What to Do When You’ve Finished Writing Your Book

Someone asked me what to do once they have completed their book and gone over it and fixed everything that needed to be fixed.

The first thing you do is celebrate. You’ve accomplished something wonderful!

After that, what I suggest (and what I do) is let the book lie fallow for six weeks or so, then go over it one more time, looking at every single sentence, every bit of dialogue, checking to make sure each is important to the story and are the very best sentences possible. This is especially important with dialogue. In real life, we often can’t think of the perfect thing to say until the opportunity is long past, but ochampagneur characters don’t have to be so tongue-tied. We have hours — days — to come up with the perfect response for them to make.

Since you’ve spent so much time on the book, you know what you are trying to prove. For example, in a mystery, you are often trying to prove that someone is a killer, has a good motive, but deserves to get caught by your hero; in a romance, that the two main characters belong together. Go through the book and remove all stray commentary and side stories that do not show who your characters are and do not help prove whatever it is you are trying to prove.

If you are a first-time novelist, get rid of your first chapter. When people start out writing a book, they tell much about the characters at the beginning under the assumption that readers need all that information to understand the story. They don’t. I bet you will find that everything in the first chapter shows up later in the story when it’s important for the reader to have that particular bit. If not, you can always add a sentence or two at the proper moment. By deleting that first, probably redundant chapter, it puts readers right smack dab in the middle of the action and makes them a part of the story.

Next, even if you aren’t a first-time novelist, go through the book and get rid of your weakest scene. This will make your story tighter and more powerful.

Then read the story aloud, paying attention flow, bad grammar, typos, anything that makes you (or the person you are reading to if you managed to corner someone) pause or that pulls you out of the story. Make those changes.

Now you are ready to decide what you want to do. Self-publish? Find an agent? Submit to small independent presses? If you want to self-publish, sorry, I can’t help. I don’t have any interest in such matters, and so never bothered to figure out how to do it.

If you want to try for an agent or a publisher, learn how to write query letters. That’s your basic tool for getting them interested in your work. Then search for agents and publishers and pay attention to their requirements. Don’t send more (or less) than they ask. Preditors and Editors is a good place to start, as is Association of Authors’ Representatives.

When your book is published, however it happens, I bet you think you can finally relax now that the hard part is behind you. Wrong! Now the even harder part of promotion begins.

Best of luck, whatever you decide to do.

See also:

Grammar Guide for Self-Editing
Self-Editing — The List From Hell
How to Write a Query Letter
What Works When It Comes to Book Promotion?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

You Finished Writing Your Book. Now What?

I recieved an email yesterday from a friend telling me she finished writing her book, and then she asked for advice about how to proceed in getting her book published. She said she is open to all venues — self-publishing, independent presses, agents and major publishers.

If you are in the same situation, the first thing you do is make sure you’ve edited the book, copyedited it, found people to read it to see if there are any obvious lacks, and made it the best book you possibly can.

What you do next depends on your goal. If you want to try to do it on your own without going through agents or  publishers, there are plenty of self-publishing platforms to choose from such as Create Space, Amazon/Kindle, Lulu, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble/Nook. Do a bit of research to find the platform(s) that suits your needs. You don’t need an ISBN number for Amazon/Kindle or Barnes & Noble/Nook, though you do need one for most other venues.

If you want to try for a major publisher, research agents. You can find them at places like Preditors and Editors and Association of Authors’ Representatives. Look for agents who are interested in your genre. Once you have names, check out their websites to find submission requirements, and follow those requirements. If they say query letter only, don’t send samples of the manuscript. If they ask for the first three chapters, don’t send the whole manuscript.

If you decide to go with a small publisher, you can find a listing at Preditors and Editors and similar sites. Generally, you don’t need an agent for such publishers. Follow the same instructions as for agents, checking out their submission requirements and following them.

The query letter is your most important tool. Try to fit your letter to the particular agent or publisher. Always send to a particular person. Never use “Dear Sir” or “To Whom it May Concern.” Send a few letters out at a time (start with agents and publishers who will accept email submissions to save time and money). By doing only a few at a time, you can rewrite your query letter and synopsis as you get rejections. (Keep in mind a rejection at this stage only means they rejected your letter, not your manuscript.) The better your letter is, the better chance you have of getting someone interested in looking at your manuscript.

Click here to find out How to Write a Query Letter.

This is the query letter I wrote for More Deaths Than One. It got me an agent, but the agent couldn’t find a publisher. I found a publisher on my own when the agent’s contract expired.

Dear (Name):

The painting is of a pond with no ripples, surrounded by forest. Very serene. As Bob studies the painting, however, disquiet begins to creep over him, and he can almost see the monstrous thing that lives in the slime deep down at the bottom of the pool.

“I was trying to paint what’s in here,” he says, tapping his chest with a fist. Then he gestures to the painting. “I don’t know how that happened.”

When Bob Stark returns to Denver after almost two decades in Southeast Asia, he finds that, like his painting, nothing is as it seems. Not only does the city of his birth seem alien; the mother he buried years before has died again. Even worse, two men who appear to be government agents are hunting him for no reason that he can fathom.

Set in 1988, this novel, More Deaths Than One, explores what it is that makes us who we are. Is it our memories? Our experiences? Our natures?

Enclosed please find a synopsis and the first three chapters of this suspense novel. The finished manuscript of 80,000 words is available upon request.

Sincerely, 

Pat Bertram

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

How to Write a Query Letter

A fellow writer asked my advice today about composing query letters, and being as susceptible to flattery as anyone else (she says she likes my writing), I am obliging her.

Most important is what not to include in a query letter, and at the top of that list is: refrain from mentioning how much your family and friends like the story. An agent is only interested in her own opinion and does not care what your mother and best friend think. Mentioning them is the mark of an amateur. Unless, of course, you are a friend of Kevin Costner and have just written Dances with Wolves and Kevin wants to make a movie about your story and needs a published book to show his backers. Then definitely put that in your query letter. (Interestingly, despite that endorsement of Dances With Wolves, the book was published as a short-run paperback because the publishers thought it was an historical romance with limited appeal.)

The second most important thing to leave off is anything that is self-evident. I cringe when I think of the first letters I sent out. “I am an unpublished writer,” began one. “I am looking for an agent,” began another. Both of those statements fall under the category of “duh.” Of course I am unpublished, otherwise I would be leading with a list of my published works. And of course I am looking for an agent. Why else would I be writing a query letter?

So how do you write a query letter? Lead with a hook. Something that will make the agent read further, something that will tell her you are not like the thousands of others who are clamoring for her time and attention. Be sure to include the number of pages, the genre, the title, and a description.

My best query letter for More Deaths Than One began: The painting is of a pond with no ripples, surrounded by forest. Very serene. As he studies the painting, however, disquiet begins to creep over him, and he can almost feel the monstrous thing that lives in the slime deep down at the bottom of the pool. “I was trying to paint what’s in here,” Bob says, tapping his chest with a fist. Then he gestures to the painting. “I don’t know how that happened.”

This letter caught the attention of an agent, though he was never able to find a publisher for it .

My advice? Spend as much time perfecting your query letter as you do perfecting your book. It’s the only way to show that you are ready to be a professional writer.

The Most Important Writing Technique to Master in your Quest for Publication

The most important thing you will write is your endorsement on the back of a royalty check, but that is not a technique you have to master. You have probably envisioned it a hundred times.

Then what technique is important? Well, for starters, you have to master the technique of storytelling, but that does you no good if the editor doesn’t read beyond the first five pages. So you have to master the art of creating interest and interesting characters in your first pages, but a busy editor might not give you that much of her time if you haven’t hooked her in the initial paragraph. Mastering the art of the hook, then, is crucially important, but it is not the most important technique to master.

If you’ve read any books on how to get published, I’m sure you know by now where I’m headed. Not to the title, which is relatively unimportant; the publicity department will change it anyway. And not to the synopsis, though that is very important since it would be introducing your story.

All that’s left is the query letter, which is definitely the most important technique to master on your quest for publication. If you don’t create interest for your book in your letter, no one will read your synopsis, won’t read your initial paragraph, won’t read your first five pages, and won’t even look at the rest of your manuscript. And there will be no royalty check to sign.

Although I’d read over and over again about how important it was to master the art of writing a query letter, it didn’t strike home until several months ago when I was shredding all the rejection letters I’d received. I was feeling down, thinking my dream of getting published was never going to be realized, when it occurred to me that my manuscript had never been rejected. No one had even seen it. All that had been rejected was my query letter.

I can’t tell you how to write a winning query letter, because if I knew how, I would already be signing checks, but I do know there is only one way to master any technique. Practice. Practice. Practice.

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