By Rachel Beck
They say you’re a writer if you write. But anyone chasing a book deal, who has put words on the page, enough to meet a goal word count, may constantly doubt those words are worth anything. Going from a writer to an author is the goal of anyone submitting their work to agents. As an agent, and former editor, I have received countless submissions and exchanged numerous email communications with aspiring authors, offering advice and as much helpful feedback and thoughts as I can.
I constantly wonder how helpful I’m being, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to spell out ten simple things that I may not be able to communicate individually to each writer I interact with. If you want to go from a writer to an author, with a book deal and an editor and the whole she-bang, your chances of making that happen will be a lot greater if you can check off each of these things:
1.) Be able to define your genre: It’s okay if it’s a cross between two or three. It’s not okay if it’s a cross between four or five. Study the most recognized genres, so that you’re accurately classifying yours.
2.) Be able to summarize your story in a one-sentence elevator pitch: Also be able to summarize your story in a cohesive paragraph, that includes your word count, genre, major goals, motivations and conflicts of the main characters.
3.) Know your story’s WORD count, not PAGE count: Page counts mean nothing in the industry, because there are multiple book formats. Word counts are what matter. Also make sure your word count is appropriate for your genre. A 50,000 word women’s fiction novel is too short. A 120,000 word young adult novel is too long (unless it’s Harry Potter).
4.) Have two or three comp authors/titles for your work: Make sure you’ve read those authors/books and that the comparison is accurate. Pick authors whose books have sold well, such that you’d be comfortable with your publicity team pitching your story in the same vein. You don’t want your book compared to another one that had a good premise, but flopped when it came to sales.
5.) Know your subgenre/s: Is your book mystery, suspense, thriller, horror? Domestic noir, domestic suspense, cozy mystery, psychological thriller, procedural suspense, Stephen King-esque horror? Do some research so that you can tell an agent more than just “it’s a romance.” Contemporary romance? Historical romance? Romantic comedy? Inspirational romance? Amish romance? Erotic? The more specific you can get when it comes to genre, the more it will be evident that you know your subject matter–and thus the more articulately you’ll be able to sell it to agents.
6.) Have, at the very least, a Twitter profile: It’s great to have a Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts for your author profile. A website is even better. But it isn’t totally necessary to set up these things until after you land a book deal. Twitter, however, is the main social media forum for the publishing industry, so you should be active on there, following other authors and the industry in general.
7.) Research the industry as much as you can: Along with Twitter, subscribe to publishing newsletters and read up on the industry often–trends, fads, etc. Follow the NYT bestseller list.
8.) Make other writer friends, and have beta readers look at your material before professionals: Writers’ support groups are invaluable. You’re all working toward the same goal, so you can help each other out. Read each others’ drafts before submitting to agents. A fresh set of eyes can go such a long way. Critique partners are an awesome resource.
9.) READ, READ, READ: Especially in the genre you wish to write in. You should know that market like the back of your hand.
10.) WRITE, WRITE, WRITE: This one should be obvious. Every day.
Rachel Beck is a literary agent at Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @Rachel_C_Beck.