This guest blog was originally posted at the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents blog on 3/10/13. It was written by the talented and savvy new author, Priscille Sibley. Her novel, THE PROMISE OF STARDUST has just been released by William Morrow. This is a terrific checklist!
1: The Elevator Pitch
As I write this post, my first novel, The Promise of Stardust, is about to find its way into the world. It’s about a woman who suffers a devastating brain injury, and just as they are about to take her off life-support, they realize she’s pregnant. Oh yes, there’s more. The story spans twenty years. It’s a love story. It’s a family saga. It’s many things. But for an elevator pitch, it important to know what your story is about and to refine it down to a sentence or two.
No, I’m not talking about the bodice-ripping kind of passion, although that’s fine if you’re writing romance. I’m talking about your passion for writing and your passion for your story. You’re going to be in that book for a long time. You better have true feelings for the characters and the themes. And you better have a passion for writing. I’ve always been someone who lived inside my head, but when I started putting the words down on paper, it felt as if I had no choice but to continue to write. I had a story about which I felt deeply. It was genuine. So even when the rejections came, I felt compelled to keep on.
It’s almost a cliché. To be a writer you must persevere. You will receive rejections. You will feel discouraged. You will get bad reviews. Sometimes. They will bite even if there’s one bad among twenty rapturous ones. And you have to brush yourself off and continue to write. You have to continue to risk your pride again by sending out more query letters and by putting your writing out there in the world, and yes, by asking for criticism. And in the end, you may not succeed, but unless you keep trying you will definitely fail.
4: A Work Ethic
Even if writing is your passion, it also involves work. The words don’t type themselves onto the page. You have to put your butt in the chair and you have to hit the keys and you have to keep yourself off the internet, solitaire, and all other distractions. You must hone your craft. And then you must better yourself.
5: Set Goals
Of course your ultimate goal is to see your book face out in the front of your nearest and most beloved bookstore. However, that’s a long ways off if you are still writing the first draft of your novel or memoir or other great work. I bow in humility to those who can pound out a book in a NaNoWriter’s month. I can’t do that. Set reasonable interim goals. I want to have the first draft finished by… and I want to sit down and study such and such book on craft before I start my revisions. I want to write a killer query letter – after I research the agents.
6: An Agent who Loves your Book
Okay, you’ve seen that line in the form rejections, haven’t you? “I just didn’t love it as much as I hoped.” You’ve thought, oh man, can’t they just like me? Like doesn’t cut it. The agent is your advocate. She or he is far more than a gatekeeper. You may not understand this until you have one, but trust me, a good agent is gold. And while she’s giving you feedback before submission, she’s investing her time in your project. While she’s composing the letter, which will go out to editors, you want her to be your cheerleader. While you’re wrestling with any of the challenges, which will come up after you sell, she’s in your corner. You want her to care. A good agent who loves your book makes all the difference. And yes, my agent pulled me out of the slush pile. It does happen.
7: Writer Friends
Friends always make things better, right? Of course. Because becoming a writer is a rare and misunderstood journey, it will be invaluable if you have someone who understands the pitfalls and challenges. How do you find writer friends? If you’ve taken writer’s courses, you probably met them in person. Go to conferences. I met my first writer friend at one. Join an online forum. I recommend Backspace whose motto is “Writers helping Writers,” but there are other forums. Meet people on Twitter and Facebook. We writers like to live in our heads, but there is a whole world out there.
8: Critique Partners
I suppose not everyone has to have a critique partner. Some people just have a trusted reader who gives potent feedback. But I happened into a group of other writers who taught me a great deal about writing. They gave me feedback about what was working in my story and what was not. Some of the feedback was nitpicky. Some of it involved greater conceptual flow. All of it was invaluable. More importantly I learned to look at writing critically. Usually when someone says “giving as good as you get” they are talking about a playground tussle. Reconsider that. Give feedback as good as you get. Learn what works and what doesn’t, and I promise it will help you be a better writer, too.
Let’s face it, in this business, it takes luck. You have to find the right story, the right advocate, and the right time. But it isn’t just luck. It takes endurance. So hold onto your dreams. Reach for the sky. Stay long enough for that luck to hit you.
Priscille is right – don’t ever stop learning, practicing, polishing and working for that dream!
Keep writing and reading and I’ll see you Sunday! NQ