books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I’ve Written a Book. Now What? 22 Steps to Getting Published.



I’ve had a number of people ask me that "now what" question in the last few months. There’s tons of info out here in Cyberia, but not everybody knows how to access it. And along with the good info, there’s plenty of bad—especially from predatory vanity publishers and bogus agents.

So here are some basics for the newbies around here.

You’ll see I don’t get to the self-publishing option until #22. That’s because I think the query process is the best way to learn about the publishing business as well as hone your writing and sales skills. Learning to sell a book to an agent prepares you for selling your book to readers. Because promoting and selling books takes at least 50% of your writing time, I think you should write and polish at least two novels before you think about self-publishing. 

Plus a good agent can help the self-publisher as well as the author who wants to be traditionally published. Most of the self-publishing gurus like J. A. Konrath, Barry Eisler and John Locke have agents. (And Eisler is married to one.) 

NOTE: Don’t sign any agency contracts without having them looked at by a lawyer or somebody who knows intellectual property law. Some agencies have pretty bad contracts these days, and you don't want to sign one that gives them a cut of your profits even if you terminate the relationship.

So your book has been critiqued, edited, and polished to a glittering sheen. What do you do next?

1) Celebrate!

Break out the champagne, chocolate, fireworks, old Prince CDs, or whatever puts you in a festive mood. Contact a few people who remember who you are after your time in your writing cave, and toast your accomplishment. 80% of people in the US say they want to write a book. A fraction of a percent actually do. You’re one of them. Woo-hoo!!

2) Make sure you know your genre.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but pick one to three genres as a tool to help agents and publishers—and especially, readers—know what kind of book they’re dealing with. When you’re querying, make sure you use established categories like “paranormal romantic suspense” not “vampire bunny western.” Creativity doesn’t work in your favor here.

But you are allowed change genres according to who you query. Genre boundaries are oddly flexible these days. Both Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” vampire books and Lisa Lutz’s dysfunctional-family comedies are categorized as mysteries. Women’s fiction is an umbrella that covers everything from Danielle Steel to Margaret Atwood. And anything with a protagonist under 19 can be YA (the most sought-after genres are in YA these days.)

Two caveats here: 1. don’t call it “literary” unless the writing is to-die-for gorgeous (an MFA helps.) 2. Never use the term “chick lit” unless you’re querying a small press that specializes in the genre. You’ll find it listed on most query websites, but it’s still the kiss of death in New York.

3) Research and read the latest books in your genre(s) if you haven’t already.

It’s important to have an idea of the market. A query letter is more effective if you can offer “comps”—similar titles that are selling (but not blockbusters—that looks like bragging.) Also, the authors of these books may blog or Tweet and you can follow them and get advice. Network. Find out who represents them. Eventually you might even get a recommendation, which is a golden ticket out of the slushpile.

4) Write your synopsis, hook, author bio and a basic query letter template
.

You can find helpful guides in any number of places. AgentQuery provides solid basics. Most agents have similar information on their websites.Nathan Bransford’s blog gives the info in a fun and friendly way, and Janet Reid's Query Shark Blog is a boot camp for query writers. A number of forums and agent blogs provide critiques of queries—as well as Public Query Slushpile I give the basics for writing an author bio here.

5) Start a blog or build a website if you don't have one already.

Don’t spend a lot of money on it. In fact, a free blog like this one makes a fine author website. If you want to blog, I’ve got all the skinny on how to start a blog here. On some blogging platforms you can even have a static first page just like a formal website.

But if you don’t want to deal with the responsibility blogging, and you don’t have a lot of money, you can build a simple website on a shoestring at GoDaddy, iPage , HostBaby or dozens of other hosts.

Even if you have the money for a drop-dead gorgeous design, this isn’t the time to do it. And you don’t want anything you can’t update yourself. Waiting until a designer is free to change things can make your site look dated very quickly.

All the site needs is a professional-looking photo and a simple bio, with your contact information and something about your book and/or other publications. Nothing fancy. No bragging. Nothing is sadder than a pretentious website for an unpublished writer. And don't post any excerpts from your work that you're trying to sell. You'll be publishing it and making it unmarketable.

Facebook, Goodreads or other social networking sites that require membership aren’t a substitute for a website. Be Googlable, reachable and professional.

6) Start researching agents.

You can do this by subscribing to WritersMarket.com, but you can also get free information at AgentQuery.com, which has a searchable database. You can put in your genre and immediately find what agents represent your work. Then check QueryTracker.net for further information on the agents you’ve chosen and get valuable comments from other queriers.

Then start Googling: look for interviews and profiles of agents to fine tune your queries.

If you write YA, a lot of the research has been done for you by the wonderful Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre. They have a blog called “Literary Rambles” that is a treasure trove of profiles of agents who rep YA (worth a check even if you don’t write YA, since many agents rep a wide spectrum of genres.)

Literary Rambles was named one of the top 101 Sites for Writers by Writers Digest! Very well-deserved!!  Casey has been doing these profiles for a number of years and last year Natalie joined her on the blog. (Congrats, you two!)

7) Send out your first five queries.

You only do this after your book is finished, honed and polished. You knew that, right?

8) Start your next book.

Yes. Right now. Don’t sit around waiting to get rejected and depressed. Start writing when you’re feeling great about yourself for sending those queries.

9) Get rejections. Mourn.

Yup. You now are officially a member of the professional writing community. The one thing we all have in common? Rejections. For more on rejections, read Ruth Harris's great post on exactly what they mean: nothing

10) Send out five more queries.


Tip: If you join QueryTracker’s premium membership, you can track your queries on their site. It’s a useful service. And their forums are a great place to network. (No, I'm not affiliated with QueryTracker in any way. I'm just impressed with their great work and up-to-date information--most of which is free.)

11) See if you’ve had any silent rejections.


Go to the websites of agents who don’t send rejections. Under submission guidelines, it will say “if you haven’t heard from us within two months, it’s a no.” There will be some silent “no’s”.

Mourn. Fine tune your query. But NOT your book. Not yet anyway. Chances are your book is just fine. Queries, on the other hand, are worth taking a second (and third and fourth) look at.

12) Sent out five more queries.


Yeah. This time you think you really nailed that puppy. You’ve got it down to three paragraphs and your synopsis is 250 words of distilled brilliance.

13) Maybe get a request for a partial! (The first few chapters of your book.)

But before you send it, go to the agent’s website and double check guidelines for formatting and sending documents. Most formatting is pretty standard, and they will probably ask you to send it as a Word (.doc or .rtf) attachment. But some agents are quirky and will request something like “no italics” or “number your pages on the bottom of the page.” Do whatever they say, no matter how silly.

Celebrate.

14) Get the partial rejected.

Nobody gets their first partial accepted. This is part of the process.

It may come with a note. This will say something like “I couldn’t connect with these characters,” or “the protagonist wasn’t strong/sympathetic enough,” or “the plot is too complex/simplistic” or even “this is perfect, but I have no idea where to sell it.” DO NOT take these too seriously or start rewriting your book.

They’re mostly just polite words to say, “It didn’t give me screaming orgasms, so it’s not worth the energy it would take to sell it.”

Mourn.

15) Get a request for the full manuscript!!

Remember to check those guidelines. Some agents still want to see a ms. on paper. If so, put a big rubber band around it—do not bind—and mail it in a flat-rate box from the P.O. with a #10 stamped, self-addressed envelope inside for their reply. NEVER send it in an annoying way that requires a receipt. 

Celebrate. Get the really good chocolate this time
.

16) Send out more queries. Don’t wait for that full to be read. It may take a year. It will probably first be read by a young unpaid intern. If she likes it, she’ll give it to the busy agent, who will put it on her pile of 150 TBR manuscripts.

17) Get another partial rejected
. And another. Start building calluses on your soul.

But—if the rejections start to sound the same—like everybody says the same thing about your unsympathetic, wimpipotamus hero, this is when you might give your ms. another once-over to see if you can figure out how to tweak things without doing serious damage to the book.

18) Get the full rejected.

You may get some more detailed feedback on this one. Pay attention, but don’t despair. It may not be your book that needs a rewrite. Maybe you’re targeting the wrong agents or pitching your book wrong. Maybe it turns out you’ve written a domestic drama (women’s fiction) not a romance. Try changing your query and hook before you change your book.

Mourn.

19) Finish book #2.

Woo-hoo! Don’t forget to celebrate. It may not feel as momentous as your first ms. But it’s a triumph. You’re now acting like a professional writer. That means you ARE a professional writer. Even if nobody’s paying you quite yet.

20) Start all over again with #2, but keep sending out #1 until it collects at least a few hundred rejections.

If you’re luckier than me, you may…

21) Land an agent somewhere along the way here.

22) If you don’t, you may want to consider a small press or self-publishing
.

This isn’t “settling” or giving up. All this means is you’ve discovered your work isn’t part of the predicted trend curve at the moment and may not be what corporate marketers think is the hot item for next season.

This is the point at which people like Amanda Hocking, Saffina Desforges, and John Locke jumped into self-publishing. And look where they landed. 

Some agents consider the successful self-pubbed ebook the best query these days, so if you’re good at marketing and you know you’ve got the best books you can write, go get yourself Kindlized. You could be the next self-pubbed millionaire. Just make sure you have some inventory before you start (Amanda Hocking had eight books completed before she self-published.)

Or if you’re a little more traditional like me, you might start querying presses that don’t require agents.

Even some bigger presses still take unagented work. If you write SciFi, you can still direct-query Daw (Penguin) or Tor (MacMillan). And for romance writers, a few Harlequin lines also take unsolicited manuscripts. There are also a number of mid-sized mystery publishers that welcome writers without agents. (Alas, Midnight Ink now requires an agent.)

Or start researching the smaller presses. There are hundreds of them. Here’s a list of presses that don’t require agents. Be sure you talk to other authors, though, and check Writer Beware and other watchdog sites before you query. They operate on shoestrings and can often go under, leaving your book in limbo and your royalties unpaid.

But I’m working with two small presses, and it’s working very nicely for me.

Just don’t let that book languish in a drawer!

What about you scriveners? Do you have advice for new writers who are beginning to learn the publishing ropes?

RUTH HARRIS NEWS!

Ruth has another new book coming soon!  

It's something completely different: 

Africa. An orphan. A love story. 



INDIE CHICKS: There's one more post! Melissa A Smith's heartfelt piece about how losing her mother prompted her to become a writer. WRITING OUT THE GRIEF is on the Indie Chicks page.

40 comments:

  1. I never even submitted to agents - went straight for publishers and eventually landed a small press. Smart to start a blog beforehand. I did it the hard way and waited until I signed a contract. (And my publisher told me to get my butt online!)
    And very happy for Natalie and Casey!

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  2. Superb list, Anne!

    I'll chime in with assistance on callus/thick skin/battle scar creation via my blog re: rejection which you will find here: http://bit.ly/lwHQL4

    Rejection? Just another way to say "No one knows anything." Not in the movie business. And certainly not in publishing. Seriously.

    As Anne says: Mourn. But keep it short & sweet. IME, not even worth the dubious consolation of a martini. Shaken, not stirred. Single, not double.

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  3. I was going to comment, but then I saw the cover for Ruth's new book and now I can't think about anything else.

    When's the relesae date?

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  4. Alex--You may have landed a publisher without a blog, but you sure made up for lost time. You've got one of the best author blogs around. Any author starting a blog should check yours out for a great how-to.

    Ruth--I've just added that link to the body of the post. It's one of the best pieces on rejection I've read. Any writer going through this process should bookmark it!

    Mark--I think Ruth's book is due in about two weeks. E-mail her for the exact date. I love that cover!

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  5. Awesome list, Anne! The tips about the genre were ones I never would have thought of .... I seriously think someone SHOULD write a "vampire bunny western" now. I, at least, intend to slither a reference to one into one of my books somewhere *cackles*

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  6. I'm printing this out, saving it in a special file and rereading it. Good stuff in here!

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  7. Clearly written from experience!
    I actually landed an agent from my first attempt, but she failed to sell the novel - very frustrating! I'm about to self-pub it, while finishing up another novel.
    On the blogging front, I'm intrigued to know why you suggest not putting extracts of unpublished novels into a blog or website - that's contrary to any other advice I've had, all of which has said this is how people will get interested in a new writer's work.

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  8. So I'm wondering if I'm one of those pretentious people with a blog and no book published - yet. I'm working on that and don't see why I shouldn't build my blog in the meantime. I have plenty of other work published. Maybe I'm just feeling sensitive this morning.

    Denise

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  9. Charley--I'll read your vampire bunny western!

    Holly--It's good to remember when you're querying that everybody has to go through the rejections.

    Deborah--Wow: an agent on a first attempt. That might be a record. But NO NO NO do NOT put unpublished fiction on your blog. You're listening to the wrong people. That means giving away your own copyright and that fiction can never be sold to a publisher. Read quotes from agents on the subject in my post HOW NOT TO BLOG. The link is in my sidebar. There's so much bad information on the Interwebz!!

    L'Aussie--I think your blog is the opposite of pretentious. If you have a separate website you're building yourself--fantastic. Just don't hire some web designer to put up a site full of flash with a Richard Strauss soundtrack and refer to you as a "well-known novelist."

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  10. I love your Sunday blogs, Anne, and they're always helpful. I felt so good after reading your 22 suggestions because I think I might be doing something right so far. So, I'll pat myself on the back and stop mourning the last few rejection e-mails I received and say, "yay" over the partials that were requested.
    Patti

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  11. There is enough mourning up there to qualify for a funeral in New Orleans :) What do they say, Anne?

    Write a good book, write another good book, send smoke signals out into the universe and beg your book angels ... or maybe you'll be like so many others and fall into the "dumb" luck category !! Whoopie ... this was fun.

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  12. You outdid yourself. Again. The steps, all too familiar to me, are described well. Thank you for the link to small presses, the only option I have not seriously pursued. Thanks for the entire post.

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  13. Wonderful post! I was thinking since I started this journey of writing back in Feb. 2007 I've written five books and am almost done my sixth book.
    Have I done much with any of them beside trying to revise them-no.
    I did submit two of the books out there to publishing houses that you could submit without agent and then I did submit to agents after. I think I've submitted less than 20 times total anyway and now I'm thinking of doing the self publishing thing. The more I read Dean and Kris's blogs the more I'm inticed to try it. I've tried to read as much about the business side as possible to understand it all. We'll see where we end up.

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  14. Hi! I know it's the last day, but I finally got around to reviewing the blogs in the Publishing category for the Goodreads Independent Book Bloggers Awards, and thought I would let you know that I am now a follower and am voting for you! If you get a chance and haven't already voted in the Adult Fiction category, I'd love your vote PLUS you could enter my giveaway for a $50 gas gift card and other great prizes! :) There are only 13 hours left to enter my Grand Opening Giveaway: http://authorjess.blogspot.com/2012/04/grand-opening-giveaway.html .

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  15. Querying is tough business for sure. I only gave up on it after a couple of years and several near-misses before going the Kindle route. But given the state of the publishing industry, it seemed the right thing to do. The result has been good reviews (validation for the ego!) but very modest sales -- independent publishing has its own drawbacks.

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  16. Patricia—It really helps to hear that. I wrote this to empower writers and say you need to give yourselves credit for the amazing thing you’re doing. I’m afraid I may have hurt some people’s feelings with my humor. It’s a chance you always take when you used humor.

    Fois—“Went dooown to the St. James Infirmary….” Bring on the brass band. You’re right. I forgot the smoke signals and the book angels. Can’t do it without the book angels!

    Judith—I was pleased to find that link to small presses (and mid-sized ones that don’t require an agent) Small presses are a viable option these days.

    Vera—Let me encourage you do try the agent route at least a bit more. 20 is just dipping a baby toe into the water. I know KR and DWS are very down on agents, but they were already established authors who had built reputations through trad publishing before they went indie. It isn’t so easy for the rest of us. But if you do go indie you’ve got inventory, so you’re way ahead of most first time indies.

    AuthorJess—Thanks a bunch for your vote. Alas, I’ve voted already, but I will check out your link!

    Steve—You know the secret is patience and inventory, right? Keep churning out more books and they’ll all start to sell better.

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  17. Anne,

    New subscriber here. So glad our mutual friend @winecountrydog introduced us to each other on twitter. This post is spot on. I'm working on my first book and actually attracted the interest of an agent who, unbeknownst to me, was reading my blog. So I know that a regularly updated blog can reap benefits.

    In my blogging workshops, I talk about the issue of content ownership. I recommend a self-hosted blog so writers have more control. Being on an outside platform can work, but if that site goes down or closes, you have lost both your content and the readers you have cultivated.

    Excellent tips here. So helpful.

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  18. Judy--Congrats on getting the interest of an agent through your blog! I got both of my publishers through my blog, too. A strong blog is a powerful marketing tool.

    I'm a big fan of the self-hosted blog/website for a number of reasons--but control is certainly the most important. I hadn't thought of the problem of the death of the site, but of course that could be a disaster.

    Thanks for stopping by. I'll have to thank the dog for introducing us.

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  19. I one hundred percent agree with you. Sometimes the query process or feedback from agents in the rejection of a partial can help with some tweaking of the manuscripts before you self publish. it tells you if your first chapter is hooking or well written. And it definitely helps you refine your blurb.

    I'm with a small press and self publishing after writing for seven years. But I wouldn't trade any of that for anything! My self publishing decision was not made out of frustration or emotion - it was a business decision.

    Great post!

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  20. I'm with Holly Michael, this is a keeper! So much helpful info! You rock, Anne.
    xo Sherry Heber

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  21. This is a wonderful list! I love that you weave in celebration through out because writing is hard work. I always tell my clients to have a party! Celebrating the successes, no matter how big or small, keeps the motivation to continue moving forward; e.g. sending more queries, starting the second book, opening the mailbox to rejection, etc.

    I also like the advice of going through the process in order to learn the process. I think it is a great way to become knowledgeable about the industry as whole and learn a lot more about yourself as a writer. Thanks so much for the awesome advice. I'll be passing this along to my clients!

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  22. Laura--You're so right about the feedback from agents. Sometimes they still do give detailed reasons for rejection--and those can be pure gold. It's a free analysis from a professional with insider knowledge of the business. Even if you don't follow the advice, it will help you understand why it's not fitting into current publishing trends. I also agree 100% that self-publishing has to be a business decision, not something done out of fear or frustration.

    Sherry--Thanks so much!

    Leanne--I'm so glad you found it helpful. I think celebrating the victories is essential. And if you can think of it as a free school in the publishing business instead of a crushing blow to your ego, you'll be able to establish a real career instead of just approaching it as a hobby (Not that there's anything wrong with being a hobbyist, but we need to be clear in our goals.)

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  23. Celebration is fun - At my day jobe one of our core values is "We will celebrate when we get it done."

    Now I'm not quite to that first celebration yet, but I'm curious... My first 'book' happens to be a trilogy, though I'm going to try to make each book as stand alone as possble. Would it be best to query them as a package or query for the first, but indicate there are two more, if there is interest?

    (And Anne, I really shouldjust bookmark you're whole blog! So much awesome information here that even when I'm days behind I make sure I read your posts.)

    :} Cathryn

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  24. Cathryn--Agents say they only want you to query the first book--and it should stand alone. Mention that you have two others completed in the series in the query, but don't pitch more than the first one.

    Pretty soon you won't have to slog through the archives for a lot of this info, because it's going to be available in a book in June--along with some incredible wisdom and insight from Catherine Ryan Hyde. We're calling it: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE.

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  25. Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful post. Lots of great advice that I plan to use.
    Donna

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  26. This is definitely one of the best blog posts on the process with resources that I've read. Definitely bookmarking this one!

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  27. Donna and Jen--I'm so glad to hear this info is useful to you both. There's going to be lots more helpful stuff to help writers on their publishing journey in the new book I'm writing with Pay it Forward author, Catherine Ryan Hyde: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE...and keep your e-sanity." I just sent off the ms. to our publisher. It should be available in June. Stop by for some free give-aways!

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  28. Thanks for the information. I'm waaaay into the process already, but it was nice to hear point number 14. Its easy to take those comments personally, even when you suspect they are general.
    Of course "screaming orgasms" made me laugh out loud :)

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  29. Kaye--It took me years to realize those rejections were just generic words that got sent to everybody and had nothing to do with my work. Glad to give you a laugh :-)

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  30. Holy cow, this is brilliant! I'm sending this link to a friend. Thanks, Anne!

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  31. I'm Julie's friend and this was a perfect post for my mental state right now. Anne, this post is succinct, witty, and wise. It makes sense of a very emotional process. Whenever art and business collide there are bound to be some bruises. It was interesting to see that querying two titles at a time is ok. I'd always heard that was a no no. Thank you for this excellent road map.

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  32. Julie--So glad you liked it. Thanks!

    Leslie--Glad that Julie sent you over. It is a very emotional time, and yet most people expect you to have no emotions.

    BUT--I did not mean to imply it's OK to query two books at once. That's a no-no. When you finish book #2, start querying that one SEPARATELY. If they are two books in a series, you can mention book #2 at the end of your pitch, but only by title.

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  33. Love these steps! Send queries. Mourn. Send queries. Mourn. Send queries. Get agent. Celebrate. Ha! I love that you included getting book two done instead of waiting around until book one was published. Advice I should have heeded myself.

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  34. Meghan--I hope it helps new writers to realize rejection is all part of the process and doesn't mean anything about the quality of your work. Yeah, I sat around for three years after my first agent dropped me--sure I'd never write another book. If only I'd had book #2 ready to go after the first one failed the first round of submissions!

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  35. Could you give us an example of some of these blogs you mentioned of unpublished authors?

    I just finished my first ms and I've been googling how to proceed and I really like the blogging idea.

    Thank you.

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  36. Sam--A great example of a fantastic blog by a pre-published author is Jami Gold's blog http://jamigold.com/

    Also, Nina Badzin's blog has taken off so much, she's given up the fiction writing so she can blog full time.

    You'll find my whole 5 part How to Blog series in my book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE Free today, July 16th on Amazon.

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  37. Hello and thank you for all the great information on this process and humor too. It is wonderful! I have a question about step # 7 - Send out your first five queries.

    What do you actually send (I'm guessing what you prepared in step 4). But it seems NO partial of your book, right?

    Taking a deep breath and ready to put my book out there.

    Thanks again for your time and talent!

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  38. Trish--Welcome! Learning to write a query is a learning curve unto itself. I recommend checking out the Query Shark blog and AgentQuery.com to start. Then always go to the agent's website for guidelines, because each agent wants something a little different. Some want a partial (maybe 10 pages)and a synopsis, and some absolutely do not want anything but a one page query. We go into some detail about how to write queries in our book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. Good luck!

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  39. Thank you, this was a great read. I'm in the middle of writing my first novel right now, but thought I'd know what was expected before I just started sending it off. This was immensely helpful.

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    1. AJ--Great idea. It's always hard when writers get to that final page "the end" and then get all this dumped on them. It feels like somebody should be waiting there with a publishing contract after you've completed your Herculean task. But no. There's just more tasks. Sigh.

      Don't forget the celebration part. It's important!

      Delete

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