When I sat down one day and decided to write a book, I knew literally nothing about the industry. But I knew a couple of friends-of-friends-of-published-authors, while I knew absolutely zero astronauts – so writing seemed like a less impossible goal.
One year later, I had a 'finished' manuscript and started researching the next step.
I quickly learned I had already done everything wrong.
1. Research the industry...first
Okay if you’re reading this, you’re already smarter than I was. In an idealised fantasy world (which might make a good book premise), the only thing that matters is the quality and originality of your writing and then you magically get a book deal! But it’s a business, so agents and publishers have to mitigate their risk. They get exactly one trillion queries a day; so if your query doesn’t conform to what they’re looking for, then it simply doesn’t matter how snarky your sidekick’s dialogue is. First and foremost: follow every agent’s submission rules to the letter.
More importantly, learn what works. I learned (too late) that a debut in my genre should be around 90K, whereas I’d written 300K, because that’s what I like to read.
Even if it was the best book ever (it wasn’t), nobody will give that query the time of day. Every acquisition is a crap shoot, and most won’t make their publisher money. So until you have a history of sales, it’s an unwarranted risk for any publisher to dedicate their resources (editors/copy-editors/proofreaders, etc.) to a 300K book.
"Collect credentials that prove you’re a professional human. You’re not just pitching the book, you’re pitching you."
I suffered hundreds of rejections before swallowing my pride with revisions. Some of those agents absolutely loved the writing, but unlike me they knew they couldn’t sell it.
Maybe this means the book you want to write shouldn’t be the first book you publish. Establish yourself as a writer before you try to break all the rules. There are tons of places to submit short stories and articles – pursue all these things. Collect credentials that prove you’re a professional human. You’re not just pitching the book, you’re pitching you.
2. The writing community is awesome
Seriously, it’s incredible. Writers love other writers, and nobody cares how (un)successful you are. I didn’t get on Twitter or dare call myself a 'writer' until after I had a book deal. But every writer on Twitter wants to support each other’s work, and everybody wants everybody to succeed; it’s a non-stop feed of encouragement and writing advice. There are communities for people writing, for people querying, editing, etc.
It's invaluable to be surrounded by people going through the same thing you’re going through. I had nobody in my life to talk to about deep writer stuff, and it’s weird to keep such a huge portion of your life to yourself. Open up, follow as many fellow introverted writers as you can, on every social media platforms available. Say hi. We want to help, and we will.
3. Your book is going to change
A lot, very likely. Just know this. Be okay with this. It’s not 'selling out' to collaborate with your editor. Your book is almost guaranteed to get better, so don’t stomp your feet. And with this in mind, don’t go crazy nit-picking every tiny detail in your manuscript before you submit it (I know, I know, you’re still going to do this).
Obviously it should be the best version possible, but if you’re neck-deep in another painful round of edits and just shuffling commas or swapping adjectives … you’re done. Walk away. Those commas and adjectives probably won’t survive your editor anyway, so don’t waste your energy going for 100% perfection. 99.9% is absolutely good enough.
Oh, and finally: there are no rules. I did all these things wrong and still got that golden phone call. But do yourself a favour and learn from my mistakes, and maybe yours will come a little bit sooner.
Nathan is an author, playwright and comedian who's debut historical epic Nottingham will be published in June 2019 by Tor/Forge. To find out more about Nathan follow him on Twitter here.