If I can do it…
Somebody pinch me. No. Seriously—pinch me. Because five years later, five novels later, this still doesn’t feel real. I often think I’ll wake up one day only to discover it’s all been just the loveliest of dreams.
So let’s start there. The dream. I had it. You have it. And what we want, what we desperately hope for is to see our name emblazoned across the gorgeous cover of a beautifully bound novel—a novel we have imagined, written, and polished until it shines like liquid silver—a story we have lived and breathed for what often feels like forever. A published novel. Sounds simple, right? Simple. (Are you chuckling wryly? Because if you are, you’ve no doubt received your bazillionth rejection and may even be ready—as I was many times—to abandon your dream!) Well I say, don’t do it! Because like the title of this article, I’m here to tell you, if I can do it—you can too!
“But how? How?” you ask. What’s the magic word? The secret hand-shake? That tiny crumb of elusive knowledge that published authors have that you don’t? Well, sadly, there is no magic word or secret handshake—at least none I’ve been privy to. But there are a few crumbs I learned after my bazillionth rejection that I’m certain helped me land my first contract.
- Have a finished manuscript. (seems obvious—and yet, many folks actually submit to agents and editors before their first project has even been completed!) The hardest thing to do is complete that manuscript—so rejoice if you’ve achieved this monumental feat!
- Do not submit your manuscript anywhere! Wait. Sit on it. For a very long time until you have some distance between you and your beloved so that you can see it more objectively. Join a critique group consisting of people you trust, people who enjoy your genre and people who have your best interest at heart. Make sure they are ruthless though—tell them no matter how hard you protest, cry, or rage—they must tell you the absolute truth about what works and what doesn’t! Leave your ego at the door. Don’t be too in love with your own words because you will most likely have to kill off a whack of them!
- Revise. Rewrite. Revise and rewrite some more. Especially for first time authors, your manuscript has to be blindingly bright—so shiny, it beams through that dreary slush pile!
- Speaking of slush piles…you need a stellar query. Your query is the key that will unlock the door—your manuscript may not necessarily gain entrance, but without a stellar query, it will never even be seen. Your query must show you are professional, that you understand this business, because after all, that’s what it is—a business. Your query should be one page long—three paragraphs: 1. You must be able to sum up your novel in two to three sentences. Make sure those three lines will hook the editor. 2. Include a line or two about the length of the novel, and in childrens/young adult novels, the intended audience. 3. Mention a little about yourself and your writing experience. Less is more—especially if there isn’t much to say. I think my first query only said: I am an elementary school teacher with a Master’s Degree in Literature (which isn’t any indication at all I could write!!!) Notice I did not mention that I love to cook, eat, travel and my husband and students love my manuscript! It goes without saying—though maybe not—make sure your query is free from spelling errors! And absolutely try and address it directly to an editor’s name vs. the elusive “acquisition’s editor”.
- Make sure you have read the guidelines of each particular publisher you submit to. Include only what they want. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t send entire manuscripts unless requested and if they request three pages or three chapters, make sure they are the first three pages or three chapters of your work!
- Purchase a huge box of tissue and be prepared for rejection! It’s the nature of the business. Even if your novel is the best that has come across their desk, an editor may still have to reject your work if, say, they have recently published something similar or it just isn’t a good fit for their list. Sadly, there are tons of reasons an editor may reject your work that have nothing to do with the story or the writing. Still, I cried a lot during this time—you may too. I gave up a few times during this phase as well—Luckily, I surrounded myself with other aspiring authors and some published ones who kept me going!
- While you wait—keep writing! Remember—many first time authors have had their third manuscripts published first!
Now, just to put this all into perspective, I completed my first manuscript in 2002. Only after five years of submission, rejection, and rewriting, did I receive my first contract—from a very small Canadian publisher. Hard work and perseverance certainly paid off for me and they can for you too! Of course a wee bit of luck never hurts either…
Thanks to Marina for stopping by the blog today!