dreadfulpenny asked you:
This may be something you’ve already answered before, but are there good resources to be found for people interested in being published? What about self-publishing as an option for beginning writers?
Stage One: Writing
The obvious first stage to getting published is writing the novel. If you’ve never done this before, here is a guide to writing your first novel. If you’re writing a series, here is a guide to writing a series.
Stage Two: Editing
Once you’ve written your story, you’ll need to edit. This isn’t just light editing where you go through and make a few changes, this is heavy revision to the point where you may even rewrite the entire novel. You have to edit it until you get it as best as you can. Do major revisions first, then smaller revisions, then go through the small details such as spelling and grammar.
But you’re not done yet. If you can afford it, hire an editor. You can find freelance editors all over, but be careful that you don’t get cheated or ripped off. Here is a list of editors, copywriters, ghostwriters, and more. And here is a list of typical fees for freelance editors.
If you can’t afford an editor, try a beta reader. Try more than one. Pick people who have writing experience or join a critique group. They can give feedback ranging from grammar and spelling to plot help and character development.
Don’t worry about editors or beta readers stealing your work. Serious freelance editors are not going to steal your work. They’re editors and they have a reputation to keep if they want to bring business.
Stage Three: The Search
Once your manuscript is as perfect as you can get it, you need to start searching for either a literary agent or a publishing house. I highly recommend going for a literary agent, as very few publishing houses are taking unsolicited queries.
A literary agent is a person who helps you prepare your manuscript, negotiate contracts with publishing houses, find the right publishing house for your manuscript, and more. They can open up a lot of opportunities for you and they’ll help guide you through the publishing world.
Do you have to pay a literary agent? No. Not right away, at least. They take a percentage of what you make from your novel.
To find a literary agent or a publisher, check query tracker. With a free account, you can search for agents by name, genre, and location. You can also keep track of which agents you’ve queried and what your query letter was.
When you pick which literary agents to query, do some research to make sure they are open to submissions and to make sure they take your genre. Literary Rambles has several in depth reviews of agents. When submitting to an agent, follow the submission guidelines. Some agents will skip your query letter without even reading it because they can see you didn’t follow the directions.
You also need to format your manuscript correctly. Some agents may have specific instructions and some may not. If they don’t, follow the standard guidelines. Don’t use any weird fonts or formats.
Stage Four: The Query Letter
So how do you approach a literary agent? Sometimes you can pitch your novel to them in person at a conference or sometimes they hold contests. The standard way is to send a query letter. More and more agents are taking email submissions, so this makes the process a lot cheaper and a lot easier.
The typical query letter is like this:
Dear [insert agent’s name]
Paragraph One: short introduction, often personalized to the agent and to explain why you’re querying that agent.
Paragraph Two: this is the paragraph that matters most. It’s a short summary of your story, but it doesn’t give away the ending. It’s written in third person and focuses on the main character. This paragraph must hook the agent. It’s what makes them request more. It introduces the main character, the main conflict, the motivation, and the risk your character faces.
Paragraph Three: the last paragraph states the title of the novel, the word count, the genre, and possibly a comparison to other novels that are similar. Don’t get cocky here and say you’ve written the next Harry Potter. If you have any credentials, put them here. This can include a large following online, previous publications, and why you’re the right person to write the book (ex: if you have experience in the field of CSI or detective work and you’ve written a crime or detective novel).
[insert your name here]
Writing as [insert your pen name here, if applicable]
The format may change based on what the agent is asking for. Some prefer the summary paragraph to be at the top while others prefer it at the bottom.
Write your query letter and keep it under 250 words. Shorter is better. Edit and revise as much as you can. Have beta readers (who haven’t read your story) read it and ask if it makes them want to read more. Once you’ve done the best you can do, send it off to a few agents. And wait.
If you’re writing under a pen name, use your legal name within the query letter. You can mention your pen name within the letter or you can bring it up when you sign with an agent.
Stage Five: The Synopsis
Some agents require a synopsis with your query letter. When agents ask for a synopsis, they most likely want a short one (1-2 pages) unless otherwise specified.
Stage Six: The Literary Agent
If you hear back from a literary agent and they want to read more of your manuscript, one of three things might happen. The first is a semi-rejection in which they ask for you to make revisions and then send again. The second is a partial request. They may ask anywhere from a few chapters to many. If they ask for a full request, send the whole thing. Agents who request this material will give you instructions for how to submit the requested material.
Then you have to wait again.
If you get lucky and an agent wants to take you on as a client, don’t accept right away, especially if you have other agents looking at your work. You should wait a week or two (it would be a good idea not to go over 2 weeks) before accepting the offer. During that time, think of any questions you may have for your agent. You’ll be entering a professional relationship with them, so it’s important that both of you are on the same page.
If other agents are looking at your manuscript, update them that you’ve received an offer. Those agents will know they’ll need to give you a quick answer. If you get more than one offer for representation, weigh your options carefully before picking an agent. If you take an offer and you still have some queries out, but haven’t heard back yet, you can update those agents by saying you’re retracting your query. It would be a good idea to paste the original query in the email for reference. This would mostly be for agents who state they reply to every query.
Your job isn’t done there though. Your agent may want to do some more revisions before they get it ready and send it off to publishers and editors. Now that you’re working with someone else, you have to be professional and you have to meet deadlines. Be kind, even when you don’t agree with certain suggestions or requests for revisions. Try to work out a solution in a civilized manner.
Your agent will probably draw up a contract. Most will follow the AAR guidelines. Some agents who are not members of AAR still follow those guidelines, so don’t feel like you shouldn’t approach those agents. If an agency has some agents that are members and some that are not, it’s probably safe to approach those agents as well.
Stage Seven: The Wait
Once your agent has pieced together your manuscript and sent it off, you have to wait. Again. Your agent should update you with everything they’re doing with your manuscript and you should be able to ask questions when you have them.
If you get an offer, you’ll have to go through editing again.
The steps to self-publishing are the same for traditional publishing, up until Stage Three. Self-publishers often make ebooks, since it’s a lot cheaper. Here is a guide on how to do that. However, that doesn’t mean it’s free. Here is the cost of self-publishing.
If your ebook does really well, you can try querying an agent who could help take your work to the next level and help you publish traditionally, if you want.
A great way to build your publishing credits is to get published in a literary magazine. You can find many that are open for submission at this website, which also has contests. If you win a contest (national and international are preferred), you could use that as a credit as well.
No matter which way you go, you have to market yourself and your book. Start marketing your writing before you published. Build an audience. Get in touch with people. Publishing houses will only do so much to market your book, unless you’re already an established author. Look for book review blogs that would seem to like your work and ask if they can review your work. Find blogs that take guest posts or give interviews for authors and try to get in on that.