Yay! I’m published. I sold my book to HarperCollins, one of the big six publishers. Carrier of the Mark has been translated into several languages and will be sold in ten countries, with more on the way. It’s been featured as a Buzz Book and BEA (Book Expo America) the biggest book conference in North America, and where people stood in line for hours to get a signed. I scored an Editor who has a string of New York Times bestsellers on her list, and now have literary agents in New York and London, oh and an agent managing movie and TV writes for me in LA. I’ve just signed contracts for my next book and the future looks promising. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I still have to pinch myself. This can’t really be happening to me, can it?
But it is! Two years ago, none of this existed. I had just finished writing my first book and was floundering about what to do next. I bought a copy of the Writers Handbook 2010 and started reading. I tried my hand at a few queries to Irish publishers and agents, but failed miserably. Despite rejections from early queries, I’d always felt quietly confident that I would eventually get my debut novel, Carrier of the Mark, published. I knew that when I got my rejections it wasn’t all down to the manuscript, while it was in need of much editing, it was my lack of knowledge of how the publishing industry worked that was my greatest obstacle.
When I first started pursuing representation and that illusive ‘deal’ I was very naive. I hadn’t put enough time into studying and researching the publishing business. I hadn’t prepared myself for the harsh realities of a very tough industry and an exceptionally overcrowded market. When trying to break into the publishing world, a writer’s best friend is knowledge. Know your market and know the agents. It’s all about targeting the right person at the right time.
While my manuscript was good in terms of story and potential, it was not polished enough to be considered in a market flooded with talented writers who have put time and effort into making their manuscript read beautifully. The one thing where I really fell short was my query letter. I just did not understand the importance of the ‘killer’ query letter. I put so much love and creativity into writing Carrier of the Mark, then failed it miserably by writing a dowdy, business like query letter. You’ve got to get creative, make your first line a killer hook, and the agent / editor might pause and spare it a trip through the shredder.
As far as I can see, the biggest mistake made by new writers (as I was) is rushing. A lot of authors write their manuscript and race head first into getting it published. This is a mistake. A manuscript needs time to breathe. And the author needs time to take stock. This is where an writer should pause, observe the market, and start following agents, listening out for who is looking for what. And when I say ‘following’, I mean on Twitter, please, don’t follow agents for real…that’s just creepy.
The best way to do this is to watch the market, go to its very heart, and it’s easy to access. Social networking is big business, especially in publishing, and even more so in YA publishing. Agents and editors are there online. Twitter and Facebook is brimming with them, telling you exactly what they want, all you have to do is listen. Join writer’s groups and critique circles, get active in the forums. Start building your support network before the deal comes. Remember, these sites are hives of eager, well-educated minds, hungry for good writing and experimenting with their own. Get mingling, educate yourself. Learn everything there is to know about the industry and its professionals. And when you think you know it all, learn some more. Reach out to your target audience and start building your readership and following. It’s never too early to start your social media campaign.
My big break came when I joined a writer’s forum called inkpop.com. I uploaded Carrier of the Mark to this website in a bid to get feedback from my target audience…teens. Then the strangest thing happened – It flew up the charts. Within two weeks it had made it into the top five books on the site, passing thousands on the way. Due to its popularity, it was read by an editor at HarperTeen, and a couple of weeks later I got an email offering me a publishing deal!
Opportunities are out there, waiting for you to find them. Publishing is a tough business, especially in a small market like Ireland and the UK. Traditional routes are horribly over capacity. Make yourself stand out. Sometimes you just have to position yourself a little differently to catch the best rays of the sun, but when you do; your manuscript will get the chance to shine brighter than all the rest.
I wish you all the very best of luck!