Two or More Years Before Publication – The Author at Work
Two or More Years Before Publication—The Author at Work
The parts of the process that almost every writer understands are the inspiration, perspiration, and discipline that result in a finished manuscript. So we’ll leave that out of this essay, except to note that the only acceptable substitute for a completed, polished manuscript is enough celebrity or enough money or enough specialized knowledge to convince somebody else to produce that completed, polished manuscript. Unless you’ve got those things, it’s time to sit down and write until you’re ready for the next step on this book’s journey. I’d also like to point out that it’s worth the time and effort it takes to get the book into really good shape. This is the one place in the whole process where you’re really in control of what’s happening. (Yes, I’m aware your characters can stage rebellions—but keep this in mind: you’re bigger than they are.) If you’re unpublished and not sure that you’re there yet, enter a few contests. When you’re getting into the finals on a regular basis, you’re ready to submit. I know it’s maddening to wait, but if you send a book out too soon, editors and agents may remember your name and refuse to waste their time reading your subsequent contributions even after you’ve learned to polish your work until it gleams.
If this feels arduous, remember that once you’re under contract and on deadline, you won’t have the luxury of working with a book until it’s as perfect as you can get it, so enjoy using time to polish while you have it. Multi-published authors, especially bestselling authors, live in a fairly tense world where they must provide ever better manuscripts, even as the demands of their careers steadily nibble away at the time they have to produce and polish their books.
So you’ve got your manuscript and you’re ready to mail it in. If you’ve done the work on spec, you mail it to the agent and/or editor that you think will be most receptive to it. Talk to published authors in your field for ideas, if possible. A quick trip to the bookstore to research your market will serve you well here, too. Look for recent books that resemble yours enough to give you some assurance that a market exists, and then make a note of the publisher or publishers who handled the bulk of those books. Check the dedications of the books, and make notes of the names of any editors and agents who are thanked there. These people and publishers are your targeted audience. Use the RWR, Writer’s Market, and LMP (Literary Market Place-check for it at your local library) to get appropriate addresses, names, and titles, as well as phone numbers, and to be sure your target will look at the material. Double-check the agent or publisher out with RWA, as well. Particularly with agents, it’s extremely important to be sure the agent deals with clients in an honorable manner. The publisher will pay the agent, not you, if the book sells. A dishonest agent can pocket a 100% commission. It’s been known to happen. So do your homework here. Some people won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts—the above sources will help you find out who those people are. It isn’t the end of the world if they won’t—they’ll look at a businesslike query letter. So send that first, instead of wasting your money mailing a manuscript. If you’ve done your research and written a good letter, you’ll eventually get back a reply asking you to send the manuscript.
The day you’re going to mail your manuscript, call the publishing company or agency and ask whoever answers the phone if you can verify the spelling, job title, and address before you mail the package. If you sound professional, most receptionists will either help you out themselves, or switch you to someone who can help you. That way, you have some assurance that the person you’ve targeted hasn’t changed jobs while you’ve been writing. Even if you’ve met an agent or editor at a conference, it’s worth going through this step. Publishing is a volatile industry, and many editors play musical chairs on a fairly frequent basis. In fact, whole publishing houses pick up and move or merge more often than most of us like. Taking the few moments needed to make that call can save you much heartbreak later. If you’re under contract for the book you’ve written, you mail it to your agent or the publishing house that has purchased the work. Either way, it’s at this point that control seeps out of your hands, and the wild circus of book publication begins.