“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.”
So you’ve written a book. Now what? Writing the book was just the first step to publishing a book. But what about step two? When you write that last word of your book, what comes next? Writing the book was the easy part. Now begins another journey designed only for the strongest. A journey that includes:
- gaining an audience
- finding an agent
- and getting published.
The best way to know how the story can improve is by reading what you’ve written.
First along your journey, you definitely have to edit. We writers would like to think that we wrote with perfect dialogue and descriptions the first time, but reality would call for a double-take. There will be typos. Possibly mid-story plot changes that need tweaking. And even if you think you didn’t make any mistakes, still edit. Every story has room for improvement. Now that you’ve reached the end of your story, you know every detail of what will happen throughout and can foreshadow those events at the beginning, as well as develop your characters more and solidify the world they live in.
The best way to know how your story can improve is by reading what you’ve written and by letting others read your book. I know sharing your first novel can be terrifying, but it is a necessary step. I’ve let three people see my personal work before, and you know what didn’t happen? They didn’t tear it apart. They didn’t laugh or tell me to find a new dream. They got excited for me and pushed me to finish–to keep working at the story until I was happy with it.
Allowing another person to read your story will help you discover any plot holes, poor descriptions or explanations, or missing information. Your mind may have filled in a hole where a new reader won’t be able to. Use what feedback you get and keep reworking your book, until it’s as perfect as possible. Seek out first people who either read a lot, have experience writing, or work in the publishing world. Basically, don’t just give your book to your mom who is supposed to love everything you do. You can but don’t let family be the only ones, unless you trust them to give both unbiased and constructive criticism. At this point in your journey, you need helpful criticism more than praise alone.
Gain an Audience
Publishers and agencies will want to see that you can handle your own marketing as well as gain your own audience. Refer to my post last week (Adventures in Social-Land) for more details on this subject. I just had to mention it again because while a good social following can get you a contract, a bad/nonexistent following can keep you from one.
Find an Agent
Once your manuscript is as ready as you can make it, it’s time to start looking for an agent. There’s a lot of debate out there about whether or not you really need an agency to present you. Personally, I think agents are a good idea. They are the ones who know the publishing business inside and out. They have connections with people on the inside and know how to make you look good. Typically, your agent will receive 15% from your book, but I’d say that money is worth it. An agent will increase your chances of getting published as well as decrease your stress throughout the process. Well-known authors have agents as well as hopeful debuts. If you pick the right one to present you, you’ll reap the benefits.
What exactly is an agent?
An agent is a person you will submit your story idea to. Usually they will ask only for your synopsis and the first few pages/chapters. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for the rest of the manuscript. If they still like your story and agree to represent you, they will do the work of sending proposals to publishing houses. They will keep doing this until a publisher decides to acquire your book and sign a contract. Just be careful that you find a reputable agent and do all your research on them.
Here’s what you’ll need to send to agencies:
- Query letter: Your query is an introduction to both you and your book. It should include information such as your story’s genre, word count, and hook (think non-spoiler paragraph headline on the back of a book). People also include their social media following with a list of their sites and number of followers. (That’s why that brand-building is so important!) But this info is probably best suited to go to the publishers more so than agencies. Only include if you think it will help you. And lastly, write a short bio for yourself to introduce who you are and list any accomplishments you’ve made such as winning a writing award.
- Proposal: A book proposal is like a typical teaser trailer/what you might see on the back of a book. It provides the setting of the story and introduces the main problem, while leaving the reader wondering how the story will be resolved. Proposals I’ve seen come in are very different from each other. There’s no set standard, just a set goal: to make someone want to read your book and to catch their attention.
- Synopsis/extended proposal: This is a couple-paged scene-by-scene summary of your story. Tell it like it is. Include the spoilers. Include the ending. This is designed to allow a person to know everything in your story without having to read it.
- Sample chapters: Send in your first five or so chapters to accompany your proposal. Make sure you’ve edited these to be as perfect as possible. Even if the ending is amazing, no one will ever know if chapter one isn’t so great.
Click on the links below to start looking for an agent right for your story:
Coming up Next…
Check in next Tuesday for a review on the original story of Peter Pan. Is he really a character who should be praised as a hero? You’ll have to wait to find out! Or if you’ve already read the story, feel free to start a discussion about it. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on his character.