i love reading stories from published authors about how they got from "i should write a book" to "hey, there's my book on the shelf at borders!"
i would love even more to be telling that story someday myself.
but since i am unpublished, i'll have to settle for telling you about my path to publishing so far.
step 1) find a passion for writing.
i found mine as a kid.
(i distinctly remember one story, inspired by the 'babysitters club' books, about a group of girls who go on a cruise together. every girl got a different color font for her dialog. and i remember writing a play about dinosaurs that we performed at school in first grade.)
step 2) finish a book.
this took a lot longer for me. once i started writing novel-length works, i found myself not finishing any of them for various reasons. i finally figured out the only way to finish was to not allow myself to get distracted by any new ideas. if i came up with another story, i would have to wait to write a single word of it until i finished the project i was working on. it was a tremendous motivator.
step 3) revise that book.
in the case of my first finished rough draft, this is the step i didn't complete. i did some copy edits, but realized the book needed more than surface editing. it needed a plot overhaul and a complete rewrite from a first person POV. (that's point of view, for the non-writerly readers). instead of tackling that mountain of work, i let myself work on one of my new ideas. now THAT book i did finish and revise.
step 4) get beta readers.
i love my mom and dad, and sending them my books chapter-by-chapter to read is a great motivator during the writing process. but their biased opinions alone cannot be trusted. so i found writers on Absolute Write (see link on the right) who were willing to beta-read for me. i also shared the manuscript with one friend who is not a writer, but is an extremely honest and critical reader.
step 5) revise again.
incorporate the beta suggestions that you agree with (and give your work a good critical look before you dismiss any ideas). also, by the time you get beta feedback, you'll have let your manuscript sit for a few weeks, so it's a good time to look at it with your own fresh eyes. if you're like me, you'll find more to edit.
step 6) polish manuscript.
that may mean more beta reading or just some copy cleanup. in my case, for BUTTER, at this step it was mostly manuscript formatting.
step 7) do your research !!!
other than writing the book, this is the most important step. for me, the research began before i ever finished the first book. i joined forums like Absolute Write and soaked up everything i could about the publishing process. AW was also a great jumping-off point for my agent research. I began to follow agent blogs and tweets. I started scouring sites like query tracker and publishers marketplace to see which agents represented which authors, etc...
then i compiled a long list of agents who might be interested in what i write.
step 8) write a query letter.
at least, this is the next step for most writers. personally, i like writing the query almost as much as writing the book itself, so i tend to write my query FIRST, to give me an outline of where my book is going.
step 8-A) get feedback on your query from sites like AW.
step 8-B) revise and polish that query.
step 9) write a synopsis (essentially a 2-page summary of your book, including the ending).
repeat steps 8-A and 8-B above.
got your polished book, polished query and polished synopsis? good. then proceed to:
step 10) query agents!
in my case, i started with a top tier of about a dozen agents. i queried 7 (because that's my lucky number) and decided i would query another agent for each rejection that came in. then i made a spread sheet of agents, in order of preference, and prepared to query hundreds, if necessary. i did get a few rapid-fire form rejections and sent out queries to the next agents on the list within the first day or so of querying.
then, something pleasant happened. after just 4 days of querying, i got requests for full manuscripts from 4 of my first-tier agents. at this point, i decided to put querying on hold until i heard back from most or all of those agents. after doing my research, i already respected the opinions of these agents, so i knew their feedback (if any) would influence me, so if they all rejected it for similar reasons (plot sucks, hate the characters, etc...) then i would revise before sending out any more queries.
step 11) wait.
...and wait ...and wait.
this is the limbo i am in now. the average response time on a full manuscript seems to be around three months. in my case, one agent suggested i nudge her with a reminder email after a month, so i'll probably be doing that next week. another agent already sent me a form rejection (so no feedback there, unfortunately). another agent doesn't like nudging until after the three month mark, so i can't bug her for two more whole months!
however, sometimes this happens:
the fourth agent who requested my manuscript called me three days after i sent it!
he called just to tell me he was still reading and liking it. he complimented the voice, the concept, the use of humor despite the dark theme and said his assistant had already finished it and liked it. (not exactly THE CALL, but Yiipppeeeee anyway!)
a week later, that same agent emailed to say he had finished the book and still liked it very much but had some revision suggestions. (my research tells me it is very common for this particular agent to ask for revisions before signing a client, so i was not a bit surprised or put out. i would love his input).
he had hoped to have revision notes for me the next week, but my research also tells me that agents are insanely busy, so i am trying not to be nervous that it has been a couple weeks since that email.
i guess it's back to "wait."
...and wait ...and wait.
which brings me to:
step 11) write something new.
work on a new manuscript while you're waiting. better yet, start a blog too! just keep yourself distracted.
so that's what i'm doing. and i'll keep you all posted as i get (hopefully) further down the path to publishing.
(preview: if i'm lucky, it will go something like this...
steps 12-437) get agent, revise for agent, agent submit book to publishers, an editor likes and decides to buy, agent sells to editor/publishing house, revise for editor, revise some more, revise for copy editors, revise some more, get a marketing plan (or not), get a book cover, get advanced reading copies, get a publishing date, get early (hopefully good) reviews, get book on shelves, get readers so hopefully book stays on shelves for more than a couple weeks, write a new book, rinse, repeat.)
wish me luck!!!