by Helen Corner-Bryant
If you’ve just finished NaNoWriMo or you have a first draft of a novel, don’t let this go to waste! Here’s a plan for your year ahead on how to get publisher
1. Ask yourself
Do you love your story, does it have you hooked, does it have a high concept, or a unique slant on the genre? If the answer is yes to all of these then you’re ready to enter the professional publishing arena. Read on!
2. Trust your inner editor
With your first draft in place you’ll finally be able to see the shape, characters, and plot points that knit the story together. This is exciting and now it’s time to edit. Don’t worry- this should be a creative process as well as an objective one. If you’ve written a novel then editing is a mirroring process.
3. Self-editing is logical and fun!
Read it onscreen, on paper, read it aloud and make margin comments; watch for anything that makes you question the story and try to figure out a solution. If this doesn’t emerge at the time come back to it later. Look to strengthen and tighten everything together as much as you can. Don’t rush this process or underestimate thinking time.
4. Self-editing checklist
Watch for: strong character(s), consistent cause and effect of plot points and how these enable your character to grow. Check that: your character(s) viewpoint is consistent and close to the action; dialogue and description is crisp and unique; scenes are ‘showing and not telling’; pace, pacing, tension are tight and present on every page. Cut: anything from whole scenes to paragraphs and words that don’t affect or enhance the story.
5. Try an online course
If you’d like to know how to self-edit and to submit to agents from the comfort of your sofa, consider taking the online course on How to Edit your Novel the Professional Way. This is based on the Cornerstones book, On Editing, (Hachette) and aims to get you to submission and publishing level. You also have access to a list of agents at the end of the course.
6. Is it ready to submit?
This is an exciting and delicate time and you need feedback you can trust, preferably from an editor who’s been at commissioning level or a writer who’s had trade publishing success. Avoid friends and family, and beware that a multitude of opinions can muddy the waters. Feedback from a trusted professional should save time and stress in the long run, and will boost your confidence. More importantly, they will tell you if your novel has a chance of being picked up by an agent or publisher.
7. Research your agent
Research your top twelve agents and look to personalise your submission. Perhaps you’ve met them at a writer conference, or you’ve read an article and they’re looking for your genre. Start your cover letter saying this, then introduce your story and yourself and remember to put contact details on your one page submission letter.
8. Send it out and keep your spirits buoyed
The beginning of the year (before London Book Fair in March) is a perfect time to submit. Send out to six agents at a time and be prepared to wait a couple of months. Don’t submit to new agents if others are still considering it. Keep an eye on who’s received it, who’s responded and look to nudge four weeks after submitting. Always thank them for their time if it’s a turn down. If the agent is interested and calls in the full manuscript let the other agents know: ‘I thought I’d let you know I’ve had a call in for my manuscript in case this changes anything for you…’
9. Your agent wants to meet you
This is fantastic and a chance to see if there’s a rapport and if they need you to revise anything. You’ll get a feel for them and the agency and whether you can see yourself working well with them over a long period of time. They should also give you an idea of publishers they would submit to and where they see your writer journey going. A request to meet doesn’t necessarily mean representation. They may want to see if you can turn your manuscript into something they can submit first.
10. A publisher wants to buy your book
Wow and great and congratulations! Your agent will guide you on next steps. You’ll also meet your editor and it’s important that there is a rapport between you. Be realistic about what you can deliver in terms of revisions and future books and timings. After your primary deal, foreign rights deals may well follow. Watch this space! Start writing your next book.
11. It can take a while before your book hits the shelves
A year to 18 months is about right. Be prepared to do much of the publicity and social media awareness once it’s published. Don’t forget to have a book launch with your friends and family. This rite of passage is hugely important and fun!
… Congratulations! You’ve just become a professional writer.