Storytelling is in the very essence of our nature as humans. From the beginning of time, people have tried to make sense of the world through stories—from naming the stars and the deities behind them, to the causes of natural disasters, to the changing of the seasons.
Nowadays, authors—the equally poor modern equivalent of a bard or chronicler—must navigate the seemingly tricky landscape of book publishing in order to get their manuscripts traditionally published. But, fear not! Follow these 11 easy steps to getting a literary agent and you are well on your way to seeing your book on the shelves.
1. Write a book.
Yep, it’s that simple. No big deal. Ignore your family and friends for a few years as you try to teach yourself how to write a story longer than any essay you ever willingly wrote in school. (All-nighters optional.)
2. Edit your manuscript.
Again, steer clear of those pesky loved ones for another few months or years as you tear apart what you once considered to be a masterpiece.
3. Workshop your manuscript.
Submit that manuscript—written in blood, sweat, and tears—to fellow writers in a group workshop setting. Smile politely and take notes as they tell you everything they hate about your story.
4. Buy a bottle of wine and edit your manuscript again.
Based on the feedback you wrote down, edit your manuscript again. You may wish to drink a glass or two of wine to provide additional clarity and inspiration during this particular draft. It’s good for the spirits (pun intended).
5. Workshop your edited manuscript some more.
In this step, you may find it most conducive to the meeting to spread the wine around. You may also choose to work with the same group as before or different writers—depending on if you parted ways the last time with or without passive aggressive comments and/or colorful, empty death threats.
6. Buy a nicer bottle of wine and edit your manuscript yet again.
Hopefully your notes from this second workshop were written in ink and not the blood of your newest enemies. But however you chose to pen the constructive criticism, grab that handy dandy coffee mug, pour your liquid courage, and get cracking.
7. Second-guess everything you ever thought about your story and capabilities as a writer.
Number seven is a rite of passage for writers. Be sure not to skip this step. It’s very important that you pause to wallow. No manuscript is complete without lamenting in your choice of vocation. (Glasses of wine optional.)
8. Research how to write a query.
Now that you’ve second-guessed your characters, plot, and story in its entirety and emerged on the other side as a slightly less sane human being, it’s time to learn about yet another foreign form of writing: professional cover letters. Only, in this business it’s called called ‘queries.’ But you’ve already mastered an entirely new genre. I mean, you wrote an entire book after all. What’s a one-page document summarizing your 75,000-word book in comparison? Piece of cake.
9. Research literary agents who would be interested in your manuscript.
Now that your manuscript and query are polished and ready to go, it’s time to find the perfect stranger to submit your stuff to. Only, they can be a little particular as to what types of manuscripts they want and how to submit it. So, read each and every agency website of the fifty agents you want to submit to carefully! They bite.
10. Submit, submit, and submit some more.
Great job! You’ve mustered up the courage and clicked the strangely intimidating send button on your submissions. Here’s to hoping you didn’t spell anything wrong.
11. Buy something stronger than wine and wait for the responses to your submissions to come in (if at all).
They say most writers receive an average of 80 rejections before finding their literary agent. (Can we drink now or do we have to wait for the form rejections to come in?)
Eventually, there comes a moment where you turn around and look back on what you’ve done and see how far you’ve come as a writer and person. No longer are your writerly sensibilities quite as tender as they were before. Now, not only are you open to receiving critique on your writing but eager to receive any and all constructive criticism you can get. Because you have come to fully understand that that’s the only way to improve.
You also see that your fellow writers—former enemies—are the best friends you could have ever hoped for. Because they know, I mean really know, what it’s like to second-guess your skill as a writer and wonder if all the time you sacrificed to create this manuscript was worth it.
But it was.
In that time, you learned more than you ever thought possible. You learned how to craft characters that come alive on the page, the ink pulsing through their veins. You also learned how to craft intense scenes that even get your heart pumping—and you know how it ends! And structuring a pretty plot arc no longer intimidates you anymore because you’ve discovered the best way for you to plot out your story in its entirety.
Looking back on all those times when everything was new and terrifying, you can now recognize the hope laced through every moment as you clicked away on your keyboard (or scratched away at your notepad). It was hope for the moment when you could hold your completed, polished manuscript in your hands, knowing that you’ve gotten exactly where you hoped you would be—where you knew you could make it with a little bit of hard work. And a lot of bit of wine.
Meg LaTorre is a writer of adult science fiction and fantasy, YouTuber, developmental book editor, writing coach, creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. On Meg’s YouTube channel, iWriterly, she geeks out on all things books—from the concept to the bookshelves (and everything in between). Meg also launched Query Hack, a query critique platform where writers can submit their manuscript queries or Twitter pitches for free feedback. She has written for publications such as Writer’s Digest and Savvy Authors on topics related to writing and publishing, participated as an editor in Twitter contests, including #RevPit (Revise and Resubmit) and Pitch to Publication, is a Resident Writing Coach at Writers Helping Writers, and can be found teaching online classes throughout the year. To learn more about Meg, follow her on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.