Writing a novel is only the first step to getting published. Believe it or not, it's the easiest step. But once it's done, what do you do next? Here's a checklist to help you get from first draft to first query sent.
1. Polish your manuscript until it shines.
Seems simple, I know, but it's easy to want to send it off right away, but don't rush it. Use your critique group, beta readers, whatever resources you have to check your work and make sure it reads as smoothly as it can.
2. After it's all shiny, let it sit while you start researching agents.
Agent Query is a great start. Make a list of every agent who represents the type of book you've written. Check out their websites and blogs to get a feel for who they are and what they like. Cross off any who aren't the right fit for you, highlight any who are good fits for you.
3. Take your list and check Preditors & Editors.
Get rid of any agent who shows up here with a warning. Make note of those who show up with recommendations.
4. Work on your query letter.
This is an important letter, so don't rush it either. Spend time on it to get it right. Pub Rants has a great writing your pitch series. So does Bookends. Query Shark is a great way to see what others have done and what an agent thought. And the mother of all query help, Miss Snark's Crap-O-Meter is highly educational. Once your query is perfect...
5. Set aside the query and write the synopsis.
Unless you're very lucky, you'll probably have to submit a synopsis at some point. Some agents request one page, others three, and some three to five. If you can bear it, writing one of each ensures you have what you need, when you need it.
6. Read your novel one more time.
You've gotten some distance now since it's been a month (or more) since you last read it. You'll spot things you wouldn't have before. Fix what you see. If there's a lot, set it aside for another month. If it's ready to go...
7. Start sending off your submission packages.
Each agent will want something specific, so follow their guidelines and send what they ask for. I sent my queries in batches of 6-8 so I could change them if I didn't get any responses, but you could send them all at once too.
This is one of the hardest parts. Publishing moves slowly, so it's a good time to start getting used to it. To keep your mind off it, start another book, or write some short stories, or just take a break from writing if you need one.
Pre- and Post- 1-8. Starting reading up about the industry.
The more you know about the industry and the agents you'll be querying, the better off you'll be. You can get a lot of information online and this can help you find the right agent for you, and get a better sense of what they want. Follow agent and editor blogs, subscribe to the free Publishers Marketplace Lunch newsletter, read some trade blogs, sites, and publications.
There are a lot of helpful links under the online resources tab, and each of them will also have links to other blogs and sites. Find the ones that focus on your genre and market, but don't ignore ones that don't. Bookends wasn't an agency I queried because they don't represent what I write, but their blog is fantastic and very helpful for writers in general. Same with Rachelle Gardner's.
I'd say relax and try not to stress, but I know firsthand that's impossible. So try not to stress too much. And good luck.
What do you do to prepare yourself for querying?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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