Sunday, 17 September 2017

8 Lessons on the journey to publication

Ever heard of the four stages of competence?

In the world of Wikipedia it goes like this: 

"The Four Stages of Learning provides a model for learning. It suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence"

Me starting the journey to publication: unconscious incompetence, for defs.

In all fairness, that lasted maybe 30 minutes before I progressed to recognising my own incompetence. I've spent years learning to write - a constant journey of improvement - and suddenly, come around July, I realised it's probably going to take about the same number of year to wrap my head around the publishing industry and the subtleties of submitting a query. Like maybe, thirty years.

Shit.

So, for the benefit of people in the same state of cluelessness, here's what I had discovered on my journey so far:




1) Twitter is your friend


When I decided to through on writing a full novel back in 2010 Twitter was invaluable. It introduced to me to communities of writers all learning and honing their skills. Flash fiction contests. Blog hops. Advice. Encouragement.  It was terrific.

It's no different now. Here you can find agents telling you what they're looking for; what's hot and what's not; you can find other people in the same boat; find out about publishing houses; discover blogs and resources.

Which leads me onto....

2) Hashtags


Using Twitter well is all about discovering and tapping into your communities of interest. How do you find agents sharing their wisdom and desires? Authors who can encourage and share their experiences? Here are a few of the best:

#Querytip - agents sharing their tips

#Tenqueries - agents share they've requested or passed on and why

#MSWL - short hand for Manuscript Wish List - agents share what they're actively seeking. Look out for designated days when a whole bunch of agents share them - they're brilliant for building lists of people seeking the type of work you have to offer.

#OnthePorch - writers helping writers

#askagent - your chance to ask agents your burning questions

3) Twitter Events 


Some fabulously helpful and enterprising people have created Twitter events to help agents and writers find each other. Look out for them - they're on designated days and they are BRILLIANT.

#pitmad - your chance to pitch your novel to agents. They like it? You get to submit.

#Pitchwars -  a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. It took place in August 2017, and I missed it. I can't wait for #Pitchwars 2018. You can find out all about it here.

#MSWL day - see above!


4) Get to know Agents


A lot of literary agents are remarkably open. They share their likes and dislikes on their websites, blogs and social media profiles and posts. With hundreds of manuscripts landing on their desks every week, it's in their interests to help the ones they want find them, and the ones they don't filter themselves out. You can research, find your match and tailor.


5) Find out about pitfalls for the unwary


There are sites and forums set up to warn authors about dodgy agents, dodgy contracts or unscrupulous publishing houses. Check out:

Writer Beware
Preditors and Editors (currently in need of a curator)
AbsoluteWrite - the water cooler 

6) Query Shark 


Don't write a query without checking out this blog and twitter account. Seriously.


7) Find your voice

When I first started writing queries they were really stilted. And as for synopses...   I've tried a few variations, and it now seems to me that writing query letters is no different than any other type of writing: voice is important. Your query needs to represent your novel - and you. It needs to give a flavour of you and your work.

That helps the right agent or publisher find you. It helps you stand out too. It's interesting to see how many agents send out a request for a full because they loved the writing in the query. 

I'm thinking a lot about this at the moment, because I think the way I was representing my novel was doing it a disservice. I was emphasising the wrong things - I'm working on that.


8) Publishers Marketplace and Manuscript Wish List 


If you want to check out whether a potential agent is actually selling work and what they're looking for, you can subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and find out. It's helpful to build lists of agents to whom you could pitch.

I personally find the new agent website, Manuscript Wish List more user friendly though. It's really searchable and really personal. And it's free!


I'm still in a state of ignorance, but if there's one thing I love, it's learning. And I'm learning more every day about publishing. I've gone down the route of pursuing a traditional publishing route and there's plenty of authors out there who think that's a mug's game. This post gave me a lot of food for thought!

I'm fascinated to hear from other authors about their journey to publication - traditionally or self published. What are your top tips?

No comments: