I just finished the 3rd draft of my first completed novel and there’s a 99.9999% chance that it will never be traditionally published. I just broke too many rules to give me the edge I’d need for a first novel. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a chance. I just know happiness is directly related to expectations. So I figured I would share some of the things I’ve learned.
For those that are not familiar with the process, here’s how you typically become traditionally published:
- Build a list of agents to query.
- Submit to agents.
- Wait for rejection and keep submitting.
- Get an agent.
- Make changes based on recommendations from the agent and editor.
- Sell to a publisher.
- Retire rich.
The last part is obviously a joke. But that’s traditional publishing in a nutshell.
Many authors believe that if they just write something great, and submit it to a handful of publishers, someone will pick them up and publish their amazing work. The truth is that the agents are the ones you have to impress, and even if your particular work of fiction is brilliant, agents may be looking for something completely different.
This list is not all-inclusive. It’s just ten of many things you need to be mindful of regarding traditional publishing.
You need an agent for traditional publishing.
As with everything, I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. But most big publishers will not talk to you without an agent. So your first audience is agents.
Story complexity matters for a first novel.
Don’t write an overly complex story for your first attempt to be published. I did this and I regret it for the disadvantage it gives me. However, I do like my story, and I think I learned a lot in the process. I’m now working on my second novel while I take a break from even looking at this one.
Query letters aren’t very long.
Query letters to some agents are very short. You have to have a story you can sell with very few words. It’s not a synopsis, it’s a sales pitch. Your job is to get them interested enough to read the first ten pages, or request them if they haven’t already.
There are tools out there just for querying agents.
Query manager/Query Tracker is a great way to submit queries. It spells out the exact format to query in. Many agents use query manager. And it has built-in status updates.
Genre and timing of your genre matter.
Do some research to make sure you’re not writing a dead or virtually unpublishable genre or trope. I found this to be the hardest thing to get my head around. Obviously, science fiction is still popular. But there are some sub-genres and tropes that are hard to get published. In my case, my story is time travel related. That’s potentially a huge disadvatnge for me. Science fiction time travel is hard to get published.
There are a limited number of agents.
There are great resources online now for finding and submitting to agents. I’ve been surprised how much time it takes to make my list for querying agents. TARGET your agents. Querying every agent you can find is a bad idea. There are tools that make it easy to find the right agents for your project. Don’t query until you’re ready and then make those queries count by being very thoughtful in your submissions.
There are TONS of great resources and advice online regarding traditional publishing. My favorite places to learn more are youtube and podcasts.
You have to have a hook.
A hook is the one or two things that quickly grabs the reader and draws them in. It’s how the book is sold. If you don’t have one then your book won’t sell, and agents are looking for books that will sell. If you’re not sure of what your hook is, or if you have one at all, pretend you’re recommending the book to a friend, and they just asked you “what’s it about?”
Word count matters.
For various reasons, agents will instantly reject you based on your word count. Learn the wordcounts for your genre.
Don’t publish ANYWHERE ELSE if you want to be traditionally published. This includes places like Wattpad. If you publish your story online or self-publish, agents and publishers will reject you. There are exceptions to this, but you probably won’t be one.
Write what you love.
While there all of these rules, if you’re not writing what you love, the agent will know.
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