I don’t consider myself to be an expert writer. I doubt I’ll ever feel truly confident in my writing. But, I have achieved the major goal of publication thanks to the awesome staff at Clean Reads who decided to give my manuscript a chance. It took 4 years – 4 long, feast-or-famine, submission-after-submission years – to write and edit my novel and only 6 whirlwind months to publish it in its initial ebook format. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. Let’s start with the most obvious (with a little help from Kimmy Schmidt).
Your First Draft Isn’t Ready
Unless you are some sort of magical word wizard with perfect delivery, grammar, spelling, dialogue, etc., your first draft is just that – a draft. It’s a starting point for your story. I, like many other novice writers, fell under the temptation to believe that once I’d typed that final period at the end of my last sentence, I had completed a full novel. I scanned it a couple of times for typos and then submitted it to literary agents. While I did get a few nibbles, no one was interested. Only after a month or two break from actually writing my novel did I realize how much work it still needed. It was actually pretty depressing, but it made sense. My book just wasn’t ready. It took 4 more re-writes and a lot of tweaking in between to get my novel to its current form.
So what’s the lesson? If you’ve just finished your manuscript or are close to finishing and are thinking about jumping straight into the query trenches, as tempting as it may be, set your novel aside for a few weeks (or months) and go back with fresh eyes. Better yet, let a couple of beta readers read it during those rest weeks. They’ll have much better feedback and can help you fix major plot holes or other problems in your story.
You Don’t NEED an Agent
While major publishing houses still dominate the mass market, we live in an era of independent publishing, either through small presses like Clean Reads or through self-publication venues like Amazon, which means having an agent may not be necessary for you. Throughout the last couple of years, I submitted to dozens of agents who, while complimenting my writing, declined representation due to a glut in the market for dystopian novels. I understood this reasoning in the midst of Divergent and Hunger Games fandom/hysteria, but I also was very frustrated. Thankfully for me, it turns out that I didn’t ultimately need one. I was offered a contract after I submitted to my publisher through a traditional query letter. While this was exhilarating, it was also a little terrifying. I alone had to wade through contract legalese, which meant I spent hours researching publication contracts to make sure that I knew what I was getting into.
Now, do I wish I had an agent? ABSOLUTELY. Agents are there to serve as a liaison between you and potential publishers and to make sure that your work is getting the best deal possible. They also assist in marketing your book, although the majority of that work still falls on individual authors. I will definitely submit any subsequent novel to agents, but for now, everything is negotiated and discussed straight between me and my publisher. In the meantime, I’ll continue to follow agent blogs (almost every large agency has one) and Querytracker.net, and I’ll glean as much advice and information through those venues as possible to prepare me for the next round.
Twitter is an Author’s Goldmine
No, seriously. If you’re a writer, and you aren’t on twitter, go now and create an account. Despite general networking potential (which is amazing – but only if you actively put yourself out there), it is a mecca for advice and submission opportunities. Twitter is full of hungry agents and editors, and they are VERY active users, willing to speak directly to you (as long as you aren’t harassing them with unsolicited pitches). Best of all, Twitter is actually how I found my publisher after she favorited a pitch of mine during a contest. Pitch Wars and Pit2Pub are two contests that come to mind right off the bat. They only take place occasionally, but they’re great for submission opportunities and camaraderie among fellow writers.
As for hashtags, here are a few of the most popular:
#MSWL stands for manuscript wishlist and is useful for finding out what types of stories agents are looking for. Pair it with a genre (#mswl #scifi), and you could narrow down your search to agents who might be interested in your genre.
#AskAgent is another fantastic hashtag. Agents will occasionally open themselves up for a few hours to questions from writers. As long as you include #askagent, you have a good chance of receiving a response. However, this is not a frequently patrolled hashtag, so unless there’s an active session taking place, you may find your question goes unanswered. Oh, and one more thing – don’t use this to pitch your material. It’s just not good form.
#querytip and #pubtip are FULL of advice from agents and editors alike. They’re exactly what they sound like – little tidbits of advice in 140 characters or less. Don’t underestimate the help you can get here, especially if you’re in the query trenches.
#tenqueries or #10queries are really useful as well. As agents filter through the slush submissions in their inbox, they will occasionally post to this hashtag and detail (as much as you can in 140 characters) why they have either rejected the query or asked for sample material, such as a full manuscript. This is a great sneak-peek into agents’ minds.
Publication Means Lots of Edits and Lots of Marketing
Chances are, if your work gets accepted by an agent or a publisher, you’re going to have to make some revisions and edits. No matter how many beta readers you’ve used or how many times you’ve read through your manuscript, there are inevitably going to be typos. You’ll go through several rounds of edits, from content to formatting to grammar. Don’t be offended by this process. Your editors only want to make your book as good as possible. Heed their advice and don’t take it personally. If, by chance, they suggest something that you just do not agree with, communicate about it in a rational manner. Don’t be a diva, but also don’t be a mouse.
Speaking of communication, marketing is hard work, especially if you’re an introvert like me. People aren’t just going to stumble upon your book when it’s one in a market of millions. Selling books means putting yourself out there. Unfortunately, I don’t just enjoy asking people to buy my book. It feels prideful, even though I know it isn’t. I have a product, just like any artist or tradesman, and part of my job now is to encourage people to buy it. Start with a Twitter account (@MrsCarterWrites) and Facebook page (https://facebook.com/laurawadsworthcarter), maybe even a website or blog, and go from there. For now, this is still a struggle for me, but if I find any great resources, I’ll be sure to share them!
Publication Will Not Fulfill You*
For years, I told myself (lied to myself) that I would be satisfied once I was published. “Let me just get this book published, and I’ll be content.” The truth? I’m not. Don’t get me wrong – being published is a dream come true. But it’s not a stopping point. Even though I danced and got butterflies and yelled it to the world (or to my friends and family, rather), I did not have some grand epiphany or sigh of relief when I saw my book on Amazon. My journey didn’t end once the link went live. It’s like crossing a finish line only to keep running. There’s more writing to do, more stories to be told, more marketing to execute, more networking to be done, and there’s no “finish line” in sight. This is a lifestyle, not an ending point, and it’s a juggling act to say the least.
On a similar note, I want to address one more realization. Once the initial excitement dissipated, I was still me in the same house with the same teaching career and the same family, and it was GOOD. I quickly realized that publication in and of itself, while an accomplishment, does not define me nor fulfill me. I am more than an author, more than a book. I am defined by and fulfilled by my faith and my Father. My family is still the most important part of my life, and life carries on as it has for the last several years.
But I won’t dare lie and say it isn’t fun to tell people, “I published a book!”