Excerpt reprinted Mashable.com by The Daily Muse Everyone — and I mean everyone — is working on a book.
Everyone — and I mean everyone — is working on a book. For some, it’s just a spark of an idea that hasn’t quite made it to paper; for others, it’s thousands of words socked away in a drawer or saved on an old laptop. Either way, the same question is bound to come up eventually: What does it take to get this thing published?
There is no easy way to get published and become a successful author. I can safely say this after years of reading submissions for a literary agency and a Big Six publisher (including everything from amazing books that bombed to titles I hated but everyone else in the world loved). Writing books is a weird, long haul, but — thankfully! — there are a few things you can do to help you on your journey. Here’s the advice that I give every aspiring author.
Read. A Lot.
More specifically, read in your genre. You need to know what good books look like, so you can take note of what makes them so successful and incorporate those things into your writing. But don’t limit yourself to the best-sellers — reading mediocre and even bad books can be just as helpful by showing you where authors miss the mark and what common missteps to avoid.
All genres — from romance to self-help to literary fiction — have certain conventions that you should be aware of as an author. By reading published books in your genre, you’ll be able to make some useful comparisons: Is your YA character too young? Your New Adult novel too chaste? Your literary fiction too low on 20-something male angst?
If you’re not somewhat on par with the standards of your genre (e.g., if your 25-five year old protagonist reads like a 12-year-old or your plot twists are clones of the only book you’ve read), it doesn’t matter how good your writing is — publishers will notice and reject you immediately. Editors buy books because they love them, but they also need to be able to sell them to readers — and if the saucy chambermaid in your romance novel dies of consumption instead of marrying the Duke, we’ve all got a problem.
Write the Whole Book
Don’t hope to sell a publisher on an idea alone — agents won’t pick up new clients without a complete manuscript, and most publishing houses don’t take un-agented submissions. (And honestly, if an editor agrees to take your book without an agent, then you have to worry about the possibility of a predatory contract — so I always advise authors to go through an agent to have an expert on their side.) At the low end, books for teens and adults usually range between 80,000 and 100,000 words, although some make it up to a couple hundred thousand (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter).
The only exception to the “write it first” rule is nonfiction — with this genre, you can query an agent with just an outline and some sample chapters. (Memoirs don’t count as nonfiction in this regard — sorry.)
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