If you’ve ever considered (dreamed of – fantasized – talked about) being a published author, or you know someone who has, here’s how the process would work in a perfect world, a perfect internet & email world:
1. Write the great American novel. (You will likely discover that this is the easiest step of the entire process. Seriously.)
2. Write a 1-2 page synopsis of your entire book. 1st, google book synopsis & get all the details of a good synopsis. Then try your hand at conveying the full sweep of your novel in no more than 2 double-spaced pages. Keep at it. Write it 1 day & go back to it the next & cut more words. Repeat. Repeat. A great exercise in concise writing!
3. Use the web to find literary agents that specialize in the genre of your book (genre=mystery, romance, fantasy, women’s, western etc.) & make a list of the names & web addresses. It’s a simple search (“literary agents for romance novels,” for example.) Cross check each agent on your list to be sure s/he’s reputable by going to aaronline.org (Association of Authors’ Representatives) & be sure each name on your list is a member. Do not approach anyone that’s not a member of that org. It’s not a perfect guarantee but it will keep you away from the more carnivorous sharks.
(why an agent? you ask: 2 reasons -1) reputable agents offer entree to the best publishing houses because they have contacts there, often because they used to work in that arena, and 2) those same publishers will usually welcome only manuscripts that are ‘agented,’ meaning they will not accept anything directly from the author)
4. Go to each agent’s website & click on the Submissions link. Follow their Submissions directions EXACTLY; jump through every hoop. Use the font & font size they want; measure your margins; make sure your email has the greeting & word count they want. Be careful. Be very careful. IMO, it’s all a “screening out” process so don’t give even a superficial excuse to rule you out of consideration.
(In the old days [old=2002-03] agents still accepted USPS requests & I recall 1 agent that would consider your manuscript only if you included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for him to mail you his decision about representing your book -not unusual then, except the only envelope he’d accept was a self-stick, safety strip envelope – apparently, glue on the flap of your envelope made your entire manuscript unacceptable!)
5. Write what’s known as a Query letter. ‘Pitch’ your book. See #4 above. Jump through more hoops. See #2 above, but google “Writing a Query Letter.” Read about them & read examples of both good & bad queries.
6. Once you have your list of agents, send them EXACTLY what they ask for – which will almost certainly include your (perfectly edited) synopsis & query letter – in the manner they ask for it. (usually items are NOT accepted as an attachment in this spam-prone world but are included in the body of your email.) Use some kind of calendar to record when you sent the email & how long of a wait there will be before you get a response. *
*My opinion about #6? (I know you’ve never asked for my opinion but that hasn’t stopped me so far) Do not apply to a literary agent that says s/he will respond only if s/he’s interested in your book. You end up going into a great black literary hole & are never sure anyone even looked at your email. Besides all that, such a response is discourteous & disrespectful to you as an author. If you take the time to follow their directions, at the very least they can send a reply, even if it’s a ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ form response. You deserve that much respect. Don’t buy into that “We’re so busy we can’t be bothered with a response unless we’re interested” stuff. Everybody’s busy. You know it. I know it. It’s a way to try to legitimize bad manners so straighten your author’s spine & take a stand~!
(Part 2 to follow another day)