5 Things I've Learned Through the Agent Hunt/Submission Process
By Ryan Graudin
1. Depend on other people. So often I see the statement that writing is a solitary occupation, which is why introverts like me are so drawn to typing out stories on a computer screen. In some sense this is quite true. When I’m writing a novel, I’m buried in my own world, opting for testing the limits of my characters over actual human interaction. But one’s writing cannot survive or thrive without the involvement of others. Critique partners, beta readers and online forums were essential parts of getting my novel to where it needed to be in order to catch the attention of my agent and publisher. Fresh eyes are indispensable for the growth and development of a manuscript. Critique partners and beta readers are generally unbiased (unless they’re your mother, then they’ll love it). They will find weaknesses and flaws in your story that you as the author gloss over. If you follow their advice, you will end up taking your novel from something good to something superb. I also advise finding fresh eyes to critique your query letters.
2. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Especially when you’re sending out your query letters. The first time I queried agents, I sent out all of my letters at once. This ended badly for me. Although you may be excited about your pitch and impatient to hear back, try your hardest to space out your queries. Send five at a time and wait for responses before you exhaust your list of agents. If you get all negative responses, rewrite your query with outside help. I will tell you, firsthand, that this is hard. It takes self-control. But in the end, it will pay off.
3. Keep writing. It’s easy, when you’re querying, to get sucked into keeping track of statistics, researching agents and obsessively refreshing of your inbox. While these things are good in moderation, they can also take away from your ultimate goal: writing. The best way to distract yourself from the agony of waiting is to keep writing. This is also a good backup plan in the event that your first manuscript doesn’t get picked up by an agent. If your first manuscript does find an agent to love and care for it, then you’ll also be able to show them what else you’re working on (and therefore earn brownie points).
4. Take risks. One of my writing professors in college had a favorite piece of advice he would ram into us over and over again: write what you know. I did not follow this advice. First of all, I wrote stories that, in all likelihood, could not happen. They are tinged (and many times fully submerged) in the fantastical. During school I was forced to write “literary” stories that took place in the real world. I always had trouble with these stories because I didn’t find them exciting or driving.
In no way did I feel qualified to write the story of LUMINANCE HOUR. The plot focuses on Faery Godmothers and British royalty, so much of it takes place in the Buckingham Palace and other sites in London. Although I’d been to London and even toured Buckingham Palace, I still felt wildly out of my comfort zone. I had to put aside my fears and write the story anyway. I had no idea it would turn out. I was taking a big risk.
As a result I got my agent and my publisher. Don’t write what you know. Write what you love.
5. Don’t forget your first love (writing). My husband will be the first to tell you that I shed a lot of tears on my journey to find an agent and get my publisher. It was hard. Really hard. I watched other writers pick up agents in mere days and weeks, while my queries seemed to produce only rejections. When the requests did come in, my hopes would only be crushed by the agent’s kind, but firm pass. Throughout the discouragement, I remembered something yet another writing professor told me in college: “Don’t write for the end goal of publication. Write for the writing itself.”
If my only concern had been getting published, I probably would have given up a long time ago. I didn’t give up because I honestly couldn’t. I was unable stop writing.
The day I graduated, my professor let me part with these words, “Don’t give up. Don’t get a big head. Keep writing.” This motto, along with a healthy dose of luck, is one of the reasons I’m where I’m at today. And it’s something I cannot afford to forget.
When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery Godmother who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at http://ryangraudin.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin
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