Last week I talked about the first steps to take after writing a book – cooling off, revising, and finding crit partners. This week I’m focussing on what to do once you’ve got a shiny, polished, revised-with-the-help-of-critique-partners manuscript.
First off, you’re going to have to make some decisions: Self-Publishing, or the more Traditional route through a publisher?
There are Pros and Cons to both, and I’m not going to take sides. Nathan Brantsford (who’s been through both systems) wrote a great post about Traditional vs. Self-Publishing here, and Jane Friedman wrote one here, dispelling some myths about transitioning between the two. It’s up to you to make your own decision.
I decided to go the Traditional route, so I’m going to focus on it.
Your next step is to decide whether you want to go through an agent or go straight to a publisher. Nowadays most big publishers won’t take unagented submissions – which means if you want to get into one of the big publishing houses, you need to get an agent first.
Now, some of this will depend on where you live: here in Canada there are a number of smaller publishers who take unagented submissions, and not a lot of agents. About half the published writers (with more than one book) that I’ve met at Canadian SCBWI conferences, don’t have agents.
For more about whether or not you need to have an agent, check out this super-helpful post from Harold Underdown.
The point is, you should make a choice. Trying to find an agent and publisher simultaneously is generally considered bad form – after all, what if an agent signs you, but your work was already rejected by the publishers they had in mind for it? Or, what if a publisher wants to sign you, so you contact an agent? Some agents will sign you and broker the deal, but others will feel their hands are tied – they can’t send out the ms to other publishers and get you a better deal with one already on the table.
Ok, so you’ve made your decision.
Once you’ve got your query letter written (and checked by your crit partners), the next step is research. The internet is your friend. Use it to research the agents or publishers you think would be a good fit for your book. Don’t waste their time (and yours) by sending out queries to people who don’t represent or publish the kind of books you write.
Not sure where to start researching? Literary Rambles is a great site for information on agents for children’s literature. The posts go back a fair ways, though, so always double check an agency’s website for up to date information. And when in doubt, just Google: “children’s book publishers,” “literary agents,” or whatever it is you’re looking for. Most websites will have a “Submissions” tab to click on to find out how to send in your work. Also, for those on Twitter, follow the hashtag #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) to see what agents (and occasionally editors) are looking for.
Unfortunately, not all agents (or editors) want what’s best for you. Some of them are just in it for the money. So, part of your research needs to go into not just making sure the agent/editor is a good fit for your book, but making sure they’re a legit agent/editor. Preditors and Editors is a great site to check out who is established in their field, and who is looking to rip you off. The forums at Absolute Write are also a good spot to check – if you think someone’s sketchy, there’s probably a thread about them there.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that none of these people should ask you for money. If they want to charge you a reading fee, or recommend an editing service, run in the opposite direction.
Once you’ve done your research, send out a small test batch of queries (5-10), including some of your top picks, as well as a few less-than-dream agents (that way if they all turn down your project, you haven’t lost your chance with all your top picks at once). If you end up with a fistful of form rejections (or the dreaded No Response), take another look at your query and first pages before sending out more. If you get a couple of partial requests, send them, but keep sending out more queries, too.
While you’re querying, keep an eye out for online contests, like the ones MSFV, Brenda Drake, and Michelle Hauck run, are great ways to make connections and get your work seen. Even if you don’t win the ultimate prize of representation, you can learn a lot from participating.
Most of all, grab some chocolate and prepare yourself for a long and bumpy ride. Publishing moves at glacial speed. Remember, anyone who does turn down your project is rejecting your work, not you, and this truly is a subjective business. For tips on what to do while you’re waiting, check out this post I wrote a few weeks ago.
Good luck, and remember my favorite inspirational quote: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.