Thursday, April 20, 2006

So you want to be an author, huh?

Then listen up.

The moment you send out your finished manuscript, you are going into business. Forget about baring your soul, writing the book of your heart and caring for your muse. On second thought don’t forget about that completely, just put them away somewhere safe while you concentrate on selling your book.

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Take a good look at your finished book and compare it to the stuff that’s out there. By the way, don’t compare yourself only to the best sellers. Porque, you ask. Well, more than likely their agents and editors probably won’t look at a new author. They might. But chances are they won’t. So take a peek at the midlist authors and the newbies and check who’s acknowledging whom. If you like a particular author’s work and your book falls into the same genre put that agent on your list.
  2. Buy a subscription to Publishers Marketplace and do some more research. Find out who sold what to whom and the name of her agent. Pay attention to what is selling and if you see a trend, go the other way. That sounds counter productive but its sage wisdom, my friend. By the time those books hit the stores, the trend will be over and there will be a new craze in its place. Chick lit, by the way, is not a trend. It has become its own genre.
  3. Compile your top ten list of agents. Now go and do more research on those individuals. Do they only read exclusives? Are they still accepting unsolicited submissions? Do they only want a query letter and synopsis, or the first three chapters? Do they accept email queries? Are they coming to a conference near you?
  4. Drum the following into your head: the writer must have a thick skin to withstand criticism and rejection; but the skin must still be thin enough to take in the world around her. If an agent passes on your work, it’s not personal because they don’t know you. Think about it: do you buy every book you see at Barnes & Noble? I don’t either. Agents and editors are people with individual likes and dislikes.
  5. Write your query letter and synopsis. And then rewrite them a second time, a third time, a fourth time … get it as close to perfect as humanly possible.
  6. When your chapters are ready, your synopsis is snappy and your query letter sparkles, it is time to submit.
  7. While you wait for a response, do two things:
  • Decide how you will respond to exclusive requests from agents. This is important because if you do this incorrectly or try to be sneaky, it could back to bite you in the ass, big time. (Then again, I’m a Buddhist and we take that stuff pretty seriously.) So if an agent asks for an exclusive read on a partial, don’t hide the fact that you have queries out there. And give her a time limit, so you don’t end up waiting for weeks on end with other agents who want to read it, too. This is a balancing act of making sure your needs are met, and conducting your business in a professional manner.
  • Get to work on the next story. Now is the time to bare your soul, write the book of your heart and care for your muse. Put away your business hat and don't think too much about how to market it. As an artist/entreprenuer, you have to know when to switch your concentration. (If only it was as easy as it sounds!)

Note that I’m talking about finding an agent, not an editor. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone in your corner. Yes, yes I know I met my editor first, but I was really really lucky to meet my agent who negotiated that first contract. I was so damn happy that I would’ve given my soul to Avon to publish Hot Tamara. But my agent, wise woman that she is, wouldn't let me and it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

And no, you can't have her. (Just kidding ... well, sort of.)

More to come next week!

Cheers,
Mary

4 comments:

Anny Hernandez said...

Thank you for your good words of advice for all emerging writers. When I first decided to become a writer I just didn't think it would be so difficult. But the struggle has made a big difference in the way I pursue things in my life. I was able to publish my first young adult historical fiction book 'Under a Mango Tree' with a relative new publishing company(I managed to do all the leg work, no agent). Seeing my work in print brings me great joy. I completed a second manuscript, this time a women's fiction and getting an agent to represent me has become an odyssey. I was devastated the first time I got rejected; but now rejections have become a vehicle for improvement. I continue to massage and manicure my manuscript until every word chosen is as precise as the thoughts that created them.

Louise said...

Good advice, Mary. You'd better be careful, though... I just might have to hit you up for a newsletter article!

-- Weez

Bethany said...

Yeah-- what she said! ;-) And it takes TIME and PAITENCE. Don't expect anything overnight...

Caro said...

....i have no idea what i'm getting into, but i'm diving in head first...eep.

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