I’m sorry to say that this is not an overstatement. No amount of love of the craft is going to prepare you for the ups and downs and self doubt that comes with putting yourself and your work out there. But there are some tips that can help you get through the process and hopefully with less wasted time and energy than most debutants. These tips have been accumulated through hours of reading, research and frequenting agent blogs who all say just about the same thing. Not to mention my own personal trial and error.
1.Finish your damn book. (you’d think this would fall into the ‘logic’ category but many agents complain about first time writers shooting them emails about an ‘idea’ they had or a book they’ve just begun) It’s normal to get excited about your first book but wait until you’re at least a good way through the writing before telling….just about anyone.
2.No, Really -Finish your damn book. Writing the last line of the last paragraph of the last chapter does not mean your book is finished. Most first drafts are overwritten, clumsy, and might even contain discrepancies in plot and character. You need to edit, revise, and rewrite until your book is polished and shined like a three dollar bill- I say this because it will never happen. This step is never really finished. I’ll be honest- I had no idea how to revise my manuscript when I first started. I had been submitting small pieces of writing my whole life through school and college and I had never had to revise anything with the acceptation of an overall skim for clumsiness or spelling. I always got an A. Then I had an umpteen thousand word manuscript staring me down the throat. Revise? Wtf does that mean? Here are some tips from Laura Backes that I found helpful: http://www.write4kids.com/feature4.html
3.Do your research. If you are in Europe like me, many people refer to ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook 2010’. It has a list of legit agents and publishers all over the world. Queriers in the U.S. might prefer ‘Writer’s Market 2010’ or ‘Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2010’. However, just sending a query out to every agent in either resource is a large waste of time and energy. You need to hone your search down to just those agents who have an interest in the genre that you write. Once you’ve got a substantial list- go look at those agents’ websites on the internet and see if it’s really what they represent. You also need to see if they are still accepting clients, if there is a specific agent who seems a better fit than others, and what their submission guidelines are.
4.Write a kickass query letter- Just thinking about this step still gives me cold sweats and makes bile rise in my throat. I don’t know if my query letter is kick ass. I’ve had interest shown from agents based on my letter which tells me it isn’t too shabby. Basically my advice is to concentrate on having a well-written letter before anything else. Know your story and who you are writing it for. Here are some of the hundreds of links out there that I’ve found helpful- http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
Also, literary agent Jessica Faust has been kind enough to dissect some query letters that caught her attention. http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/01/query-letter-by-karen-macinerney.html
5.Test the waters. If you feel confident in your query and in your book. Try querying a few agents by email following their guidelines. You never know. Maybe you’ll be one of those lucky people who find an agent on your very first try. NOT! Sure, it’s happened. We hear success stories every day. But it’s about as common as people who can touch the back of their heads with their tongues.
6.Repeat steps 2 and 4.
7.Repeat step 5.
9.Repeast steps 6-7
10.Wait some more. I won’t lie. I have about as much patience as a shitzu with a full bladder so this last step has been excruciating. I wish I could finish this tip session off with what to do when an agent calls but I haven’t gotten there yet so you’ll have to refer to a blog by an actual published writer for that one. But I will leave you with some final words of hope. As tough as it is, sticking with it is the hardest part and that, at least, is something you have complete control over. So just do it.