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My style is evolving but is a hybrid of these two techniques. I basically wrote The Sparks by the seat of my pants. I knew what the premise of the book would be but didn’t know all the details until I started writing. But that book required several rounds of edits. For The Flames, I used a technique that I call signposts. I outlined all the major events in the book and used them as guides in writing the story, although I didn’t outline every detail of the book in advance. I find that the story often changes as I start writing, so I like this style as the guideposts keep me on track but give me the flexibility for the story to evolve.
Next, you have to write a synopsis of the book of the book. There are good online resources that give advice on writing a great synopsis. This has to be exciting and well written as agents won’t read your manuscript if they don’t like the synopsis. Most writers hate to write the synopsis but it’s a necessary evil.
Now you have to write a great query letter. A query letter should introduce you and any publishing experience or expertise that you have on the subject matter; give the type of book and word count along with the elevator pitch about what your book is about and why you are the best person to tell this story. I hired an editor to critique my query letter. I’ve heard agents say that they receive an average of 200 queries a week and they may sign three new authors a year. So you can see why it is so difficult to get an agent. Again there is good information online about query letters to get you started. I like Mark Malatesta and his website Literary Agent Undercover. He provides a detailed list of agents by genre and their contact information. I recommend keeping a spreadsheet to keep track of what agents you have queried, their response and dates you sent them requested materials. I would query about 20 agents and then wait and see if you are getting requests for more information. If not, you need to revamp your query letter. Mark Malatesta has a great blog and lots of resources to help you. I hired him for a one-hour call to critique my query letter and I found it worthwhile.
Accept feedback from agents as opportunities to learn and improve your book. Sometimes agents will give you feedback and this is a gift as they are very busy and normally just send a standardized rejection form if they aren’t interested. If they take the time to give you feedback, thank them for their time and seriously consider their suggestions. Always act in a professional, unemotional manner. This is your career so you must approach it with a businesslike attitude. Despite all this, I was unable to find an agent until I went to a writer’s conference and met with agents face to face. Having a great query letter was helpful in these meetings. There is a lot of valuable information at writing conferences so I recommend attending one.
To get an agent, you have to write a great query letter. There is a lot of information online about writing query letters that is helpful. I went to a writing conference that allowed me to pay an editor to critique my query letter in advance of the conference. Then at the conference I was able to pay a fee to meet for 10 minutes with several different agents. Being able to sell myself in person was key. That is how I got my agent. So I recommend attending writing conferences to make these types of connections.
So, I began the process of sending query letters. I got some good advice from the agents I talked to. One advised me to hire a well-respected editor, as publishers expect manuscripts to be perfect, so I did that. Then another agent took the time to really ask me about my goals. I wanted the book to be read by as many people as possible and I wanted to get it published in a timely manner. She explained that—if I were lucky—the publishing process would take 3-5 years. She recommended that I meet with a small, independent publisher with a good reputation. They could meet my timing needs and I would have more input in the process, ensuring that I could retain some creative control of the final product. I met with the publisher she recommended and we hit it off immediately. So that’s how I published The Sparks.
Like a lot of kids, I hated middle school. I didn’t fit in and I was bullied a lot. Very few kids will tell you they rocked seventh grade. I was short, fat and had a bowl haircut. Writing gave me a chance to create a world that I could control. I tried to write 500 words a day. By high school, my goal was to write 1,000 words a day. So yes, I guess I always knew I would be a writer because it is a creative outlet that I need in my life.
Also read a lot of different types of books. Read non-fiction, fiction, magazines, etc. If you read a lot of different genres and types of books it will help you to find your own voice. If you only read Stephen King, you will start to sound like a knock off version of Stephen King. You need your own voice so read a variety of different things.