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Which Way to Go?
Choosing Your Maze: Find an Agent? or Find a Publisher?
The proverbial "Catch 22." Some publishers only take manuscripts from agents and some agents will only represent authors who have published. The key word is "some."
The search for a Reputable Agent.
It is possible to find an agent first and have that agent submit your manuscript to publishers. Using the resources listed below and following "guidelines," you can approach a variety of agents and if no one "picks" you up - then you can approach publishers on your own.
Resources: Guide to Literary Agents, by Writer's Digest Books. Publishers Weekly Magazine. Agent listed in acknowledgement of book similar to yours.
Make sure you have a completed novel (polished, revised, error, and typo free) - an agent can do nothing without a finished product.
Find a non-fee-charging agent who is registered with the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) web site: www.aar-online.org.
Start with agencies in New York City first. Then go further out.
Follow each agent's guidelines for submittal. Call agency to confirm that agent still works there and address is the same (even with latest edition of Guide to Literary Agents).
Research an agency - make sure they deal with your genre, know who their clients are, and make sure they are open to reviewing new authors.
Watch out for book doctors, and agents who charge reading fees (a fee to read your manuscript without any guarantee that they'll take you as a client). Small fees to cover photocopying and postage is okay. Some agencies offer criticism services for an additional fee, these fees do not ensure representation. There are professional editors who will critique your manuscript for a fee - if this is something you want to do - know who you're dealing with - get referrals from former clients and check out the credentials of the editor.
Check Author's Beware web site: www.sfwa.org/beware, and www.nwu.org/alerts. Check Preditors and Editors web site: www.anotherealm.com/prededitors. Also check with other writer's organizations web sites for information (search Writer's Organizations on Goggle for list).
If you do get a written contract from an agent - understand it before you sign it. The National Writer's Union (NWU) has drafted a Preferred Literary Agent Agreement and a pamphlet, Understanding the Author-Agent Relationship, which is available to members (Membership for a fee - open to all writers actively pursuing a writing career www.nwu.org).
The search for a Reputable Publisher.
If you decide to try to find a publisher first there are companies that will accept unagented submissions. Using the resources listed below and following "guidelines," you can approach a variety of publishers. If you are offered a contract and feel you need help negotiating, you can contact a well-researched agent. Yes, you can actually call them and say, "I have a contract from so and so publisher that I would like you to handle it for me." They will have no problem negotiating for you since you did all the work in finding a publisher. Or if you're a lawyer and/or enjoy wading through the pages of fine print - you can handle it yourself. My suggestion would be to find an agent to help you.
Resources: The Writer's Market, by Writer's Digest books. Publishers Weekly Magazine. The Writer's Market Online (www.writersmarket.com) - $2.99 monthly fee for use - but well worth it.
Using a Good Map
Market research is critical - finding a publisher who publishes your genre and who has published books similar to yours. Initial search in Writer's Market or online, then a phone call to confirm editor is still working there (they change a lot) and address is the same.
Request guidelines (or find them on-line) for a market you're considering, and follow the guidelines.
Having the Proper Supplies
Resources: Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract: The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses, and Proposals for Agents and Editors, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, by John Wood. The Writer's Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference, by Tad Crawford and Kay Murray.
Know the difference between a Query Letter, and a Cover Letter. Know the difference between a chapter outline and a novel synopsis. Have a synopsis and an outline of your novel written before marketing your manuscript. Synopsis requests from publishers range from 1 to 10 pages - suggest you have a 1-page synopsis, 6-page synopsis, and outline written. Also basic query and cover letters that you can tailor to a specific market.
Office supplies: 9 x 12 envelopes (self-sealing ideal), good paper for letters, a variety of stamps (from $1.00 stamps to .37 and .23) for self-addressed, stamped envelopes (SASE), 4 x 6 index cards for self-addressed, stamped (.23) postcard (SASP - so you know they received your manuscript), International Reply Coupons (IRCs) for oversea markets, #10 business sized envelopes, brown mailing paper, manuscript-sized boxes, clear tape, and address labels for printer.
Going the Wrong Way
DON'T bind your manuscript. You can place one large elastic band around it to hold the pages loosely together (or for smaller submission - you can paper clip them together).
DON'T use staples on any submissions
DON'T overwrap your manuscript (editors hate having to work at opening a package).
DON'T send it registered or insured. Requiring agents or editors to sign for packages is an inconvenience for them.
DON'T send your only copy.
DON'T call in a few days to ask an agent if he/she received your manuscript. (Never call editors unless it has been past the time they estimated to reply, which will be written in their guidelines - then only a quick call to see if they have received it. Or if you have sold it somewhere else and you can call to let them know.)
DON'T make costly mistakes as calling your work a fictional novel (All novels are fictional - the redundancy shows amateur status).
DON'T pay reading fees or jump to bite at a contract that comes asking you for money.
-- From Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook
DON'T state in your cover letter that you're the next J. K. Rowling/John Grisham/Ernest Hemmingway. Say your writing style is similar to those authors. Also good is if you find another book the publisher has published that is similar in style/format to your novel, but point out where it's different. Publishers like to know where they can market your book.
DON'T let rejection stop you. Most published authors (99%) have been rejected - (Danielle Steel wrote for 10 years before having a book published). When a manuscript comes in - send it out that day to another market - DON'T let it sit around and DON'T take rejection personally - editors are picky and very subjective. Just because one doesn't like your story doesn't mean they all will.
DON'T let anyone call you a "Wannabe writer." If you write - You are a WRITER!
-- From, Maria
DO send your work to reputable publishing houses and literary agencies. Know the scams and what to avoid.
DO remember to enclose your SASEs (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) - a #10 business envelope for the reply, a larger mailer for the return of the manuscript, and a SASP (Self Addressed Stamped Postcard) so the agent or editor can notify you they received the manuscript.
DO your homework before sending anything out. Know who you are submitting your work to. Request guidelines, sample copies and/or catalogs.
DO show from your correspondence or phone conversations that you are an agreeable, flexible person. Agents take personality into account when deciding whom to represent. Editors can be put off from accepting a book if the writer is impossible to deal with.
DO learn the jargon. For example, know the difference between a multiple submission (different stories to the same magazine editor or publisher) and a simultaneous submission (same stories to different magazines and publishers).
-- From Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook
DO wait a few days after finishing a project before you start a rewrite. Time helps you distance yourself from the creative process of a first draft, and allows you to see the areas that need work.
DO a complete rewrite before submitting your manuscript. Also have someone read it to look for typos before sending it off.
DO follow the proper manuscript format. Despite the different cool fonts that your word processor is capable of, editors are picky and will reject your work before reading it just because the font's not right.
DO join a writer's critique group when you are ready. Not only do you receive great feedback about your story/novel, but they help brainstorm ideas, and give suggestions to improve you story. Also great for commiserating over those rejections mentioned earlier.
-- From, Maria
Watch out for VANITY PRESSES!!! These so-called publishers will publish your book, but for a fee. They act as a middleman between you and a printer and take your money, give you your books and leave you flat. You do all the marketing and selling of your book. If you want to self-publish the best way is to find a printer, and artist (to do your cover etc..) and put the book together yourself, this way you are in charge.
Also watch out for e-book and print-on-demand publishers on the Internet. There are some reputable establishments out there, once again the key word is to RESEARCH these before committing to anything, and TALKING to people who have done it.
Attending writer's conferences and genre conferences is a great way to meet Agents and Editors. Some writer's conferences like Pennwriters and the Philadelphia Writer's Conference will make appointments with the Agents and Editors so you can sit down and pitch your book. If they like what they hear, they may request that you send them some or all of your book. Then in your cover letter you can say, "I enjoyed meeting you at Wonderful Con. Here's is my manuscript that you requested." This is much better than contacting an Agent or Editor cold.
Deadends - Rejections
This is all part of the process - remember it's "Business not Personal."
Resources: Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson & Andre Bernard.
The best way I found to deal with rejections is to have my next market ready to go. The envelope addressed, the SASE and SASP prepared, and the letters in the computer ready to be printed (all they needs are a date and signature). Then when a reject comes in, I glance at the form letter (or read/dissect a personal letter - very rare and should be analyzed), then mail out my next submission without giving the rejection a chance to depress me.
Persistence is the word I hear the most when it comes to submissions. And I try to remember that when I am depressed. Persistence paid off with my first novel, Poison Study!
How many rejections would it take to you stop writing?? 10? 50? 100? 150? 200?? How about 900?? Ray Bradbury received 900 before publishing. Stephen King filled up a railroad spike (about six inches long - note a ream of paper is about 2.5 inches long) with rejections before publishing.