I was recently contacted by a high school classmate asking for advice about becoming a published author. After I finished replying to him, I realized that I might have a blog post. Here is what I told him.
First off, sorry that it took me so long to get back to you, I was trying to come up with the best answer. The thing is, if you are going to pursue publication, you have to want it more than anything else. All other life goals have to move to second place. If you had told me at our graduation that I’d have a book published in 2013, I would have been thrilled, but I would have been shocked to learn that I wouldn’t have traveled at all, bought a home, or have become a mother. If you want to pursue publication, you’re going to have to make some tough choices about your life goals.
While writing your first draft you need to be constantly reading other novels. You need to read books from the same genre, and you need to read books that are completely different from your work. And when I say constantly, I mean that you always have a book that you are reading. When you finish one, you pick up another later that afternoon. Books are expensive, but library cards are free.
When you finish your first draft, then you have to go over the whole book again. This is also the best time to get feedback from a close friend whose taste you admire. After you’ve gone over it a second time, then you have to go over it again, and get more opinions from more people who might be harsher in their criticism. If publication is your goal, you’re essentially going to have to write the book two or three times before you ever pitch it to an agent.
And finally, I am a firm believer in having an agent. Some people do manage to get published on their own without an agent’s help, but I’ve heard some bad stories about first time authors getting screwed by their publisher because they didn’t have an agent to watch their back. Getting an agent is a long and frustrating process. You write up a standard letter pitching the novel and asking if the agent would like to read it. Then you research literary agents who represent works similar to yours and send out personalized copies of the standard letter, in batches of ten or so. Then you wait until all ten agents reply that they aren’t interested, tweak your letter, and send it out again to ten more agents. I was literally rejected more than a hundred times before I got my agent.
Good Luck Adam. It was hard work, but it was all worth it and I have no regrets.