You Wrote a Novel … Now What?
“I finished,” I told my husband.
“Honey, that’s great!”
“Yeah … But what am I supposed to do now?”
Honestly, I’d had doubts as to whether I could even complete the thing, so I was unprepared for taking the next steps. Of course there had been days when I’d fantasized about seeing my novel on a bookstore shelf, but I’d rightly expected that to be a long shot.
“Call Brian,” said my husband. Our friend Brian Kiley writes for The Conan O’Brien Show. He lived in New York. He would know people.
He put me in touch with a neighbor of his in the publishing industry, and she connected me with others. That first novel never did get published, but at least I had an idea of what doors I needed to pry open somehow.
Fairly often, people write to me for advice on what to do once they’ve written a book. Here’s what I tell them:
Congratulations! Please take a moment to bask in the warm glow of this momentous accomplishment. Have a beverage of your choice, no matter what hour of the day it is. Go out to a fancy dinner, or at least take the kids to Dairy Queen for a celebratory Blizzard. Many, many people start novels. You are among the happily obsessed few who’ve actually finished one!
Ahem … that word “finished” … it’s a strangely elusive concept when it refers to manuscripts. And it’s really important that you’ve got the thing in pristine shape before you send it out. My friend Randy Susan Myers, a talented and successful novelist, wrote this invaluable post on polishing up your future bestseller.
Next you need to do some research about which agents to send it to. Randy also wrote a helpful piece on preparing to find an agent and selling your book once you do. I used a book called Putting Your Passion Into Print, but there are many others.
There are also seminars you can take on revising your manuscript and finding an agent. If you’re in Boston, peruse the course offerings at Grub Street, a wonderful center for creative writing. If not, check out Writers’ Conferences & Centers, a comprehensive listing of writing centers all over the country.
Here are some other good resources:
A word on rejection (actually four words): IT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE. Much like death, taxes, and the effect of gravity on middle-aged skin, rejection is a certainty in the publishing biz. I would say brace yourself, but it’s hard to prepare to hear someone say your literary newborn is ugly. Hopefully knowing that you’re in excellent company will soothe the pain a little.
With every rejection I received I reminded myself of something I’d once heard: JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down twelve times (which is relatively few, as it turns out) before she got a contract. Just think how wrong those twelve people were, and how many times they must have kicked themselves since.
If you have advice or suggestions for aspiring writers, I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below.