When I decided to write a novel, that’s exactly what I did. I sat down at my desk and got to typing. Well, here I am a year after I completed it, and I’m still editing and making changes. Most of the changes are a result of sheer ignorance. Hopefully I can help you avoid the same missteps.
#5. Know what your story is about.
In order to catch the interest of a literary agent you’ve got to spend some time writing a query letter. You’ll need what’s called a hook–a short explanation of your plot or characters that spark instant interest. A query letter is more difficult to write than the actual novel, but it helps going in if you know how you plan to sell your story. I had plots and subplots and no clue how to describe just what the book was about. It took me several weeks to whittle it down to one concise statement. Now I know better. Before I sit down to pen my next work of art, I’m going to answer a single question…what it’s all about?
#4. Yes, you want an agent.
I have nothing against self-published authors. Indeed, some of them find great success. But it’s not for me. I want someone with a well-known reputation to represent me to publishers, someone with the inside scoop to help me hone my novel into its best form. An agent does that. A good agent has standards so high it feels like you’ll never be that tall. BUT…don’t give up. Strive to meet those standards. If you’re rejected, it’s for a reason. I received over 80 rejections before being offered representation. One agent told me I was boring. So I made it more interesting. With every round of rejections, I tweaked my query letter, rewrote my opening chapter…tried harder. Rejection is painful, but an agent’s job is know the industry inside and out. Take their feedback and use it to your advantage.
#3. Know how to write.
Stephen King, in his novel On Writing, talks about having a tool box. Grammar and punctuation are among the things you’ll find inside. Important stuff. What didn’t know going in, however, was the other stuff. GMC. What the…what’s this? Goal, Motivation, Conflict. The goal of your character’s actions should be clearly defined, not just as a whole, but in each scene. This way, every scene moves the story forward. There’s momentum. I could’ve saved myself weeks worth of editing and revising if I’d been familiar with this going in. Do your homework!
#2. Back to the toolbox thing.
Say you’ve written one kickass query letter and an agent would love to represent you. If you’re extremely lucky, you might have an agent who offers to assist in the process of editing. But this isn’t always the case. Most agents will only accept manuscripts that are completed and edited…by you. My agent in particular emailed me the agency Editing Guidelines once I’d signed. Then I was given time to implement the necessary edits and revisions. Don’t slap together a story haphazardly and expect an agent to come in and make it pretty for you. That’s not going to happen. You need to show up with a spit-shined version, not a rough draft. Yes, publishers will have editors look at your manuscript. The problem is you’ll never make it that far if you don’t have some editing skills of your own.
#1. DON’T GIVE UP!
A year after I signed with my agent, I’m STILL revising the same manuscript. I’ll be honest here and tell you I’m doing a complete rewrite. I can’t explain the frustration of rewriting scenes you’ve written probably twenty times…again. It’s maddening. It’s disheartening. Maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe I should go to college and try again later. How long do I have to get it right before I’m dropped by the agency? These worries and fears consume me, but only when I give them the power to. I push past the frustration and rewrite one scene at a time, carefully inplementing the new knowledge I’ve gained. Then I print, edit, and revise like it’s the final exam for 9th grade English.
You’ve only failed if you give up. As long as you work at it, success is an option.