Could you write an entire book over two years by just writing one hour a week? Yes! Yes.* This is what most of my students do. And then you’re done—right? Right? Why are you looking at me that way? That’s not right?
Actually, finishing a whole book is only one third of the entire process. Then you must get the book published. Then you must market the book and sell it. (Some say selling the book is 50% of the work. Oy!)
For many, seeking publication once the book is ready means stepping into a whole new world. It’s different and scary compared to the snuggly process of writing. While this is all new—keep remembering: this can be exciting! I’m here to hold your hand through the entire process, if you like. Let’s begin!
The traditional route: (Not going trad? See down—waaaaay down—below.)
STEP 1: AGENT RESEARCH:
Definitely do your research.
Capture any exciting information about her that makes her seem destined to be your agent. (She writes that she loves fantasy books with fluffy dinosaurs. My book is chock full of fluffy dinosaurs! – like that.)
Yes, cull exact phrases from her website or “Agent Wish List” and use these phrases in your letter. She’ll know you did your research and by acting in this professional way, you will have cleared at least one hurdle with this agent.
Note any terms that may give you valuable info – ‘seeking light commercial fantasy’ the agent says? Yes, my book is light. Yes, it is a quick entertaining read--Hey cool! I’m discovering that my book is a light, commercial fantasy. I’m going to get excited anytime I see an agent looking for this term and I’m going to describe my book this way.##
STEP 2: THE QUERY LETTER:
The query letter is a whole, unique form of writing unto itself. Why is it so challenging? Well…parts of it aren’t. It’s got a very basic format which goes like this**:
Opening: Hey agent (I’ve spelled her name correctly here) Here’s why you’re so completely awesome and why we might be a good fit.
Middle (this is the tricky part): Here’s who my heroine is, here’s what she wants, and here’s why she can’t get it. This is NOT a synopsis. (A synopsis is a whole other tricky beast that people hate and pay me to write for them.) Instead what we have here is a pitch for your book that’s a mélange of major plot points, feels-laden tropes presented in a somewhat fresh way. It’s a sketch of a beginning, middle, and end. The feels must dominate—that’s what often gets people to buy the book. If there’s romance sub-plot, yes, you gotta slide that in too, because it helps sell a book. Ditto a mystery subplot. Include that too. Also this core pitch (but not the rest of the query) must reflect your book’s tone. If you use saucy pirate language in your book, then query letter must reflect this saucy pirate language when used to relate the story—at least a wee little bit. Feels people! It’s all about feels!
Here’s why I’m a serious author, and a few key author-related highlights of my life. And if my story is a thriller about a veterinarian that explores underwater caves, and I, in real life, am also a veterinarian that explores underwater caves, I will make it clear that I have my veterinarian degree, and have explored underwater caves for the last decade or so. (If this is, in fact, true. Always include what speaks to your expertise in writing the book. Never lie or oversell.)
Key Points to Query Better:
Your agent is busy, busy, busy and gets maybe 1200 queries a day. When she looks through her stack of queries, she’s looking to say no. Don’t give her a reason to say no. (But keep it honest.)
Yes! Your manuscript is complete at 40k – 80k (for YA books.) You’re at the right length for the genre you’re writing. And the book is done. It’s got to be finished before you submit.
Yes, it’s a genre this agent currently represents.
Yes, it’s a professionally written one-page query letter in the proper form, with correct punctuation and grammar. Whew! Now she can look at it a bit more closely.
Yes, you’ve used language and described the book in a way that provokes a strong positive response in her. Ideally her response is: I want to read this!
I know it seems like the bar is very high here. It is. As I said above, queries are an art form unto themselves. This is why you need to contact me and get my help. I’m a query letter ninja.
Once you’ve got a draft of a query letter and you’ve proofread it up, down, and sideways, then you have others proofread it as well.
Every time you send your query to a new agent, you must adapt and tweak your query letter to that individual agent. Track responses as they roll in. What they said. How long it took them to turn it around. The whole process is like a part time job—but again, it can be done in one hour a week. It also feels kind of administrative-y, and very different from how it feels to be writing your story.
HERE’s what an expert – Jane Friedman --- has to say about the query letter process. Moreover, would-be authors, you want to subscribe to her Newsletter/blog. Serious professional authors would be smart to subscribe to her Hot Sheet to stay up on all the latest news in the publishing world.
DO YOU HAVE TO DO SOCIAL MEDIA TO PUBLISH?
So much to say here. You’ll also include below your signature your social media links. If you have a highly significant following (10 thousand followers or more for a YouTube channel, etc.) you can mention that. At the very least, it helps have a website and a newsletter. Again, Jane Friedman has things to say about platforms for new authors.
*MORE ON WRITING A WHOLE BOOK IN ONE HOUR A WEEK: That said, doing one hour a week is a challenge for many when it comes to writing momentum. Yet spending just two hours a week can create so much more momentum. Strange, but true!
## MORE ABOUT DESCRIBING YOUR BOOK: Don’t try to say that your book is something it’s not. Everyone can be looking for ‘fresh literary language’—but if I don’t have that in my book, or if I’m not sure, then I’m not going to say I do. I’m saving everyone time—because the easiest way to end the agent-author dance is not to meet expectations.
**MORE ON THE QUERY LETTER: I’m clearly using a joke-y tone here. DO NOT reproduce this language in your query letter.
GET HELP PEOPLE: Don’t think you need to do this alone. For some people writing the query letter is sooooo energy sucking. You are the people that should be hiring someone like me—see my contact page. Setting up a website is draining, etc. There is probably someone internet savvy person you know or that your parents know who can help you set up a Wordpress or Wix account in exchange for your thanks, or cookies, or some other basic, easy trade. They might also help you purchase stock photos, and find the right font, etc, for your website.
***I’M SUGGESTING YOU BLOG?!? Urp! I know—I know. Blogs are so late 90’s. But the thing is this: you control your newsletter completely. Isn’t that nice? You can repost your newsletter email as a blog post on your website. You can repost your newsletter photo/blurb/blog—to your Insta or other sites. Set it and forget it, basically. You can do a drive-by sweep on insta or fb to see if anyone’s replied to your post and respond back. (Or have your parents do it for you, if you’re a teen.) But start your newsletter, like, yesterday. It’s still the number one way to engage with readers ‘cause it goes right in front of their face in their email inbox…While I may check my Facebook page once a week (if that) I check my email inbox several times daily. Do you want to join my newsletter? Aw! Thanks for signing up. :-)
A TON MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA:
Let me make a few key points about the point of social media vis-à-vis agents and publishers before quitting this vexing topic.
A) My students who aren’t on social media write books faster than those who are. They have better focus. They—dare I say it?— seem more confident. So I always stand by parents who say ‘no’ to social media for their teens. Again: you can’t worry about getting an agent until you have a finished book.
B) The key thing publishers look for is this: Can people find you on the web? Even a basic website is better than nothing. Go look at a bunch of new authors publishing in your genre. They probably have pretty minimal sites that give a certain vibe. Get yourself one of those. (See above about getting help.)
C) Can readers – when the time comes – interact with you? If they do, what kind of experience will they have? Are you professional in how you interact with readers? Maybe you have a newsletter you send out only when there’s publishing news, but you go to the same con every year and people know they can see you there. This is what the agent and publisher are looking for.**(See above)
D) You don’t have to do all the things. No one has to do all the social media things. (Check out Becca Syme for more on this.) You can find one form of social media, make that your thing, and then stick to it for years. That’s right—YEARS. This is why I suggest the newsletter – which is really just a short form of blogging. Yes—blogging.*** (See above)
E) SOCIAL MEDIA AXIOMS TO REMEMBER:
a. There’s always going to be a bright shiny new form of social media. Do not angst about this.
b. If you’re new to engaging in a form of social media, it’s always going to feel a little strange to use at first. Eventually, it will seem completely natural. You might still hate it—but you won’t fear it.
c. People who join one form of social media early and stick with it over time can build a pretty big following. --Often after several years or a decade or more of engagement. So don’t chase after brand new fringe-y social media sites. Stick to what you’ve been working on and build.
d. Stick to something that looks like it’s going to last for at least twenty years. There’s a sweet spot: don’t join the second something is launched. When something’s been around for a bit, but the gold rush hasn’t yet seriously begun—that’s the best time to join up and establish yourself. Like two years into the popular site. Then you can gain that edge when the gold rush starts.
e. Eventually, every form of social media undergoes--and I use this as a technical term—shittification of the site. More on that HERE.
f. Do not believe people who say that you have to be on any particular form of social media. They lie. If that form of social media—despite giving it a few months—continues to suck the life from you every time you use it, then give it up!
g. Track your time. How many hours are you writing to how much time you spend on social media? The ratio should be something like five to one. For every five hours writing, spend no more than one hour on social media. Do social media after writing time is over.
h. It’s a tool, it’s not pure social time. Present a wedge of yourself most relevant to the feels of your book (which is akin to a brand.) Present for every 75% of your engagement about 25% that's stuff on your book, related to elements of the book, your journey as an author, etc...You’re on social media for a reason—don’t lose sight of that. But don’t be a dick about it either, and cram constant mentions of nothing but your promo down their throats.
People who want to self-publish, start HERE with Mark Dawson.
NEXT POST: Build Resilience Muscles Now! AKA The Emotional Management It Takes to Publish