Writing an entire novel that’s rich with character and appeal, and that has a clear beginning, middle and ending in which the character grows, facing obstacles along the way, isn’t an easy task. Once this is done, congratulations are in order.
Then it’s time to immerse yourself in the selling market by doing a lot of research. Go to the new release section of bookstores armed with paper and pen, find books that are like yours, and take note of who wrote them and which publishing houses published them. Then go home and do a Google search to find the name of the agent and/or editor for those particular books. Sometimes, you won’t even have to Google; you’ll get lucky and flip to the Acknowledgements page of the book to find that the author has thanked their beloved agent and hardworking editor.
Start to keep a list of these names. The editors and agents are the people that you should be targeting for your work. Write an intelligent and presentable one-page query letter that summarizes your book and gives a brief introduction of who you are.
Sound easy? It isn’t. It takes patience and a thick skin. Some people get lucky and get requests for full or partial manuscripts right away. For most of us, it’s a much longer process – one that requires a sense of humor, a lot of waiting, and hopefully a cheering squad of writer-friends.
I’d recommend sending out batches of query letters, five at a time. Once a rejection comes back, send out another, keeping a log of names, dates, and responses. But, again, always do your homework. Make informed decisions as to whom you’re sending your query. Know who that person is, what books are on his or her list, who his or her clients are, and what he or she is looking for (if anything at all).
Once you start to get responses you’ll find there are different levels of rejection letters, from the standard form letter to the more personalized ones. I’ve gotten fortune-cookie sized rejection letters that simply say “No, thank you”, as well as personalized letters that explain why my work wasn’t a good fit at the time.
Try not to take any of it personally. Sometimes you’ll get a rejection purely because the market is trending in another direction or because a particular editor already has a novel like yours on his or her list. Just keep working and learning. When I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares I was continuing to write my next manuscript, Bleed, which became my fourth book published.
Personally, my initial path to publication was a rough one. I approached editors and agents at the same time, trying to target those who worked with writers like me (namely, writers who wrote in the Young Adult supernatural/paranormal genre). It took me a long time to sell my first novel. I have a folder filled with rejection letters – over a hundred. My favorite one is from an editor who said: “While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today’s competitive Young Adult market.” That same Young Adult novel, Blue is for Nightmares, has sold over 200,000 copies, been translated into numerous languages and has appeared on many different award lists, not to mention it’s been optioned for a TV series.
So, in addition to doing your homework, my next bit of advice is to persevere. There are many talented writers who give up after 5, 10 or even 50 rejection letters. Be open to learning and to getting better at your craft. If more than one person criticizes the same point in your work – i.e. your main character whines too much – chances are you need to look at that point again. Lastly, consider joining a writers’ group. There’s nothing better than being in a group of like-minded writers who can help inspire and cheer you on, and who can provide constructive feedback that can help to strengthen your work.
Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com
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