I often hang out in the ‘Next Circle of Hell,’ a virtual water cooler where aspiring authors who are either on submission or busily revising for editors/agents get together to talk about the business. (Alright, to kvetch.) One of the nicest parts of hanging out there is that I get to meet authors who write in other genres.
One of these is Denise Tompkins. She’s the author of the soon-to-be published urban fantasy, Legacy.
I invited Denise to blog about how she went about finding an agent and getting published, because, other than using a standard font, I don’t think Denise followed any of the rules. (Which just goes to prove, as any lawyer knows, for every rule, there’s an exception.)
Anyway, here is Denise’s secret, which seem to be this: whatever it is that you’re supposed to do? Do the opposite.
The True Secret to Getting Published
Do a simple ‘how to publish a book’ Google search and you’ll find that everyone has an opinion and they are more than willing to share with you the ‘right’ way to get published. Just look at social media, agent and editor blogs, author blogs, publishing websites, and online chat forums where everyone discusses the best, and in some cases the only, way to become a published author with a reputable press. I’m going to debunk the myth, solve the mystery, and give you the lowdown dirty secret to getting published right here, right now. Get out your pen and paper. Here we go.
There. Is. No. Secret.
How do you know? How can you be so certain?’ you ask. I know because I broke every rule, written and implied, and I still achieved agent representation and a contract for publication with a very reputable press. Here, in no particular order, are the rules I’ve since learned that I broke:
Rule #1: Thou shall not submit an unrested, untested manuscript. Unrested? Untested? Sure. “Unrested” means you write the manuscript then you stick it in a drawer and let it rest, let it cool off from your frantic typing and manic involvement; you gain some perspective. “Untested” is a manuscript that hasn’t been proofed, beta’ed and/or sufficiently edited.
I finished and “edited” my 98,000 word manuscript in an insanely short amount of time. I refuse to tell you how short. My keyboard was still smoking and I made odd typing motions with my fingers at the most inopportune times, like when I was putting on mascara or trying to eat corn on the cob. It was too soon.
Rule #2: Thou shall not mass query agents. Shall. Not. Agents do not want a writer who approaches the query process haphazardly. They want a well-thought-out letter that conveys the real feeling of the story, the real emotion and conflict.
I drafted my query letter, had a friend critique it the same day, made a couple of changes and began querying immediately with a shotgun mentality approach. The only thing I did right was follow each one’s submission guidelines and put my preferred agents and publishers at the top so they received the query and/or submission package first.
Rule #3: Agents will not, under any circumstance, request more if your manuscript isn’t perfect. They want to see a manuscript that you’ve given a great deal of attention to, and they have a point. After all, if you don’t take great care at this point, how will you treat edits?
Just over 27% of agents I queried requested either a partial or a full over the next few weeks.
Rule #4: Thou shall not ever query both publishers and agents at the same time. Ever. Agents don’t like it when authors query editors or publishers directly. There are a variety of reasons, one of which is if you query a house with your manuscript and the editor passes, it may disqualify you from being submitted to that house later when you’re agented.
I queried everyone, publishers, editors, and agents alike. I didn’t discriminate between professions or responsibilities, only the order in which I queried.
Rule #5: Agents will not consider anything outside their published list. Agents and publishers will generally tell you specifically what they’re looking for.
I don’t write exactly what my agent was seeking but it was very close and she liked what she saw.
So what was the outcome of all this? I was offered agent representation, together we were offered a publishing contract, and I learned that the odds I overcame were equivalent to winning the lottery.
Let me stress to the agents and publishers out there who are taking nitrogen pills for heart palpitations and calling out for assistants to bring cold compresses for twitching eyes that I do not advocate this approach. I’ll admit I was ignorant. But what I accomplished only proved that the staunch rules are really more flexible than anyone will lead authors to believe.
For example, I happen to write very clean manuscripts because I edit as I go which is against the rules. I used my down time to compile a list of agents and publishers long before the manuscript was complete which is against the rules. And I never gave myself a chance to gain perspective on my manuscript by allowing the manuscript to rest, which was a serious offense and a convictable violation of the rules.
You’re definitely better off if you know the rules before you start the process and then find a way to work within them, or around their perimeter, so that your best traits and characteristics shine through. But ultimately you have to do what works for you. And above all, write what you love. That, my friends, is the true secret.
To read more about this maverick fantasy-writer, check out her (new) website and blog. And keep an eye out for Legacy. I’ll let you know when it hits the bookstores.