Monday, February 10, 2014

FIRST TIME OUT: Running After the Sparrows

(NOTE: If anybody steals a horse,/Blame it on the Kellys!/Anybody breaks the law,/Blame it on the Kellys!/If anyone does something new,/Or does what you would like to do,/And if the troopers don’t know who/They’ll blame it on the Kellys.)

A constant, or at least regular, reader writes in: Can you point me in the right direction? I just finished my first novel, had a friend do an edit, and gone over it again myself. What is my next step?
The greatest pleasure in the making of books is writing, and even greater is the completion of your very first novel. You may have gone through the agony of quitting halfway through others, but this manuscript is finished and able to stand on its own wobbly legs. What comes next will decide its future. Be prepared for lots of work.
For those writing genre fiction, know your genre. Submitting a manuscript as a hard-boiled dystopian fantasy thriller causes confusion for everyone involved. The Book Industry Study Group site at shows the BISAC subject codes. Books are classified according to subject, and the list for fiction is long. Pick yours and stick with it. Having the right genre also narrows down the number of agents to contact, specialization being very important. You may be asked for marketing materials specific to your chosen genre and it’s best to know the audience and where they can be found.
Unless your friend is an experienced editor, you have to find one. Agents and editors at publishing houses want a manuscript that is clean, direct, and ready for the marketplace. Anything else from a first-time writer, especially a writer without name recognition, will be ignored. A freelance editor will find any plot holes, problems with character development, and shine your prose, as well as help with adjunct materials like the synopsis and query letter if you ask nice. The manuscript needs to be edited before contacting an agent. When they show interest, you have to be ready with a manuscript that will cause them to miss their subway stop or stay up all night turning pages. This is your only chance to make a good impression and has to count.
The writer may dress well, but it is the editor’s duty to tell him or her to tuck in their shirt. Spend the money on an editor with experience inside publishing. The cheapest is rarely worth the cost, and without the background can only guess at what agents and editors want. Find an editor you want to work with, have them read through the manuscript to do an estimate, and ask for a sample edit of the opening five pages. Good editors are often thanked in the acknowledgments of the books they worked on; great editors are usually writing books about being an editor.
Pay your editor on time. Even though they enjoy their profession, never expect an editor to work without reasonable compensation. They have rent and telephone and sometimes food bills like everyone else. A good editor reads the new books in their field as they come out, spends precious shower time worrying over chapter breaks, and ignores friends and partners to keep to your schedule. Return the favor with a check, and drop them the occasional email to let them know of your progress.
Ah, the cocktail circuit with its elegant participants, frothy drinks poured from gleaming chrome shakers, trays of canapés, and dancing into the early morning hours. None of this has anything to do with writing or publishing books. Sorry. For the real, absolute, no lies, honest, and one-hundred-percent truth about writing and publishing, you have to sit alone in a darkened room with a copy of The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95). Before pulling the shades, keystroke on over to for the independent bookstore near you. The man or woman behind the register understands your plight, and can recommend several other, more helpful, delusions than the one above. A closer call would be missed.

NEXT: Paper Training the Wolfhound

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