Path of an Author: First to Final Drafts, Self Publishing, and Querying Agents

 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d be writing a more intimate, author’s point of view on some of the themes I’ve been talking about. Over the years, I have adopted a giant avoidance of failures, always making sure they’re carefully swept under the rug. So naturally this is a difficult article for me to write, but I feel like I’ve had enough experience with the process of creating a novel, and it could really serve some good to other writers out there if I share it, especially if you are one considering a self-published career.

Even though I tend to carry mistakes on my back like lashes from a whip, I can’t be anything but proud of where this career has taken me and the positive opportunities I’ve had. It’s not over yet, and really, I’m only getting started. Just as I mentioned in my previous article, I have a myriad of tools to use now, and can redirect my business of bookselling in a more mature and successful way. I hope that the advice I share next is useful to other writers out there. I know I would have loved to see an article exactly like this one before deciding to journey the self-published path.

First Draft. 

You’ve completed your manuscript! Do not let anyone take away what a huge accomplishment this is! I cannot stress how important it is to take a break after you’ve gotten to this point. Not only to celebrate a milestone in laying the bones for what could be the beginning of your dream job, but also to step away from the excitement before you do something dumb….like me. Writing a novel will take a lot out of you emotionally and mentally. Trying to go in for a first pass edit or even a read through will not give you the results you want. Again, I’m telling you this because it’s exactly what I didn’t do. I learned the hard way, please learn from my mistakes. I have an insane work ethic and can go at a thing 24/7 until I feel like it’s done. But you know what? Your brain is tired from creating 300+ pages out of thin air, your eyes are tired from staring at the screen (or paper). You will not be at your sharpest, plain and simple, and that’s okay. Just enjoy the moment. Take a week off, or longer even. Take some time to forget about it and go remember what fresh air feels like. And whatever you do, for God’s sake, please do not upload it to any self publishing platform! I’d prefer that you throw your computer out the window first.

Editing. 

Is necessary. Sigh. So you’ve taken your much needed break. Now you’re tossing in your bed late at night thinking about that manuscript. It’s sitting there, waiting, watching, wanting you to take a look at it. Your characters stand there impatiently in their rough form, begging for a nice little polish. You’ll probably read the first twenty pages and want to die because you suddenly realize how much work you have to do in order for this thing to make sense to anyone else but you. Breathe, it’s going to be okay. Aren’t you glad you didn’t rush to share it everywhere (like me)? One page at a time. Go slow. Recognize when you’re getting tired and stop for the day/week/etc. But don’t stop completely if it gets overwhelming. I am a firm believer that any book can be successful with the right editing.

You’re also going to want to do at least two passes of your own before it’s worth having anyone else read, honestly. This will cut down on a lot of time and confusion. I highly recommend enlisting your bookworm friends, or finding another writer to swap projects with before sending it to a professional. Again, if you’re going for the long game, and you really want a successful writing career, you are going to need to invest in some kind of professional edit. As an indie artist, I am a huge fan of employing other freelancers. Just make sure you do your research and you’re paying the right person. It’s okay to be picky, and if you’ve got a small startup budget it’s a great way to go. There are a ton of talented people out there, just like you, trying to offer their ability to those in need.

Please, please, do not skip this part of the process, I promise you’ll regret it (I did). Also, just because you have a completed work does not mean it’s an appropriate time to start querying literary agents if you are choosing a traditional publishing route. Finishing and editing your manuscript is just the beginning. If you want to be successful at landing the interest of a literary agent, there are still plenty of steps ahead, and one of them is definitely not…

Self-Publishing.

I feel like there is so much gray area when it comes to self publishing. It’s still a wild frontier that no one person has truly tamed. I feel with a ton of behind the scenes work, and equally as much “luck” you can be successful. However if you think publishing your book through Amazon is going to be the only thing you have to do to “make it” you will be sorely mistaken. I personally chose this route before doing my research. I was overly excited, impatient, and uneducated about the industry. I was convinced this was the ticket and I was getting in on some great thing before it exploded. This is not actually the case, friends. I was greatly disappointed in the quality of my printed book. Even when I spent the money on a professionally designed cover, it still came out looking like an amateur’s attempt at professionalism. The cover was flimsy, the matte finish easily marred by greasy fingers. The color scheme was not printed to the standard you see online (which is also partly my fault for submitting a file in the wrong color format, but who’s going to know that as a writer?). And forget the entire process of e-books through KDP. If you want your format to even resemble something readable you better fork out the cash to have someone do it for you. After years of trying different schemes and covers and ideas, I still am extremely unsatisfied with what you get from Amazon’s self publishing options. So there’s that.

The hardest part, perhaps, is that you have zero support going along unless you seek it out. If you even know what and where and who to look for. Again, I cannot stress enough the reality that just getting your work onto Amazon is never going to be a way to instant success. The quicker you realize instant success doesn’t exist, the quicker you can start the path to real success and longevity.

I don’t want to totally crush your interest in self-publishing, but I just want to be very clear what kind of work you’re getting yourself into. Traditional publishing isn’t going to be a ton easier, but you will have your hands in with people who have been doing this for a long time. Either way it is going to take a lot of footwork on your behalf. So, to me, why not try to team up with seasoned personalities instead?

I could go on forever about this, and maybe I will, later. Always feel free to connect with me for support, advice, or brainstorming when it comes to this. I want all of us to find a level of success and if I can help, I am more than willing to do so.

 

Querying.

Another face-palm for me, here. I think back to my very first query letter (if you even want to call it that) as a young twenty-something and I feel like I’m in high school, in front of the entire class, naked. It took me years to refine and create a proper and interesting query letter. This is not a time to be informal and cheeky because this is your resume to potential business partners. Use your way with words to make it personal, but intelligent. Keep it focused. Do your research. What do I mean by this? Take the time to really get to know the agent you want to query. This is a subjective business, and while your manuscript may match the description on their Agent Page, the content may not resonate with this particular person. Take a browse through their Twitter (as stalker-ish as it feels). Try to see if there is are commonalities between you. Agents are going to invest a lot of their time into you and your dreams, the least you can do is get to know them a little bit. Also, understand, that even if you do this and think you could be a perfect match, you may still get a pass. Querying requires a very thick skin, so make sure you’re ready for that. You can’t take rejections personally because it truly isn’t, as much as it sometimes feels.

Literary Agents.

Trust me, agents understand that this is your baby. But they’ve got nine million other babies to pet too. They can’t waste precious energy on one they don’t intend to adopt. It’s just the harsh reality of cyberspace and easy access. It doesn’t mean your manuscript has to be trashed, either. It just means there’s a lot of trash they have to wade through. The internet has put all sorts of possibilities at their finger tips and they have to be so careful about who they are representing. They’re allowed to reserve their passion for only the most precious finds (totally wrote precious with Gollum’s voice). And should you happen to get a personal rejection, where the agent has taken the time to explain why they passed, be very grateful. Not only is it professional criticism that could help you land with your next query, they also stopped through thousands of emails, considered you, and thought you good enough to help along the way. I’ve had a handful of these encounters, and I have saved every one of those emails as a reminder. It was a stepping stone, not a failure.

If you want to pitch your self published work to an agent, understand one thing: numbers. Realize their job is to find the unfound, to discover what is undiscovered. So, unless you have incredible sales numbers and a loyal following, you are wasting your time. Sometimes even with those things you are still wasting your time. Really consider what a literary agent’s job is before you get upset about that. It took me a long time to get to this point, to be honest. I often felt frustrated after getting rejected once they realized I had self published Dream Wakers. I felt like if they would only take a minute to understand what had happened, they’d see that it was still a diamond in the rough, a lady in waiting. But this is business, and they deal with big business. Business doesn’t give a shit about why your book flopped, because it all comes down to the fact that the choices you made did not support your success. To them, this offers the question of how you will perform with your book when they are out there promoting it to publishers. If you couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t before what makes them think you will now? Already the connection is made of suspicion and skepticism. How would that go in any other kind of job interview? It wouldn’t, and you know it.

So, if you are like me, and made the impulsive decision to self publish without educating yourself on how to essentially run and promote your business/craft then this is what I have to say…

Indie Author.

You made your bed so you might as well lay in it. If you truly believe in the manuscript and you know in your heart that people need to read it, then you are right, and shouldn’t give up. Put on your grown up pants and get to work. Start looking for quality over opportunity. Take the time to develop cover art that matters and that will appeal to your target audience. Do you know who your target audience is? Research all of your options for printing and find a company that suits your needs and ambitions. Come to terms that you will now need to employ specialists to help you, or else you will need to learn how to do what is necessary. Be honest with what you are and are not capable of learning and doing on your own. Above all you will need patience because building a successful launch and growing yourself as a brand, an item for sale, is going to take time. It’s as simple and as hard as that.

Marketing and Platform Building.

You can’t expect to have a successful book launch if no one knows it’s happening; and this goes for self-publishing or traditional. As much as I love my friends and family, I have learned that they can only carry you so far and are only so willing to donate time and effort to you. They also have lives that need living. Sit down and make a plan, write out your goals. From there you can build a schedule of achievement to work towards. If you’re debuting, and essentially have no presence online, then start there. Create a website where people can go to scope out who you are and ultimately what your book represents. Offer free content so readers can get to know what you’re all about. Chances are if they love the content you create on your website, they will probably buy your book too. Once you’ve created a website, you need to figure out how to get it to your target audience so that you start building a platform, a following. This is where it would be wise of you devour everything you can about book marketing and find what works for you.

This is all stuff that needs time and experimentation. Give yourself the time to do this the right way and figure out what methods work best for you and the people you want to connect with. Be open to trying things and sticking to them when they start working. Consistency and diligence will get you a long way from this point, and the  longer you give yourself to build a solid foundation, the better your launch will go. Again, this is about patience. I know you have a fire novel and you want the world to read it right now while you’re on the high of finishing it, but trust me, it just doesn’t happen that way. Get a step by step written down and chip away at the block. Before you know it you’ll look behind you and see the trail you’ve blazed surrounded by the support and fans you’ve always dreamed of. You’ll start your next book knowing that you are a success.

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