1.) Writing the book was the easy part — I am naïve. I thought that I would write the book, send it off to a few agents and editors and someone would express interest in reading the manuscript. Not so. First, comes the pitch, which is your query letter. Your query is a cleverly crafted, succinct summary of your book, free of grammar errors, marketing fluff and cheesy lines. It must describe the plot, the hero, the heroine and the hook — that special something that will draw the agent in and make them want to sell your book. It must not be too long or too short — opinions vary widely on what the proper length is, but if it can be kept to one page, that seems to be about right. Expect to rewrite it dozens of times before you get it right and even then, it may not be right. You’ll know because you’ll send it out to a dozen agents and half will not write you back. The other half will write you a nice form letter rejection. Develop a thick skin. Most would-be authors can expect to be rejected 100 times before getting a bona fide offer.
2.) You must be social media and computer savvy — Worldwide, more than 2 million books will be published this year. It is a crowded marketplace. Publishers rely on authors to market themselves to increase sales. That means you need to develop a following before you have published the book. This seems contrary and intimidating for a new novelist but is a necessary part of the process. If you don’t have a personal website, author Facebook page, and Twitter account at a minimum, you’d best get busy developing these tools. It doesn’t hurt to use other apps like Pinterest and Instagram to post photos that lead to your website, too.
3) You must go to conferences — I did not get any offers to read my manuscript until I went to my first conference — then I got three. Pitching a book in person is A LOT easier than pitching your novel in a query letter. You will have the opportunity to ask questions and showcase skills, such as your ability to be articulate and sell your novel. The agent/editor can get a sense of your personality and whether they might enjoy working with you. Plus, at conferences you can talk to other writers, hear from interesting speakers, take workshops, and buy books. The time spent is well worth the effort and beats the cold query any day.
4.) You must enter contests — Being able to state that you are a contest winner in a query letter is golden. Since agents can get up to 500 queries in any given week, you can use the extra credit a contest win provides to stand out in the slush pile. Plus, entering a contest requires your manuscript to be judged, which means it will get read by other authors, agents and editors, and you will get feedback. Getting professional feedback on your manuscript can help you improve your writing, which will eventually lead to a publishing deal.
5.) You must be patient — Some time ago I completed an exercise in a book called StrengthFinders. It identified my top five strengths based on 40 years of research by Gallup, which analyzed and recorded the traits of highly successful people. When my results came back, I was a little surprised by my number one trait: Activator — a person impatient for action. There’s no worse project for a person with activator in their makeup than writing a novel. The whole process is a lesson in patience. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. I guess I’m still working on this one.
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