I Wrote It — Now What Do I Do With It?

Congratulations. You finished writing your novel, and you’re ready to see it in print. What’s the next step?

It depends. Do you want to go with a traditional publishing house, or do you want to self-publish? If you want to do it yourself, please go to the library or check on-line for the proper procedures. I don’t know the first thing about self-publishing, so I won’t be any help to you. If, however, you wish to explore the traditional publishing route, then I’ve got a few pointers to get you moving in the right direction.

Most of the larger publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. In other words, authors can’t send their manuscripts to these houses and expect someone to read them. Most houses rely on literary agents to look at available manuscripts and choose the ones that are actually ready for publication. (The ready-for-publication idea is the topic for several blog posts, but I won’t get into that now). For the purposes of this discussion, you probably need a literary agent.

A literary agent is a person who will represent your interests when it comes time to make a deal with a traditional publishing house. He’ll pitch your novel to the houses he thinks might be interested in publishing your novel, and if one (or more) of them want the novel, your agent will work on making that happen. The agent’s goal is to get you the best deal possible. He’s got a strong motivation for doing this–he gets part of the profits, but he doesn’t get paid until a contract is signed. There are some shifty ones out there, so you’ve got to do your research when trying to find the reputable ones. Use the website “Predators & Editors” to weed through them all.

Finding literary agents is easy. Look on the internet. Getting one to look at your work is the hard part, but I’m going to address that at another time. I want to focus on the search. Not all literary agents will be a good fit for you. You need one that actually represents the genre you write. If you write horror, an agent who only represents romance won’t be interested in seeing your novel. Some agents represent only CBA (Christian books), some represent only ABA (everything else), some represent both. If your book has a strong Christian theme, you’ll want an agent who represents religious books. 
Market Guides are the best way of finding which agents represent your genre. Go through one and make a list of all the agents who are currently accepting queries and who represent your genre. Hopefully you’ll get a nice long list. Then you’ll have to research each one. Go to their websites and look around. How many authors do they represent? How many book deals have they brokered this year? What are their submission guidelines? Contact a few of the authors represent on those pages. Are they happy with the service they’ve received from their agent? Once you’ve done all your research, put the agents in order with your favorites at the top. 

As you’ll be working closely with the agent on something near and dear to your heart, you need to make sure you choose an agent you like personally. If there are personality conflicts, it won’t be an easy partnership. About the only way to guarantee you’ll like the agent is to meet him in person. You could make an appointment and show up at his office, or you could attend a writer’s conference where he will be and introduce yourself. Or hang around his lunch table and listen to he speak with other people. Or go to the class he’s teaching and listen to him for an hour or more. Meeting the agent in person is not a necessary step in the process, but ending up with an agent you can’t work with is a nightmare, so it’s worth the effort.

By now you should know which agent on your list would be the ideal fit for you and which ones you’d be happy with if you can’t get your top pick. The next step is to query, which I will cover in my next post.

-Sonja

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