22 June 2012

Never Give In: Part 2 or On "How I Wrote a Novel and Snagged an Agent"

So, where did I leave off? Oh, right, I started writing.

As I said in my previous post, I'm a plotter. I outline, usually in detail and so when I start to write, it generally flows pretty well. I know exactly what goes in each chapter and since I try to do as much character sketching before I even outline, my characters don't tend to freak out and take me on plot detours.

That doesn't mean the writing process is easy for me. In fact, thanks to my point of view and perspective choices, this novel was one of the most challenging projects I've ever taken on. Developing and maintaining distinctive voices for each of the three "point of view" characters was incredibly difficult.

A great thing about writing a novel in the 21st century is that there are thousands of resources to help you write that novel. I'm not going to lie, when I was hovering around 15,000 words, my progress came to a screeching halt. That's when I saw one of my friends tweet the hashtag #YALitChat. I stumbled into one of their weekly chats and a quick google search led me to Georgia McBride's website. After a little research (i.e. asking around) I hired Georgia to edit the first chapter of my floundering work-in-progress.

To say her comments jump started my muse again would be an understatement. She nailed the problem on the head and I was off and running again. Now, hiring an outside editor isn't for everyone (for whatever reason), but all I can say is that it worked for me and that if you're looking for one, Georgia is incredible (for more than just her mad editing skills, but I'll talk about that later).

I also convinced some of my smart, literate, amazing friends to critique my work. I cannot stress enough the importance of having someone who is NOT YOU (or your mom) reading your work. They'll spot something you thought was clever and call it ridiculous (and 99 times out of 100, they're right). They can see a plot hole coming from a mile away and most importantly, they can tell you if your book is actually readable or not. If you're writing with the intension of publication, get yourself some awesome critique buddies and FAST.

So there I was, plugging along, with comments and suggestions from Georgia and my Critique Partners (that could be the name of a very dorky band, no?) when I realized that eventually I would be finished. I know right? Obvious, but it wasn't something I'd thought about much. A few pokes and prods from my friends had me researching literary agents and the process most aspiring authors have to go through in order to snag one: querying.

Some people will say that you shouldn't even start to think about query letters and the querying process until after you're finished with your manuscript. To that I say, BAH! Of course you should be thinking about what comes next, especially since it takes some time to accumulate the knowledge necessary to query correctly. And yes, there is a correct way to query. We'll get to that in the next post. Researching the querying process and the publishing industry in general was what I did when I didn't feel like writing. It was a procrastination tool and really, the perfect one. Usually while I was researching, I'd get myself all worked up about wanting to query a particular agent or wanting a book deal like the one a blogging author got and it would inspire me to get back to my manuscript. As much failure and rejection as there is in this industry, there are a lot of success stories and reading about those is important too.

Then I wrote a query letter and despite all of that research it was terrible. So I tried again and it still wasn't quite right. I ran it by the amazing Query Kick-Around group at YALitChat and they really helped make it shine. If you're not a YA author or a member of YALitChat, you can try the forums at AgentQueryConnect and the AbsoluteWrite forums.

(BTW, if you want to check out my query letter, head over to my friend Ashlyn Macnamara's blog, where I'm featured in her  "First Query, Last Query" series on the art of query writing.)

Now, this is where things get complicated. Agents. Finding an agent is basically Step 2 on the traditional "Getting Published" check-list. Are there ways to be published without one? Sure. You could self-pub or submit directly to an indie-press or even join the slush pile at a major publishing company. Those are all perfectly acceptable options, but for me, I knew I wanted an agent. I wanted a publishing deal and I wanted someone along for the ride with me who knew what she was doing and who could open doors that were closed to me simply because I'm not a literary agent.

So, I started making a list. I went to AgentQuery.com, Publisher's Marketplace and QueryTracker. If you're serious about this whole "getting published" thing, those are three websites you should familiarize yourself with ASAP. Seriously. I don't care where you are in the process, just start poking around and figuring things out. It'll save you a lot of time and effort later on. It's also helpful at this point to try and figure out what's important to you in an agent. Are you looking for someone with an incredible sales record? An agent whose client's love her? Do you want someone with an editorial background or someone who expects you to submit a totally 100% ready to go finished product? Trust me, you think some of that stuff isn't important to you, until you've got multiple offers of representation and you have to decide which agent to go with. If you've thought about all of these things beforehand, it'll make your decision that much easier.

For nine months, I wrote and edited and procrastinated by figuring out the whole "querying" thing and then one day, I looked down at the MSWord file I'd been slaving over and I realized, I was done.

Still with me? Great! More soon!



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