It’s been a little over two years since I started seriously writing fiction. Sure, I’ve dabbled in it since I was a kid. I even filled out one of those black and white composition notebooks with the story of a girl facing the harshness of the Plague when I was ten. (I was a strange kid.) But I never really saw it as a lifelong career until about a year out of college. I’d wanted to write a book, but jobs and friends and other things just somehow came first.
And then I wrote Becoming Light. 🙂 Everything changed. It was kind of a cool feeling, that moment when something clicked in my head and I realized that writing fiction was what I was here to do. Since then I’ve researched the publishing industry like crazy, learned lots of things on the way (mostly by making mistakes) and gained an even deeper appreciation for my fellow writers.
Many of you know that I’m not even close to landing an agent yet, so I’m not exactly a guru on this. But I figured if I can share some of the mistakes I made along the way, I can help others avoid the same issues and just skip ahead to the publishing awesomeness. And if we band together, share our stories, experiences, and tips, who says every writer reading this can’t land one? I think we’re all awesome enough to get published 🙂
So with that, here are five things I’ve learned about tracking down those agents:
1) Take the time to research. This one was hard for me at first. I have absolutely no patience for spending my precious writing time browsing agents online. But it will really, really help your chances if you know the authors your target agent represents and make that clear in your query. Plus, they’re taking the time to read our unsolicited works, we should take the time to get to know them first and make sure they’d be a good fit!
2) Also, take time with your query. Give it weeks, not days. Really immerse yourself in it, read and reread and rereread. Have everyone you know (including strangers on the street) read it. Get feedback. Put it down for a few days and pick it back up. I wrote my first query in about a day and thought “well, that works,” then sent it off to five agents. A week later I realized how crappy it was and completely rewrote it.
3) Your book can’t be mostly finished. It has to be flawless, ready for the presses tomorrow, before an agent will look at it seriously. Another mistake I made those first few months– I totally thought the editors at publishing houses would clean up my writing for me. I crack myself up sometimes.
4) Go to literary conventions!! Meet those mythical agents in person!! When I went to The Writer’s Digest Conference West last year, I got to meet lots of agents in person and see their reactions to my story. Just reading facial expressions helps to get a gauge on what’s working in your plot and what isn’t. Plus, you get to meet lots of fellow writers and not feel like a crazy recluse for a few days 🙂
5) If you really want to look shiny* for agents, get published in lit mags. Even if you’re a diehard novelist who never had desire to write anything less than 50,000-word manuscripts. Short stories are now your friends 🙂
*I had to add a Firefly reference. Also, extra tip # 6: Just be Joss Whedon.
Fellow writers, do you have any tips to add?