So You’ve Finished the Book – Now What?

on December 19, 2014 Anna Leave a reply

When I emerged from my writer’s garret about a year ago, my ink-stained fingers shielding my eyes from the blinding sun, I was faced with the eternal writer’s question.

My book is finished. Now what do I do?

OK, so I don’t really have a garret, and my fingers weren’t ink-stained. Since I live in Oregon, chances are good there wasn’t any sun, either. But the question remains, and no matter our reasons for writing, we all have to face it at some point.

Writing a book is a writer’s dream; it’s their passion, their love and their fate. For publishing houses, agents and editors, however, books are a business. Now that you’ve finished yours (and revised it, and then revised it again, and then proofread it—you did do all these things, didn’t you?) it’s time to stop thinking like a dreamer and start thinking like a professional author.

The story of my foray into publishing isn’t a typical one, if there is such a thing, but it’s a recent one, offered from one newbie to another.

Agent or Publishing House?

Choose one. Yes. One. Tempting as it may be to click every submission button on the internet and send your book-child careening into every slush pile in publishing, you must restrain yourself.

If you want to work with an agent, then you have no reason to send your manuscript to every publishing house that takes unsolicited work. Pour your precious energies into researching and then shortlisting a group of agents first.

Here’s why—when you get “The Call” from your dream agent, do you really want to have to explain to her that you already sent your book-child to 7 different publishing houses before she signed you?

Trust me, the answer is no—not unless you want to send your brand new agent on a wild goose chase through each of those 7 publishing houses. I speak from experience.

Now, a word to the wise—if you did send your book-child out to 7 different publishing houses before she signed you, tell her you did so. Don’t hide the ugly truth, because hiding the ugly truth is shady and unprofessional, not to mention grounds for contract termination once your agent finds out. And she will find out.

Agent, Agents, Everywhere

Stop right there. I can see you about to click that submission button again.

Back up. You’ve decided you want to query agents, but you’ve not yet determined which agents. Unless you like rejection letters, you need to be very careful about this next step.

Pick and choose. Be selective. Don’t send your query letter out to every single agent in the free world. Believe me, that agent who deals only in YA and children’s literature does not want to see your BDSM erotica.

Research your agents. Carefully. Writer’s Digest is a good place to start. Editors and Predators lists both agents and editors and gives helpful notes. I also used http://www.karenafox.com, because her website both lists general information about each agent and links to the agent’s webpage. The Passionate Pen has a great list with links to webpages, as well. There are plenty of resources out there. Thank you, internet.

Once you have a solid working list of agents, go to each and every agent website and do more research. Read the submission guidelines. Find out what other authors your agent represents. Find out whether they’re even accepting queries, and find out which genres they’re looking for at the moment. If you write sci-fi romantic suspense and agent X happens to be looking for sci-fi romantic suspense, you want to know about it.

Information is Power

Once you’re armed with information, make a short list of agents to query. Short. List. I chose only 25 agents and sent out queries in groups of 5, i.e.5 queries the first week, 5 the second week, and so on until I’d gone through the entire 25. I had a second list of another 25 agents waiting in the wings.

I sent out letters in batches for one simple reason—I wanted to make sure my query letter would get results before I burned through my list of agents. I figured if I got a few requests for partials and fulls then I could reasonably assume my query letter was doing its job. If I got nothing but rejections, then my query letter probably needed some work, and that was information I wanted to know before I queried every agent on my list.

Out of the 25 letters I sent out, I received four requests for partials and three for fulls. I also received 12 rejections and 5 no replies—otherwise known as rejections.

Don’t get me started on the no replies.

Not a bad return. I had a decent query letter, yes—I worked hard on it. I’m convinced, however, that the return had more to do with the research I did before I queried than on the letter itself.

Speaking of query letters . . .

Query Letters Pave the Road to Hell

I could go on and on about query letters, but you’ve all heard this shtick before. Query letters are hell to write. A bad query letter will ruin you. Query letters are the devil.

Make that devil work for you. Ride its back all the way to new-agent-dom.

Now I’m not going to go down the “this is what you should say in your query letter” road with you. There are plenty of great books and articles out there on how to write a query, and all of them know more about it than I do.

I will say this, however. I found it far, far more helpful to read sample query letters than anything else. I prefer examples to instructions, but that’s just me. The point is to find out what works for you, because you’re going to turn up so much information on query-letter-writing that you’ll choke on it if you don’t find a way to narrow it down.

You did take notes on all those agent websites you researched, didn’t you? Good. That will make this part easier.

Let me show you:

Anna’s Query Letter

Dear {Fabulous Agent}:

I’m a fan of {author’s name}’s writing and learned of your agency through her work. I think you’d enjoy my Regency historical romance, A WICKED WAY TO WIN AN EARL. It’s complete at {word count} words.

This is a simple, professional opener and it gives the required information (title, genre, word count, complete manuscript). Even more importantly, it says, “I researched you, fabulous agent, and I know you represent author X. You’re not just any agent to me—you’re the only agent.”

It helps when you don’t query any agent you don’t truly think is fabulous.

Of course, this is the easy part. There’s the rest of the letter to write still, and that’s the thorny bit. You’re on your own there.

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