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Tips for Building a Successful Career as an Author: Week Three - Perseverance
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018

Continue reading Jamie Beck's month-long series on tips for building a successful career as an author. 

Greetings! We’re heading into the third installment of this series of posts outlining tips to help you build a successful career as an author. If you’d like to read these posts in order, you can read the first two posts about craft and goal setting. Today we will be talking about the importance of perseverance.

Whether you choose a traditional career or embark on the entrepreneurial world of self-publishing, you need a thick skin, a lot of patience, and a resilient attitude. I’ll first address the traditional publishing world because that is what I know best.

Getting an Agent to Notice You

I wrote three manuscripts before I got an agent (although my second manuscript ended up being the first book published). I’ll be getting into that story in the final installment of this series, but the short version is that I kept writing, kept using disappointment and critical feedback to improve, and got much better at researching and pitching agents. This is extremely important because landing an agent is just as much about finding the right fit as it is about writing a good book. Quality research will help you identify the agents who are most likely to connect with your storytelling style.

There are a few ways to approach this research. For example, Writer’s Digest publishes a directory each year that lists all the agencies and agents, their preferences, and more. You can also use online references like agentquery.com to do your research. Additionally, many agents participate in pitch contests on Twitter (Savvy Authors runs some, and Pitch Wars runs #pitmad), so you can take a shot in those contests. 

Another way to get a beat on agents and editors is through conferences. Most of the reputable ones will have a few agents and editors in attendance (e.g., CTRWA’s Fiction Fest in September will have eight in attendance). Some conferences offer formal pitch sessions, some set up “pay to play” roundtables where you get critical feedback on work you submit in advance, and all provide informal opportunities to meet and mingle (in the bar or at a lunch table). If you are confident, articulate, have honed your pitch to a great log line, and are able to describe your story in a few short sentences, conference pitching is a great way to get your manuscript out of the slush pile.

For those who tend to be more introverted, the traditional querying method is yet another path to finding an agent. After unsuccessful attempts at finding an agent to represent my first two manuscripts, I got smarter about this process. I now recommend personalizing each query by reading agent interviews. This not only gives you a sense of his or her personality, but also gives you something specific to mention in the opening of your letter about why you have contacted that agent. Scour each agent’s author list looking for one or two whose work is similar to yours, read those books, and then note agents most likely to like your work based on that research. With that information in hand, make an informed comparison in the opening of your query too.

Patience

When you have your personalized letters ready to go, be patient. The first time I ever queried, I sent a huge batch of identical queries out simultaneously and then waited for replies. The third time, I divided agents into batches, figuring that if the first five rejected me, I could change my query letter so that I might get a different result with the next five. At this point, however, I’d gotten much better at writing a tight query letter and, when my dream agent offered in that first round, I notified the others before they’d even finished reading the manuscript.

Regardless of how you set about finding an agent, what all of the foregoing should show is that patience is critical. Slowing down and taking a methodical approach to querying has a much better chance of paying off. And while some authors do very well without an agent, I view mine as a career-building partner in every sense of the word. She has more experience and contacts, and she listens to all of my ideas and talks me out of the bad ones. She also fights for bigger advances, narrow noncompetes, and other things that have helped to propel my career.

For Self-Published Authors

If you’re thinking, “Meh, I don’t want a traditional deal, so this isn’t relevant,” think again. If you choose to self-publish, you will also have to hone these skills and more, because you will be dealing with freelance editors, publicists, cover artists, and booksellers. The good freelance editors have lots of clients, so you will need to stick to their schedule and wait for your slot. You will need to research publicists and relevant blogs, learn to write pitch letters to get on blog tours, get advanced reviews, and to speak at libraries and bookstores. You will need to learn to format your book for the different distribution platforms (or find someone you can pay to do that). All of these things require a great deal of patience to ensure that, ultimately, your book is the very best quality it can be and has all of the levers ready to pull to give it the best launch possible.

Building a Network

But launching a book successfully doesn’t simply require a well-crafted story, some good advertising, advanced reviews, and a blog tour. You also need a network of industry professionals who are eager to help you. For more information about how to build that network, please join me for the fourth segment of this series next Monday.

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