Yeah, me too. I finished my first novel, La Dame D'Or, about eight months ago. I started poking around the internet, trying to find out what to do next. I hope this post saves someone time, someone who is sticking a toe in the water like I was. Am. Because I am still learning.
There is such an immense amount of information on the web about how to get a literary agent, how to get your book published, how to write query letters, a synopsis, etc. Don't believe me? Google any one of those phrases and you could spend the next month sifting through the information. Much of it is conflicting. There are a thousand ways, it seems, to write a query. What I want to do is share some of my own experience and offer links to some of the sites I have found most helpful.
1. Put yourself out there. Engage in the whirlwind that is social media. Join Twitter and Facebook. Find other writers like yourself. Find agents and editors and follow them. They often offer up priceless advice for free. Twitter hosts any number of chat sessions for writers to come together and talk with each other. I joined one for the first time last Sunday called #writechat. I got so many ideas for organizing, learned about programs I am not using but probably should be, and found interesting people to follow and learn from. Networking is essential. It has also saved me from thinking I am alone, I am crazy, or that I am a terrible writer and should give up because of the never ending form rejections that keep showing up in my inbox. There are others out there. Find them.
2. There are agents and editors (and in some cases, assistants, who we all know do the hard work) who are willing to help us unpublished folks learn the ins and outs of querying, signing with an agent, and publishing. The first one I stumbled onto was Janet Reid. She works for an agency called Fine Print Lit (who I have queried with no success, btw) and her advice is witty and applicable. On the days she doesn't post anything pertinent, it is still hilarious and will give you a good laugh. She also has another blog called Query Shark, where she reviews submitted queries and tears them apart for the greater good. I know my query improves vastly as I learn from the mistakes of others. I have sent two different versions to her but she hasn't chosen to review them yet. Drat. I am hoping this means they are not filled with enough mistakes to be a valid learning tool for others. I hope it doesn't mean it's boring. Here are a few others that I follow, all of which have helped me learn and made me chuckle. The Rejectionist, Editorial Ass, Rants and Ramblings, The Swivet, and Nathan Bransford. These are just a few. You will find many more.
3. Learn how to write a query letter. Use the Query Shark. This is also a helpful site for many things, including writing queries. Let others critique your query. Trust me, I thought my original version was uh-mazing. It wasn't. When I read it now, I laugh out loud at what a pretentious ass I sound like.
4. Do your research on agents and agencies. Know who likes to read what and who is or isn't accepting new clients. We don't want to waste their time and, more importantly, we don't want to waste our time. I joined a site called Writer's Market for a low monthly membership fee. Lots of benefits, such as agent updates, articles, web seminars, web page suggestions, and a way to track your queries. I have also heard good things about Query Tracker.
5. Develop a thick skin, learning to graciously accept criticism is a requirement in any creative field. It's not easy. Instinct pushes us to explain concepts further, to try and get people to see our point of view. Bottom line, though, is that not everyone will want to see it our way. Not everyone will want to read your book, no matter how great it might be. Ask for critiques from people you trust. Listen to what they say. Join a critique group, either online or in your area. These people will one day, hopefully, be your audience. Their opinions are like gold.
6. Last, but I have learned is most important: DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. Most of us will get rejected many, many times. I let myself feel disappointed for ten minutes when I receive a "no" from an agent and then I get back to work. Maybe I won't sell the first book right away. Maybe I'll sell the second, or the third. Even if I don't, I'll still be writing. All I know is that I was born to be a writer, writing is like breathing and I couldn't stop if I wanted to.
I hope some of these links are helpful to those who have just decided to take that leap of faith and put themselves and their work out there for others to see. Letting people read what you've written is like letting them into your heart and soul and it's intimidating, to say the least. One last link to one of Janet Reid's posts. I read it every time another rejection makes me feel like I am an idiot for even trying. Keep the link in your favorites. You'll probably need it. Be Brave.