Far too often, we meet authors who have written an outline and the first three chapters and want to begin submitting these to agents. This is too early. If it’s your first book, you really need to complete your book before you send off material to agents. Why?
For two reasons; firstly, if an agent likes the first three chapters, they will ask to see more and if you can’t produce this immediately, you will lose the agent’s interest and time, secondly, often a book changes radically from the start of writing to the end. A first draft is often very different to the second or third draft. You want to get the very best chance at scoring an agent – long gone are the days when agents picked up ‘raw talent’ and nurtured them through the process of writing a book. That’s not to say there are exceptions to the rule – many writers have been discovered at the very start of their journeys. But if you are cold-calling i.e. going through the submission guidelines of an agency – as opposed to being discovered by an agent or going through the backdoor routes we would advise you completing your novel first.
So your first draft is finished – how do you tell if you are now ready? Get advice and not from your mum or best friend – they will always love your work, not matter what. You need to ask someone to read it whose opinion you value but you know, will give constructive advice. Don’t be lazy and feel that an agent will be able to see the sheer brilliance of your writing through the typos and mistakes, and the perhaps, issues of structure and balance.
Mentally, you need to prepare yourself as well – ask yourself can you survive the publishing process. It’s a tough business – 10 years ago, an editor was able to offer for a book without even showing it to their colleagues, now there are lots of meetings with sales/marketing/publicity – before they can even consider offering. Advances have gone down, it’s no longer possible for a writer to make a living in the whole from publishing – I reckon only 5% of writers can – everyone else must have a part-time or even full time job alongside writing.
Another huge shift in publishing is that writers have been brought to the frontline – we know who they are, what they look like, what they like for breakfast and can follow them on a daily basis on their blogs and through twitter. They are no longer locked in garrets. You need to be ready for the publicity and for a more public life. Again, ask yourself if you are ready to speak on the radio, have your face on the cover of a book, speak in bookshops, self-promote your book – for some it’s a tough call and I know many writers who cringe at being asked to do PR but it’s a necessary evil now. Readers link the writer and the book together in a much stronger tie than before – as readers, we want to know everything we can about the writer.
I don’t want to be a doom-master but you also need to be ready for the rejections – how will you deal with them? Instead of seeing rejections as a failure of your work, see them as ‘not perfect matches’ and use any advice or comments in the responses constructively. If you learn to deal with rejections, you will be more open about your work and will feel less victimised. Thank the agent, ask them for advice, be ready to be turned down – this way you will far more buoyant and your attitude will be positive. The way you prepare for rejections can change dramatically the way you approach agents.
There are lots of examples of bestselling writers and rejections, Stephenie Meyers sent 15 query letters out and received 10 rejection letters, one arrived after she had already received an offer from a major publisher. Harry Potter was rejected by over 10 publishers but the one I find most amazing and inspiring is the Australian author, Peter Carey, author of Oscar and Lucinda and many other bestselling books. He wrote four novels before securing a publisher for his short story collection. The passion, commitment and determination that must have gone into writing four novels – without a publisher – must have been huge. A sure indication of a great writer. And it’s worth noting that his first novel has never been published.
Once you feel you and your work are ready then you need to think about the submission package.
If you are at this point – or if you have been submitting to agents and not getting positive reactions – come to our Fiction Concept Refining & Proposal Writing Workshop on May 5. Limited places. Discount for members.