When I was in college I took a class called Fantasy Literature, which I thought would be nothing but fun and actually turned out to be a lot of hard work. On the first day of class, our professor told us that we would be reading one book a week, and a paper on that book would be due every Monday. The class collectively groaned, until he smiled and said our papers only needed to be one page long. Then we all cheered. And that’s when he got this wicked little smile on his face.
And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.
But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?
It’s time to take the next step.
The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.
To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:
Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?
What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?
What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?
When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.
If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.
Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:
Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.
And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.
Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.
Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.
When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.
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And then you revised it, and revised it again. Then you gave it out to first readers to get feedback. And then revised it again. You did a final-final spit-and-polish. And now you’re ready.
You are ready to start submitting queries to agents.
But how do you know who to submit to?
Building an agent list is the first step. Here’s how you do it…
List Your Must-Have’s
Must-haves include only the deal-breakers. “Accepts queries” is a must-have, for instance, because not all agents are accepting queries at all times. If an agent isn’t open to unsolicited queries, it’s obviously pointless to send them one. Another must-have is that the agent represents your category. If you’re shopping around a paranormal romance novel, don’t waste time on agents looking only for literary fiction.
List Your Nice-to-Have’s
This one will take a little more thinking on your part. Do you want an agent new to the field who’s aggressively building their client list? Or someone who’s got years of experience under their belt? Do you care if they’re male or female? Or where they are located? The relationship you’ll have with your agent is going to be a partnership. Ask yourself just as many questions about what you want as you would if you were looking for someone to date.
Add Anything that Gives You an Edge
Anything quirky, unusual or unconventional about your book should go on this list. If you’re writing experimental prose, for instance. Or if your novel is aimed at an LGBTQ audience. Or you’re the first person to do something amazing and you’ve written a memoir about it. Anything off-the-beaten path can be an advantage so make sure you get it on your list.
Now, using these criteria, you’re going to make these three lists:
Every agent that interests you will go on one of these lists.
Here’s how you know where they go:
A-List Agents meet:
If they are also looking for your particular quirky trait, they get an A-PLUS rating
B-List Agents meet:
C-List Agents meet:
All Must-Have criteria
Brainstorming your criteria and making your lists take time. However, once you have it all in place, it’s not that hard to add agents here and there as you do your research. When you start the querying process, you’ll really roll with your list on hand. And for those days when you’re feeling discouraged about looking for an agent, the list will take most of the work out of it for you. All you’ll have to do is send off the letter.
Make sure you know your category. Write an outstanding query letter. And then get started on researching agents and putting them into your lists. AgentQuery is particularly helpful in this process. Looking for an agent can be long and frustrating, but stay the course.
You will get there.
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