The Business of Being a Writer
If you're reading this, then you're probably a writer. Did you make it all the way through your first draft of your novel?
If not, stop reading and go write!
If so, congrats! That's amazing, and is possibly the single most important indication that you could actually take this crazy hobby to the next level and make a career as a writer. Without this, none of the other steps to becoming published would even matter.
But, the reality is that your first draft is also just the first step. The first draft is your initial challenge. Not to discourage anyone. It's the most amazing feeling is getting to that finish line. I remember when I was completing my first draft of my first novel. I was excited. I thought, yes! Now I can be published and life will be awesome. My boyfriend brought me back to reality. He told me I needed to do at least one more draft, and probably many more. He hadn't even read it yet, but, much to my dismay, he was right. It took some convincing, but I found that it did actually need a few more drafts. I did three drafts, the third was major surgery, and a polish before sending it out to my beta readers to evaluate.
In many ways, I've found that revisions, as much as I hate them, is where a lot of the real art happens. It's where you take that lumpy first draft, smooth it out, and tighten everything up. I thought my story was set, but in the editing, I found myself moving around whole scenes. Chopping, pasting, creating a Frankenstein of what my novel started as. Basically, this is where you craft.
I've done that. My beta readers love the book, and it's getting a final edit now. That's it. After what has become years of working on it and thinking about it, there's nothing more I can do for it myself.
So, where do I go from here? Homework time.
There are a few paths to published these days.
First, there's the traditional route. You salivate at the thought of Big publishers. Perhaps you even consider what kind of advance you'd settle for if you found a home with smaller presses. That's the dream. But from what I gather, it's hardly the reality. Advances are shrinking. They are not quitting-the-day-job money. They might not even be enough to upgrade your computer. But still, it's the model you know. It's what most of your favorite writers did, so you're determined to do the same thing.
There are things that need to be done for this to happen.
First, you need to stand out. You need a great query letter.
Next, you send that glowing document to an agent, because you need one. There are a lot of them, and every day they get tons of submissions. This is why you need a killer query. You must stand out from the masses. If you bore them, odds are your book will, too. Study successful query letters. Learn how they are meant to be written and where you can bend the rules. Make them personal, not just for you and your book, but to the agent. And make sure that you are submitting to the agent the way that they specify. Ignore their rules, and they'll ignore you.
Ready to query agents? Well, you've got to find them first. There are many ways to do this. You can buy a book that lists them. You can also do an internet search. You will find lists and lists. It's important to research every single agent that you approach. Look them up on their website, find out exactly what they're looking for. Do they represent your genre? Do they want just a query? The first chapter? The first, 5, 10, 50 pages? You have to send them what they want, or they might not even look at it. It's a lot of work. And make sure that you are sending things to a reputable agent. They should never ask you for a reading fee, or any money. Make sure they have a good history and satisfied clients. Don't be surprised if some of the information for agents that you get off some list online turns out to be outdated.
Clearly, you believe in your project, or you wouldn't be trying to be published. So only send out your query letter to a handful of agents. If no one bites, consider revising it, and send it out to several more. Repeat.
Well, you queried. You waited. Maybe you'll get published. Maybe not. Keep trying and start working on your next book.
You're probably exhausted after all of this work. There is a lot to be said about Self-Publishing. It's not the black sheep that it once was. It's like crowdsourcing an audience. You get to take your product directly to the readers and find out what works and what doesn't get a response. And hopefully you can do this without putting in much money (if any), and less time then you might traditionally publishing. Amazon is offering great incentives, and there have been a lot of authors finding success in self-publishing these last few years.
But you need to slow your roll before you hit publish on Amazon.
Build an audience. It's easier to get people to buy your book if they already know who you are. Start a blog. Get social (media). Get social in real life, in writing circles and critique groups. Give away some shorter stories. That's right. Give them away. You write to be read, right? Have something to offer people. Don't just try to sell to them. You want your readers to like you, not feel used by you.
Sorry to tell you this, but you're novel isn't nearly shiny enough. You've got to polish that thing! You need an editor. They're expensive. You can always try raising money, but beware, unless you already have an audience, and even sometimes then, it's unlikely that you'll be able to raise the funds you need. I know, I tried. If you don't have a bunch of money to sink into your edits, find help where you can: a fresh grad on Craigslist, a friend or relative who reads a lot and has a critical eye, there are beta reader websites with people just looking to read and edit for someone, usually for free. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. Don't send your work out into the world unkempt. Get the best you can. Get as many people and eyes on it as you can.
Find other authors and invite them to review your book. Find anyone who will read and review your book. If you go with KDP, you can get a preorder button, and have all those tasty reviews for the world to see before the book is even available. Reviews are important.
And make your book look pretty. This might require hiring a cover designer, or someone to format it properly. Maybe you or a friend is good at Photoshop? That's what I do. Possibly you could buy a few stock photos. There are also some neat cover makers online that are cheap or free. Research what a good cover should look like. It's got to catch the eye, or people will scroll right past it.
Why limit yourself to being digital? Cross platforms – publish an E-book, offer print to order hard copies, go halvies with a narrator and publish your book on Audible. Reach as many people as you can.
If you don't go with KDP, find out all the places that you can sell your ebook. There's more than just Amazon.
Promote yourself and your book – you'll need a Facebook page, twitter, a blog… have your friends share it, give the book to free to a few people to spread word of mouth, if things are going well, set up some book signings… anything you can do to let people know that your story exists.
I hope this has been useful. Now, go forth, and be published.