Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When You're Finished Writing . . . There's Still So Much To Do

Just another odd photo to keep you entertained. I think I look a little like an alien.

This is also posted over at Kristie Britt's writing blog. The last post I'd written for her blog was on revisions, so this one is about what happens after the revisions are finished. I tried to include a lot of helpful links, so even if you're not all that interested in what I personally have to say, take a look at a few of these great resources.

Are You SURE You’re Done?

The first thing I want to suggest is that even though you think your novel is finished, maybe it’s not. I definitely had this happen with several of my novels. I still really struggle with knowing when the manuscript is done (and it is all subjective), but I had tried to query books that I later realized just weren’t good enough to query. And with my most recent manuscript, I started querying around the third draft, and since then I’ve really improved the pacing and the plot. So now I’ve queried several agents who I would have loved to work with, and I blew my chances with them by querying a sub-par novel.

So,  before you do anything, I would sit on the manuscript for a little while and then try to come back and re-read it with fresh eyes and see whether your novel really holds up to the novels you see on bookshelves. Beta readers/critique partners are especially valuable here because they obviously don’t have the same level of attachment to your manuscript as you do. And if you are consistently getting feedback that things are wrong (especially if it’s major things), then I say hold off on doing anything until you’ve fixed this.

But I definitely do not recommend finishing up your novel, and in, that burst of “Man, I finished, and this is GREAT” euphoria, sending out query letters to everyone and their mother.

So You’re Really Sure

Okay, so at some point you really do have to be done with editing/revising. Sitting on a manuscript for years and years and tweaking this and that is almost as bad as sending out an un-revised first draft of a novel because, typically, neither will move your writing career forward (unless you are the rare totally-awesome-first-draft-writer, in which case, shut up. I hate you).

Now you have to decide: Do you want to go the traditional publishing route OR do you wish to self-publish?

The Self-Publishing Option

There are completely awesome writing articles out there for both methods, and there are some very valid arguments made for both sides. I personally have decided that I would really like to go the traditional route, so that is what I’ve researched, and that’s what I’m going to talk about in more depth. However, if you prefer the self-publishing route, good for you, and I wish you all the luck in the world. (Some people have obviously made very successful careers for themselves out of it, but I doubt I’d be one of them).

If money is your concern, check out this post from Nathan Bransford on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing will make you more. In another post, Nathan discusses some of the other considerations in making this decision.

From a quick search, this looked like a very realistic article with a lot of useful links discussing the self-publication process (this is actually to self-publish a physical book but includes a link to an article discussing e-books).

So that’s some basic info. The thing to remember is that if you are trying to do a good job and really want to sell your book, this option can cost you a decent chunk of change and a huge chunk of time.

The Traditional Publishing Option

Okay, so this can take a LOT of time as well but really shouldn’t cost you anything (unless you decide to market on your own later, but, at this point, that’s eons away. Or, I suppose, if you aren’t getting anywhere and decide to hire an editor).

So you’re certain that your book is in such good shape that agents will be falling all over it (or, alright, let’s be realistic – that they might very well be interested). Now comes the query letter, the agent research, and the summary writing. All of these are huge time sucks, and chances are that you will not get the query letter quite right the first time around. That’s alright. It’s a learning process.

There are a million great posts out there on how to write a good query letter, and I recommend reading a lot of them. Each agent will have their own tastes, and a query letter that might hook one agent will leave another completely uninterested. One good site for query letter advice is agent Janet Reid’s Query Shark. And here’s Nathan’s post on the subject. Similarly, you can research writing summaries. Not all queries require these (thank goodness), but it is very helpful to have one ready to go, just in case.

There are also great sites for agent research, including Writer’s Market (also available through your local library) and sites like AgentQuery and Query Tracker (It's free to join, and I really like this site). And of course, Preditors and Editors is very useful for determining the reputation of your chosen agent.  If you happen to write children’s or YA books, a personal favorite of mine is Literary Rambles – she’s put together very comprehensive information on a large number of great agents.

There are also various strategies for querying, but the one I see most regularly involves sending out small batches of queries (I personally go with 5 at a time) so that if they’re all rejections, you can try something different with your next batch and keep refining until you have something that works.

Good Luck!

Alright, so that’s the general idea. There is so much more to it, as I’m sure many of you already know. I’ve tried to touch on all the basics, but I guess there is one thing you can really take away from this post, and that is: If you don’t know the answer, it’s on the internet somewhere. Which is a really great thing (just be sure you’re using a trusted source).

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