I finished my first manuscript in the middle of Hong Kong in March. I decided to go the traditional publishing route. Let’s assume we’re together on that one and I’ll write more on that later. So:
The Story is Finished. Now what?
1) Hand it to a friend.
I had ‘stubble’ written into a sex scene, implying that the 19th century duke shaved his pubes on a semi regular basis. This created much hilarity between my sister and me, but suffice it to say: hand it to a friend.
I had friends love every word on the novel, friends who made suggestions I didn’t agree with at all, friends that found very important mistakes. Turn circles around the room flapping your hands in the air to dispel anxiety if need be – keep in mind that I got kicked out of the hotel room for it – but hand it to your friends. It needs to be done, so oh well.
2) Check your genre specs – especially for word count.
I wrote a regency romance and discovered that every publisher had a requirement for the word count. The most common was between 75,000 – 85,000 words for me, so I edited until that was done.
3) Make the changes you agree with
And maybe some that you don’t, just to see what it looks like.
4) Hand it to another friend.
Hope that you have lots of friends that read your genre. I ran out and had to have my friend KK re-read it after an agent requested some edits. Lord, but she must have been cross-eyed reading it a second time. Ask anyway. People can be amazing.
5) Continuity check
Aka the worst thing ever. Get out a pad of paper and a load of chocolate and start at page 1. For every character write down details as you receive them. Blue eyes, tall, brown hair, left-handed. And go through checking every detail against that sheet, all the way through, until nobody changes lip size halfway through a sex scene. It’s off-putting.
Also look for what people are wearing/drinking/holding. If it’s day or night, what month is it/what day is it. I had bourbon change to sherry, canes disappear, February stay February for at least seven weeks, etc.
6) Make a list of agents to submit to
I did this based on my preferences from the top down. My thought was, you can usually only submit a manuscript to any agent once and only really resubmit it to an agency once after a long wait period. So, make sure you’re submitting to people you like who’re a good match for you or you’ll burn out an agency without ever contacting the agent best for you.
So, research this. I’d recommend AgentQuery as a good place to get started learning about this. They have a good intro article about agents here.
Poets and Writers has a very good basic guide on choosing agents. Click Here for that.
Tethered by Letters is more in depth. Click Here for that.
7) Write a query letter and a synopsis
I also found working with friends to be enormously helpful.
Also, like the manuscript, edit, get a friend to read it, edit, rinse and repeat. This one’s easier ’cause a query is only one page long and should answer everyone’s pesky ‘what’s your novel about?’ questions.
8) Start submitting query letters/synopsis/material based on agency submission guidelines
Not all at once. They say you should do 3-5 at a time but I couldn’t see how that’s good for the author. For an agent it means if they like it they’re not waiting for you to hear from other agents and competing with them. And given, if its too many agents that could be a real problem and super rude so I figure don’t do All at once. But 3-5 sounded slow to me. As an author, I wanted agents to have to compete. I wanted the chance to choose if multiple agents were actually going to be interested in me, and I wanted the process to go faster. I went with 10 at a time. Maybe that was rude – I really hope not. But I also didn’t want agents telling me what was best for them to make up all of my decision. So make your own call on that and submit.
A note though – the slower you go, the more chances you’ll have to take feedback from one run of agents and use it to edit the manuscript before submitting to the next round. That’s a business decision based on your own needs/time.
9) Get a ton of rejections
10) Get an agent to ask for more material.
This one is easy. They email you. You match the tone of their email (first name/mrs.___, equal emoticon type excitement or business professionalism, and attach your stuff as a .doc. Then, promise to follow up with them about a week later. Specify a day. “I will follow up with you on Wednesday of next week”. That’ll be super handy the next week when you, you know, follow up with them.
Alright! That was exhausting and horrid, right? On to the fun part! For Wednesday: what happens next?