work.
6) Here's what happens after you get a manuscript request.
Hopefully, a few agents will want to look at parts or even the whole of your manuscript. This is an in! You'll still get rejected at this stage, a lot, but it's a step forward. You might get asked to do an R&R, or a revise and resubmit, and you'll decide whether it fits with your vision. Eventually, you'll find an agent who decide to take you on as a client. Which is fantastic! Celebrate like crazy.
Done celebrating? Okay. It's time to move forward. This is a business relationship, and like all relationships, it takes work, on both sides. There might be some negotiation. You might do some editing together. Your agent will start sending out to editors at publishing houses who they think are a good fit, and you'll get more rejections. Hopefully, you'll find your editor, but things can go wrong. You might still have to move on to a different book. It's also possible that someone might end up breaking the writer/agent contract, and you'll have to start over. This is a difficult, messy industry, but if you're really here for this, it's worth it.
Once you have your publishing house, there are still more ways it can go wrong, but you'll likely make it through to publication. You'll work with a whole team of editors and marketers, and there will be a lot more revising, and your agent will help you through it all. It usually takes at least a year after a publishing contract is signed for the book to hit the market. Hopefully, your team will be a great one, and you'll be able to start a solid career.
Then you can look at how far you've come. You made it to publication. YOU WIN! (I mean, you still have a whole career to manage, and there are a million more ways it can go wrong. But that's life! This is still monumental, and I have yet to get here, so I congratulate you.)
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