It’s been something of a momentous week. Actually, momentous might not be strong enough a word. What happened is that I just signed a contract to be represented by Laura Bradford—my #1, must-have, best-case scenario, would do almost anything to get, dream agent. Laura Bradford, you guys!!!!
Clearly, this is an early step in the process, but it’s a huge milestone, and a specific objective that I set myself a little over a year ago. When I think back to the advice I received not to put all my hopes into one agent… I almost have to laugh. I remember thinking, “I want Laura Bradford. She’s my agent.”
So, while I feel tremendously lucky (there’s a star up there with my name on it), I also know that I must have done something right. And if I figured out the right thing to do, then so can you!
Here’s a little list I put together of what I did right (I’ll let you figure out the wrong things on your own):
As much as possible, it’s important to keep a handle on reality and get a little perspective on who you are and what you’re capable of. I wrote a novella a few years ago. It was awful. Truly, truly bad. I didn’t take it and rework it and shop it out to agents. It just wasn’t, in my opinion, worth it. I knew that because I can read. I also knew that because I made the effort to step back and admit that it really wasn’t something I wanted others getting their hands on. That’s ok. That novella proved that I could finish something, which was what I needed at the time.
It’s good to write that crappy novella or the unreasonably long book. Just don’t put it out there until you’re sure it’s the right one.
If you're going to sell a book. You need a book to sell. While you're figuring out all the logistics, you might as well write one.
As you write your grand opus, I recommend that you look at which authors you most resemble, the ones you like, the ones whose writing you most admire. And then read. I have a few absolute faves and, while reading them, I came across the name of the same agent over and over and over again. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, this agent has great taste.” That thought eventually morphed into, “Wow, I wish that were my agent. She really seems to know her stuff.”
Listen to the experts
I read, I talked, I asked questions, I took classes. And I still know next to nothing. But there are some crazy smart people out there, just giving advice away for free. Take their advice and use it.
Know what you want
I don’t mean kind of know or think you know or hope that this is the right thing. Know exactly what it is that you want and then go for it. I didn’t just want an agent. I wrote my book and, while I was doing that, I found the agent who was right for me and I figured out how to (hopefully) get my manuscript in front of her. Obviously, you can only do so much (like I said, that star was shining), but I made sure the odds were lined up in my favor.
Have a plan
So, you’ve got the end goal. Now, in order to get what you want, you’ll need to have a step-by-step plan. Mine was a multi-phase plan. Phase 1: enter contests and get feedback. Phase 2: improve manuscript. Phase 3: Hope to final in said contests. Phase 4: Hope like hell the final judges were interested in seeing my work, etc.
Do your research
Just randomly throwing out queries isn’t efficient. You need the right names, the right way to approach them, the right submission guidelines. You also may want to keep an eye on what they’re saying. They might have a blog or be active on Twitter. All of that will help you hone your plan. I entered a specific contest because my dream agent was the final judge. My hope was that my book would final in the contest and then that she’d like me.
Listen to feedback
I sought suggestions from friends, colleagues, teachers, class-mates, first round contest judges, etc. As with anything, you take what works and discard what doesn’t, but I could not have written my book without that outside perspective.
Practice the art of patience
I am not a patient person and, while tearing out my hair and refreshing my inbox, I noticed that there’s only one letter separating Writing from Waiting. You write, you wait for feedback, you quickly make those changes, then submit to a contest, then wait. Then, if you’re lucky enough to move on to finals, you wait some more. If, several weeks later, you’re lucky enough to have a request for a full manuscript, you polish it and send it out. And wait. For every crazy, mad-dash editing session you put in, prepare for several weeks of waiting in between.
Hey, all that waiting will give you time to write another book!