A few basic suggestions for those of you who don’t have an agent or a first cousin in publishing.
1. First, write your book. For a first novel, a synopsis and a few chapters is not enough.
2. Don’t over-write. Make sure all of your ms is necessary.
3. DO NOT think about the market. By the time you’ve figured out “what sells” you’ll be a year behind. And thinking you can make money by choosing a genre you have no real affinity for will not bring you success. On the other hand, try not to be completely stupid. Two hundred and fifty thousand words in the stye of James Joyce will not make you a hit among 8-10 year olds.
4. Do your research. Find out who publishes books like yours. Is there an author you admire and hope your book measures up to? Make a list. A name is always good. Find out who edits your hero. Or agents them. This is why google was invented. Do not EVER send a form letter. Explain why you’re sending the book to the person you’re sending it to. If you haven’t read books the agent/editor has handled, read some.
5. Write a good cover letter. Don’t try to be too clever. Straightforward is good. So is literate. Spell EVERYTHING right. When I get letters with my name spelled wrong, I’m not inclined to like what’s been sent. Be modest and open to criticism. Be appreciative that someone is giving their time to your work. But above all, put a bit of yourself in the letter. Think of it as foreplay.
6. Listen to criticism. It’s possible that you’re the next Harry Potter and all 28 people rejecting you are wrong wrong wrong. But not usually. Everyone doesn’t have to like your work. But a few people have to be positive about it, even if they don’t say yes. If ten people tell you that 250,000 words is too long for a book of poetry, rethink your book.
7. Be a little audacious. Go to literary festivals. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you admire to read a few pages of your ms. They might say no, but they might not. Make sure what you’re thrusting at people is as good as it can be. You won’t get a second chance.
8. If someone has spent time reading and thinking about your manuscript — even if they don’t send the answer you hoped for — thank them.
9. Read between the lines. No one wants to come out and say they just don’t like your book. If you can’t seem to get ANY encouragement, write another book. You’ll have learned a lot from the first one, and writing is what writers do.
10. Don’t take too many creative writing courses. No one really knows how to write your book except you. Some advice is helpful, too much can be confusing. I always say I’d have thrown Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer out of my class, and how smart would that be?