Okay first of all I wanted to announce that I have downloaded the latest Firefox and I have discovered all these new features on my blog, so that is totally cool, and may explain why this entry looks a little different from the others.
All right. The secret to getting published . . . Okay so I lied a bit. Just a bit. I don't have any magic formula to getting published, aside from write a good book. But I do have some advice in the process of getting either an agent or a publisher.
Something that I find that isn't addressed all that often about this process is the sheer mental will power it takes to send out those queries once you are absolutely ready to take that step. It seems a daunting task. Who do I send things to and how many people do I send things to and what kind of stamps do I use and do I need a label and and and . . . and then you can sit there, paralyzed, and all this before you even consider the possibility of rejection. So I say, take your time. Don't assign one day to get all this organized. Make a schedule.
Start by perfecting your query. This may sound obvious, still I'm just pointing it out anyway. But here's the thing, don't take forever on this. Yes it takes some time, but I find many authors use the perfecting of a query as an excuse not to face sending it out to agents/publishers. Take your time, but also give yourself a time line. Work bloody hard in the time you've been allotted, but view it as an assignment for school.
Okay, once the query is all set, start your research. Now depending on your history, you may already know which agents you want to send things to, you may have met some at writing conferences, or you could be like I was: have no idea at all about who the agents are, and who even are considered the top ones. If the latter is the case (but really it's a worthwhile investment in any circumstance) buy the requisite book, there is one in every country. In England, the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook is very good, offering not only a listing of agencies and publishers, but articles and advice from industry professionals (probably much more reliable advice than from yours truly). Find which agents represent your work. Find what their requirements are. And find out to whom you should address your query.
The latter can be done by either researching online (most every agency these days has a website), or even a phone call. AH! Not a phone call, you should never call an agent!! Dude, relax. A quick phone call to ask the receptionist to whom you should address the query is not offensive. You don't have to say why or who you are, and quite frankly they won't care anyway.
Try something like: "Hi, yes. I was calling to inquire to whom I should address my query for my (fantasy/children's/mystery) novel."
They may say they aren't accepting any new submissions.
"Oh okay, thank you very much for your time."
They may tell you.
"Thank you very much."
Whatever it is, say as little as possible, be as polite and as expedient as possible, and ta-da! Done and done.
The question of how many agents to send to is one that is answered differently by many. I say quite a few, but not every single one in the book. Choose wisely, but remember that while the big agencies are famous and have success on their side, the smaller ones may be able to focus on you and give you more attention. So choose from both lists, and send, I dunno, ten queries let's say. You want to save some agents so if you are rejected across the board you can re-visit your query, make some changes if you feel it necessary and send it off to ten more agents. There are a lot of websites available to double check that the agencies you are sending to are legitimate. Remember while there are a few legitimate agencies that charge a reading fee, this is typically to be considered to be a warning sign. And there are those 'agencies' out there who recommend an editing service for a fee before they'll look at your work. Don't do it. Use common sense people! Check out Predators and Editors, as well as AgentQuery.com, for way more info on the subject.
Now this is my advice for a schedule. And of course this all depends on your free time, which as an actor I have plenty of, but you as a real working person may not so much. You may also have a family to take care of. But my advice is to take a full day (maybe two) on research. Buy the book. Go on the net. Choose your agents. You may think this is a short time frame, but work fills the time allotted and, like the query, you could research forever.
You'll need to print off your letters. Now depending where you are you may also be sending off the first three chapters as well (this is more common in the UK). It depends of course on your setup at home, but because of all the pages that needed to be printed I went to a print place and spent the money for them to do it (when I say print place I mean something like Kinko’s or Kall Kwik in the UK) If you choose to do this, give yourself a day for it. Purchase stamps and envelopes today as well once you are done printing because now you can put a sample package together and get a sense of the weight. Remember that you may be sending more weight than usual, so factor in a bit of time to calculate such things at the post office. Have fun with this though, go print stuff, then go to Starbucks or something for a tall chai latte, then go to the post office. As Douglas Adams taught us: DON'T PANIC.
Then give yourself one final day. On this day make the phone calls to the few agents you don't have the names for. Address your snail mail. Write the emails. And stuff envelopes. And then you are done!
Well, don't forget to send the stuff off.
Remember this is just a template. But what I am trying to do is break down the act of querying into manageable bits for you. Once you are taking things one step at a time, the task seems far less daunting. Trust me, I am the sort of person who starts to cry when I see how overwhelming the task is ahead of me. Once I had perfected my query etc, it took me a full week to send all the stuff off (and I mean a full week of preparations - though I did have an amazing audition for the Edward Albee as well).
So there you go. I can't guarantee you will get published or an agent. But I can definitely guarantee you will NEVER get published or an agent if you don't send your stuff out.
And the fewer things standing in your way, I think, the better.