Friday, May 31, 2013

Your First Novel by Ann Rittenburg and Laura Whitcomb

"Your First Novel" was the first entire book about writing and publishing that I've read. It came recommended through Writer's Digest and I thought I'd give it a try. This book was great for two reasons. It came with some great, well written advice, and it covered both writing and publishing in depth (and everything in between).

The first half of the book was written by Laura Whitcomb, who is an established author. She wrote the writing half and covered everything from generating ideas and encouraging creativity, to actually going through the editing and rewriting process. She had some very interesting suggestions for generating thoughts and writing better, some of which include: removing all adverbs and adjectives from one page of your book, rearrange one of your pages so that the last sentence is now the first and vice versa, replace all your adjectives with other adjectives/descriptions.

She goes on to describe some methods of actually writing you book, similar to the methods I discussed in a previous post. At the point in time that I started reading this, I was most of the way through writing my first manuscript, so the writing and editing portion of the book were of the utmost interest to me. I took Laura's advice and, when I finished the first draft, I set the manuscript aside (and that's when I was able to focus on taking a class on blogging!) for an indefinite amount of time, letting myself work on other projects and really trying to separate myself from the characters and story that I've created.

I've been away from the novel for about 2 1/2 weeks and am FINALLY starting to feel some separation. But, whilst waiting, I continued ahead to the publishing section of the book, which was written by Ann Rittenburg, a literary agent.

It turns out, there is a lot more to publishing than I ever would have thought. I will try and do the process justice:

1. First you have to have a well written and polished book. This may take several rewrites, several different pairs of eyes, tough love, and maybe a swift kick in the ass when you don't feel like doing it anymore! So, we're going to assume you've somehow made it through the editing process and are ready to take the next step (more like marathon it seems).

2. The next step is to find an agent (assuming you've chosen this route, the other route would be to go straight to submitting queries to publishers).

FIRST you need to develop a kickass query letter. Develop it, edit it, and rewrite it (just like the novel you are trying to sell). Make a list of your top ten choice of agents and research them. Don't just research where they work, find out as much as you can about them as people and use this knowledge to write a query letter that shows you've done your research.

SECOND, send the letters to your top ten agents (following their specific guidelines of course, the best way to NOT get an agent is by blatantly disregarding their guidelines).

THIRD, make another list of your next top ten agents and lather, rinse, repeat. If you've gone through three or so rounds without hearing back from any agents or only getting rejections, revisit your query letter and see if there's anything you could adjust. REMEMBER, your query letter should not state the obvious (e.g. "I'm a fiction writer"), and should not ramble. Your query letter not only describes your book plot and characters, but is a window into your writing style as well, if it rambles, agents will assume your book will too.

FOURTH, congratulations! A couple of the agents requested your first chapter and one of them liked it so much she requested the entire manuscript and wants to sign you! One step down, like a million more to go, so buckle up.

2. Now that you have an agent, they are going to get to work for you -- contacting editors in different publishing houses, making calls, and just doing their thaaaang. If the editors are interested, they basically have to sell your book to their bosses. Your book will be competing against several other books within the same publishing house. Hopefully, your editor does a good job and your agent gets an offer on your book (and if there are two or more, they may do an auction, how cool is that?).

3. Now you have a deal (after negotiating your advance, the terms, etc.) and you are ready to get down to the nitty gritty. Rewriting again. What? You thought you were done with that shit? No siree. They may want the name of your main character to change, maybe she doesn't fall in love with her best friend anymore, but with her dad's best friend. You really never know what they'll want changed -- not that you have to change every little thing they suggest, but you can't say no to everything.

4. In the 9 months - 2 years from the time you sign your book deal to publication, you will have periods of being busier than ever (aforementioned editing, working with your publicist to get authors to give you blurbs and get interviews with major papers, just... a ton of stuff. But there will also be moments where you don't hear from any of these people for weeks or months and you wonder if they forgot about you.

5. Keep writing! If you're actually trying to make a career out of this, you should always have something else in the works, so work on getting that next manuscript locked and loaded.

This book was extremely helpful (especially on the publishing end) and I recommend it to anyone thinking about starting a book to those who have already landed an agent!

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