How do I get published?
We get a lot of questions from people who are trying to write their own novels. Everything posted below was taken from the How I Write book that was put together by Janet…
JANET: Here is an overview of the process:
- Write the book. Unpublished writers attempting to sell fiction need to have a completed and polished manuscript in hand.
- When you’ve got a finished manuscript, write a one-page query letter describing the book to a literary agent. (See the Quick Reference for an example.)
- If your letter intrigues the agent, he will ask to see the manuscript.
- If the agent likes the manuscript, he will agree to represent you.
- Your agent then decides which editors and which publishers are appropriate and sends your manuscript out to one or more of those editors.
- If an editor likes the book and wants to buy it for his publishing house, he will contact your literary agent, who will then negotiate details of the sale. If several editors express interest in the book, your agent will put it up for auction. In that case, your book goes to whomever you and your agent feel made the best offer.
- The publisher then puts the manuscript into book form and sells the books to the stores, which, in turn, sell them to your readers.
Questions for a Prospective Agent
If an agent agrees to represent you, before signing a contract you might ask the following questions:
- Who are some of the authors you represent?
- What books have you sold and to whom?
- What is your percentage (also known as commission) of the book sale?
- What can I be charged for? Phone calls, duplicating, mailing?
- Do I have to sign a contract? Some contracts bind you to an agent for a specific amount of time. Do not bind yourself forever!
- To which publishers will my book be sent?
- Do you plan to do multiple submissions with my book?
Q. What if I send my book to a lot of agents and none of them wants to represent me?
JANET: If being a writer is important to you, keep at it, keep improving, and don’t give up. I wrote three books that were never published. I sent the first one out to everybody. I went through every agent and publisher in New York, twice. The only positive letter that I got back was from an agent, but it was written in purple crayon on a bar napkin, so I didn’t follow up on it. Then, presto, ten years later I was a published author.
Q. What if every agent and publisher has said no? How else can I get my book noticed?
JANET: You might want to enter your work in some of the writing contests for new authors. Romance Writers of America has one, and editors and publishers pay close attention to the winners. You also may want to attend some writers’ conferences.
Q. I attended a writer’s conference last week and came away with the names of some agents. Now what?
JANET: Now you write a query letter that tells the agent about you and your book and asks if he wants to represent you. If you don’t have any luck with the first batch of agents you query, repeat the process with another five. If you go through five to ten agents and they all turn you down, you need to rewrite your letter.
Query Letter Essentials
- Use letterhead or put your name and address in the top right-hand corner. I don’t advise queries be sent by e-mail.
- Address the query to a specific agent or editor.
- Start with a “hook” or snappy language or something to grab the reader’s attention immediately.
- In present tense, state precisely and succinctly what the book is about. (Think in terms of how a TV show is explained in TV Guide.) For example: Out-of-work lingerie-buyer Stephanie Plum blackmails her cousin into hiring her into the unlikely position of bounty hunter.
- In a sentence or two, describe why you are “the one” to write this book. For example, you worked as a homicide detective for fifteen years in Los Angeles or you are a forensic medical specialist.
- Keep the query short– one page.
- Mention the proposed length of the book.
- End by asking the agent or editor if he would be interested in seeing the full manuscript.
- Make sure the letter is grammatically correct. (Remember: Don’t count on spell check alone to catch every error. You must read it over).
- Use heavy, twenty-pound bond, which is easier to handle than lightweight paper.
- Use at least a twelve-point font.
- Include a blank self-addressed, stamped postcard.
Q. An agent has asked for my manuscript. Now what? Are there guidelines I should follow? Should it be bound or placed in a folder?
JANET: Your manuscript should be double-spaced on good quality, white bond paper. The first page is your title page, and the title and your name should be centered.
These are the manuscript guidelines I use when I write:
- Put your name, a dash, and the page number in the upper left corner.
- Put the title of your book, all in capital letters, in the upper right corner.
- About one-third down the page, put the chapter title in capital letters.
- Do not number the title page.
- Double-space your manuscript.
- Don’t bind the pages in any way. Keep them together with a giant rubber band and place them in a protective bubble envelope or empty typing paper box.
Include a short cover letter (also on the white twenty-pound bond). Simply say: As you have requested, I am submitting my manuscript (or synopsis and sample chapters) for your consideration. No need to return. Be sure to include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail in this cover letter
Never send out the same copy more than once. Anything other than a pristine copy is a dead giveaway that your manuscript or sample chapters have been rejected by a previous agent.
On the outside of your package, clearly write “Requested Manuscript Enclosed.” This is very important, as it ensures that your manuscript will not end up in a slush pile.
Give the agent two months to reply. If you don’t hear in sixty days, send a note requesting the status of your manuscript and enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for his reply. After a year, you can cross this agent off your list.
Here are some links to great organizations no matter what genre you are writing in, or what your gender is.
Romance Writers of America – http://www.rwanational.org/
Sisters in Crime – http://www.sistersincrime.org/
EvanovichOnline.com – buy a signed copy of How I Write