This is a newbie list I wrote for an article for a website (which they never used) of ways to ensure your MS is more likely to be noticed.
It is harder than ever to become a published author, and whilst the likes of ‘Twilight’ and ’50 Shades of Grey’ seem to fly off the shelves, many talented authors have hard drives over flowing with amazing new ideas.
Being a failed author myself, I hope these tips will prevent you from making the same mistakes.
1. Get known BEFORE submitting your manuscript
Publishers and agents want a guaranteed hit on their hands, and this is easier to achieve with an author who already has several credits under their belt. This can include a popular blog, writing credits for local magazines or websites, or winning writing competitions. Writing magazines and local literary groups often run competitions that may appeal and though some may not have a tempting prize just having placed is always a benefit to your profile.
2. Ensure your manuscript is finished.
Often non fiction books can still be in the planning stages whilst being submitted due to their needing finance for research etc. This is not the case with fiction. Your manuscript must be polished and ready before sending it out to agents because of…
3. The Slush Pile.
Your manuscript has taken years to write, you’ve edited, polished, pruned and perfected it. Unfortunately so have most of the other authors who submit work. Agents have a derogatory term for all the submissions they receive; The Slush Pile. They are looking for any excuse not to use your work and it can be something as small as not spelling their name correctly. Agents are sent hundreds of queries EVERY DAY. It is infeasible for anyone to read every word sent to them so they are often quite brutal in rejecting work to make their lives easier.
4. Beta Readers.
Friends, family and writing groups can be essential for critiquing your work, but you need to be sure that they’ll be honest. There are websites that offer Beta reading and critiquing on the condition that you offer the same to them. Having an outsider with no emotional attachment to the author or manuscript means that you are more likely to get the truth rather than empty compliments that friends or family will give as they try not to offend you.
5. Keep Writing.
Expect to be waiting months to hear back from agents, and during that time you must keep writing. It could be a follow up to the book you are currently sending out (agents will love the concept of a series as it means more money) blog entries…it really doesn’t matter as long as you keep at it to improve your skills and keep your mind active. Enter competitions, write articles for local papers…just keep writing.
6. Spelling and Grammar
Whilst the internet is awash with ‘experts’ on grammar and spelling, it is difficult in the real world to ensure that your work is perfect. Computer spell checkers are wonderful, but they won’t pick out words that are used out of context. They also won’t spot missing words or sentences that make no sense. There is also only so useful you will be at noticing errors as you will know the story and will fill in blanks without even realising. There are companies that specialise in such work, or you can find a buddy on the net you can trust to read it in exchange for your help.
7. Social Networking.
Admittedly there are so many different types I find it hard to keep up, but learn which ones are used the most by your target audience. If you’re writing for teens LinkedIn isn’t the way to go. Twitter or Facebook would serve you better. If your work is more academic, search for forums and sites that are better suited for your material. Always think audience!
8. Blow your own trumpet.
No one likes an arrogant self promoter as a friend, but when starting out in this industry, you’re the only one who can make yourself known. Tell the world about your achievements; if you are involved in something that is covered by the media, ask to be listed as ‘author John Doe’ or ‘teen fiction writer John Doe’ anything that alludes to your work as they will lead to people looking you up. Put links to your website or social media in the signatures of all your profiles and email addresses.
Authors are often anti social or suffer from social anxiety (I speak of those I know including myself) this makes any communication harder, but trying to break in to this industry is hard work. Make friends, be generous with your time, hand out business cards in as many situations as you can get away with. Be useful to people so they want to help you via promotion or introductions they can make.
10. Have things in place.
You need a website. It doesn’t have to be beautiful as long as it has contact details, information about yourself and what you write. A biography is always helpful as you can list previous work and link to it (this can be your blog etc) to ensure anything connected to your career is able to be found in one place. Use LinkedIn to connect with other professionals. Email, social networking, promotional items…anything that will show agents and publishers that you are ready and eager to break into this medium.