Saturday, March 31, 2007
Ask The Author #2 - The first step to publishing.

Hi Pat,

I have just finished the first draft of my first novel and have a short story that will see print in the Dragonmount anthology for 2006.

Now I have to do the agent thing, and not only would I not know a query letter if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. I dont really know what I should do now. I mean what is the thing that will help me get to the next step. (Feeling very green and newbie at the moment.)

I mean I will have my name in print I want to use that to get to the next step.

Any advice would be welcome.

Thanks for your time.


Honestly Karl, my advice is to work on the book before you even start hunting for an agent.

I know that's not what you want to hear. But it's the best advice I can give you.

Now believe me. I understand how you feel. You don't want to wait, revise, tinker, and edit. You've finally finished your huge project. You feel awesome. You've worked for months or years to get to this point. It's finally done. Now you can sell it and get rich and famous. Or you can at least take the first step toward becoming moderately less poor and obscure.

I know that's how you feel because that's how I felt back in 1999 when I "finished" my trilogy.

I say "finished" because it wasn't. My story had an ending, sure. I'd written the trilogy all the way through. But was it finished? Good lord, no. Nowhere close.

Let's approach this from another angle. Let's say your query letter catches someone's attention. If you're lucky, the prospective agent will want to see the first 30 pages of your book. When they read those pages are they going to say, "WOW, this is awesome! I can sell this for sure!" or are they going to say, "Hmmmm, it looks pretty rough."

I'm guessing if you just finished the first draft, it's going to be the latter.

At that point the agent either has the option of putting in a ton of time and effort into you and your rough manuscript. OR they can toss it aside and read one of the dozens still sitting on the slushpile, hoping for something that's clean, tight, polished-up, and ready to sell right now.

Which option do you think they're more likely to pick?

It's my belief that you should never show your work to anyone in the publishing world until it shines like a diamond. Rough drafts don't shine, as a rule. Mine certainly didn't. That's why I was rejected for years and years.

I'm actually glad the book was rejected during those years. Sure it was frustrating, but it forced me to go back, improve the story, and improve myself as a writer. I learned things about plot and character, about structure and brevity, about scene and story.

If that early version had made it into print, you wouldn't be reading my blog right now. That early version of the book wouldn't have recieved gushy reviews and author quotes. The publisher wouldn't have ponied up money for this cool website. If that early version had been bought, it would have been read by a handful of people, then probably quickly remaindered and forgotten.

But I was lucky, and I got seven extra years to work on my story. My book is worlds better now, and, as a result, people are really enjoying it.

You say you want to take things to the next step, Karl. Here's the next step. Revision. The first step is the draft. The second step is the revision. The third and fourth steps might be revision too.

Am I saying you should spend ten years working on your novel? No. Of course not. I'm just saying that first you need to work on your craft as a writer, THEN you should focus on your product, LAST comes the selling of it. Leave that for later.

But when it comes time to get that agent, Karl. Tap me. I can give you some pointers. I spent two years doing it wrong, I can help you avoid my mistakes.


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Anonymous Sengei Tawn said...

I have been writing my trilogy since 2004 and have 75% of book one and two done. I haven't been published in scifi but have in nonfiction. I have probably re-written most of those chapters, oh, 20 times minimum (probably more like 40...argh).

Put a list together of all the typical and common problems new writers make (can assemble from many fiction and scifi/fantasy writing and author websites). Then go through each chapter and search for them and change them.

For example, I have gone through each chapter looking for the dreaded -ly words (horrible adverbs) such as "she said eerily" or "he yelled angrily." Slash and burn relentlessly!

Then you need to find critical readers. See DeepGenre for a discussion on how to find good readers to read your manuscript BEFORE you send it to an agent or publisher.

Just a few suggestions.

March 31, 2007 8:06 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Thanks Sengei.

March 31, 2007 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Shannon said...

Just a small sugestion, but I find reading a chapter outloud really helps me when editing. I can hear where it falls flat, where the dialogue stalls. Feels a little weird at first but once I got used to the stares at my local coffee shop I was fine.

April 4, 2007 6:57 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Or even better, read aloud to others! You hear your stuff even more objectively because you're more self-conscious (in a good way).

I write for a magazine called What Is Enlightenment? (see and we read our pieces to each other all the time. It makes a world of difference--and they also tend to point out things that you'd never even notice.

April 10, 2007 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Ange said...

Karl....or I could read it aloud to YOU! I reckon your own stuff always has a slight detachment when someone else reads it and may give you a new perspective on the flow of things.
I love you, my super-talented brother, and I am very proud of you and I am looking forward to my own signed copy with your name on the cover.
Thanks, Pat - I know he'll take all your advice all on board!

April 17, 2007 9:28 PM  

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