TEN BEST LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY:
1. Write what you know. Writers get sick of hearing this, but successful authors keep repeating it, because it's true. I spent (wasted) a lot of time delving into worlds where I didn't belong. I finally began to publish when I took my own experiences and magicked them into fiction.
2. Rewrite until you're blue in the whatnots. Editors won't even take a peek at dirty manuscripts. Just because you've finished your book doesn't mean that it's finished. Put it down, read something else, and go back to it. Rewrite it over and over again until you find yourself thinking, "Holy cow, this is incredible! Who wrote this?"
3. Do your goshdarn homework. Add details to your writing that single it out and make it special. If you've placed your character in a small Oregon town, research the town. If you're writing about high school students, hang out with a few of them and see what they've got to say. You're writing will be enriched because of it, and it's kinda fun.
4. Again, do your goshdarn homework. Peruse the Bestseller List to see what the masses are consuming. We agents like to call them "Airport Books" or "Beach Books". If you can sell one of these, something wildly popular and easy to read, then you're freed up to write what you really want.
5. Once again (only once more, I swear), do your goshdarn homework. When it comes time to submit your manuscript, brew a pot of coffee and snuggle up with the Writer's Market. It is your best friend. If you can't afford a copy (all we writers are poor, after all), check it out from the library. It's got listings of agents, publishers, and what they're looking for. Get the most current edition you can. And don't DON'T send your book to everyone out there or you'll just make a bad name for yourself. Take your time. My first choice house picked up my book, and that's because I worked my tail off trying to decipher where it would fit best.
6. The synopsis. I KNOW! It's more difficult to write than the book. I hated every second of it, but you've got to have one. Preferably a good one. And there are plenty of free resources online to teach you how to do it. Or a bottle of vodka and a good friend, perhaps. Which leads us to...
7. Find somebody to read your work before you submit it. Not someone that's going to kiss your literary ass, someone that's going to be honest with you. You want to test your product on the proverbial bunny before you try and put it on the shelf.
8. If you aren't going to try and find an agent, learn how to be one. Again, there are many books available on this subject. A lot of publishers won't take a writer without an agent, and this is only because they don't want to deal with the uneducated. It's like going to court without a lawyer. However, it's not impossible. An agent typically cuts 15%. If you want to keep that cut, learn to agent yourself. I did. And I also ended up opening an agency to help other writers. It's not impossible. And again, it's kinda fun.
9. Query letters are the Holy Grail. I know. I know. They're about as easy to write as a synopsis. However, editors and agents have trained themselves to sift through submissions with the speed of a superhero, so you've gotta have a hook. As an agent, I'm supposed to give everybody a 30-page chance. But I get dozens of submissions a week, and honestly, after 13 years, I know what I'm looking for in a few paragraphs. Your query letter is a chance to sell yourself as an author and as a creative writer. Be unique. Don't send form letters. Address the specific agent or editor by name, and keep it as short as you can. Remember, until you win them over, you're not making them any money, and their time is golden.
10. Keep writing. Editors and agents don't want a one-hit-wonder. Now more than ever, the series sells. Tell them you've got more than one book in you and then make it happen. Fall in love with your characters and keep at it. Feel them living and breathing, talking incessantly all around you. It'll pay off. I swear.
11. (the bonus) Don't get discouraged. The publishing world is in an uproar. Nobody knows what to do with this whole self-publishing/e-book world. Which means, you've got the upper hand and many options. Keep your chin up (or your pen up), and again, (sorry) do your goshdarn homework.
BIO: Natalie Essary is an Austin DJ, freelance editor, author, and owner of SpiderLily Literary Agency. Her published projects have jumped all over the page, from Yoga research to ghostwriting theater reviews, from AIDS activism to poetry. She is a member of the G10 Writers and has made two contributions to their published anthologies: Therapy Sucks and Love is a Many Splintered Thing, both available on Amazon. Her chick noir novel, Helluva Luxe, published by Lethe Press, is due out in 2012.