To be honest, writing, critiquing, revision and rewriting your story is the easy part. These are all things that you have control over. These are all things that you can invest yourself into. You can do as much or as little as you wish.
In my opinion, the hardest part of the journey is finding a home for your story. To accomplish this, some things are in your control and others are absolutely not. For example, you can control the quality of your work by refining it through other people who understand the market and the process. You can’t control the agent who gets your amazing story on the same day they had a rough doctor’s appointment or the editor who just purchased a similar story as yours.
So what can you do to help your story find its way into the world? Here are some suggestions:
- Read. Read books from your genre, your formatting style, similar to yours and completely different. This will help you understand the types of books that are being marketed and published. It will also help you understand how to prepare your own work.
- Write. Write your story. Then write other stories. If all of your time is invested in one story, it makes you short sighted because your story holds immense value to you. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can hold you back from making the necessary changes, even small ones, to make your story marketable.
- Read more books. Always be on the lookout for what is new in the market. Are there trends? Who is buying them? Does your story not fit in them? Why? Is your story a mold breaker or is it not written for the current market?
- Revise your story. Never settle for the best that you can do. If that is the way you see your story, you are admitting there is more that can be done. Rewrite your story from another character’s viewpoint. Rewrite the story from a different point of view, i.e. first to third person (and if really brave, second!). Change the setting. There are so many devices to help you find a new voice for your story.
- Join a writing organization. Make sure that organization covers the type of stories you write. Romance Writers of America isn’t likely a good place for a picture book author and likewise, the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators is probably not the best place for a high fantasy writer. (though this doesn’t mean you can’t write other things)
- Put it away. When you are finished with your story, don’t rush to your email and send it off. Put it away. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t even think about it. Give yourself some time to detach from it. I suggest a minimum of two weeks. I usually try to give it a month, but sometimes, during that long period, my story will call to me. It might be a voice, or a clever line or a different starting point. When you pick it back up, you are seeing your story anew. You are open to changes and subconsciously your mind has been working out issues that you never saw.
- Read it out loud. Whenever you have finished your story. Always read it out loud. This will help you find cadence issues. Then have someone else who is not familiar with it read it out loud to you. No illustrator notes, just the story! (I suppose this could go after #4, but I find that after I let it sit, this step has more of an impact)
- Research. Look back over all those books you’ve read. Which are similar to yours in theme or format? Who published those? Who represented those authors? Make a list of agents and/or editors that your really want to work with.
1-8 are all things that you have control over. Now we will move into things that you have less control over.
9. Marketing. You have written and refined your story. You have researched agents and editors. Now it is time to send your story into the world. But what will that look like? Who is the market for your story? Is it regional? Is it national? Is it educational? Is it evergreen? Or are you going to self publish? These are all questions that you have to ask yourself. You can waste a lot of manpower, both yours and theirs, if you decide to blanket the marketplace. Strategize and be aware of who is likely to read your story. This will help you write a better query letter and refine who is likely to purchase your story.
10. Do I need an agent? If you decide to go traditional, the next step is to decide if you need an agent or if you are going directly to the publisher. There are a lot of factors in this. If you are submitting to a small or regional publisher, an agent isn’t likely necessary. If you really only have one or two stories and you aren’t looking at writing as career, again, most likely you don’t need an agent. This doesn’t mean you can’t have or want one, or that this may change down the road, but it isn’t necessary. However, if you are looking at a career as a writer with multiple stories ready or near ready, then an agent will be a help to navigate the publishing world as they have access to companies that might otherwise be closed to you. Again, you don’t have to have an agent if this is your career path and you can always change your mind later.
11. Submitting. Now that you have decided your path, it is time to start submitting. There are many strategies to this, but I find the following the best: Don’t flood the market. You’ve done the research, you probably have at least a half of a dozen agents or publishers in mind. Don’t limit yourself just these few. Instead, send out your submissions in batches. Choose a couple you are interested in and maybe a couple that might be interested in you. If you get rejections (and you will get rejections) with feedback, it will help you prepare for future submissions. Maybe they like your work, but the market is inundated with work similar to yours. Maybe the work doesn’t fit their branding right now, but they give you feedback on what they liked or didn’t like. Or maybe you get no feedback at all. All of these will help you prepare for your next round and you haven’t used up all your favorite agents or publishers and can make changes.
12. Celebrate the small victories. Writing can feel lonely. You put your soul into your work. They are like your children and it crushes you when they get rejected. So take the time to celebrate each step of faith every time you send your work out into the world. It can be as simple as letting your friends know so they can encourage you. Celebrate each rejection. This is hard, but each time you are rejected, it means you have eliminated one more path and you are one more step closer to finding the right path. I like to celebrate these with cheesecake. I did it. I submitted in the face of rejection. I overcame my fears. And now I get cheesecake! And as I eat my cheesecake, I think of how much sweeter it will be when I receive an acceptance for my manuscript!
Every journey is different. Some seem faster than others. We see the author who just got a three book contract, but we don’t see the years of work and rejection that got them there. We see the author who’s stories are being made into movies and a franchise and we don’t always hear how that same story was rejected by every publisher for nearly a decade.
I heard this quote today and I think it is befitting for the writer’s journey.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato.
Be kind. Be kind to those on the journey and support them. Be kind to those who have battled longer than you. Be kind to those who are just beginning as they do not know how long their journey will be. And be kind to yourself and rejoice in the fact that you have the freedom and courage to take this journey.