By Kate Collins
I met a nice young woman for coffee this week, an adjunct professor at the local college, who finally finished writing her first novel and needed advice on how to get published. She's been a big supporter of my books for years, so I thought I'd return her kindness. That was my intention, anyway.
So we started with the query letter. She had no idea what that was about, so I explained what should go into it. She seemed a bit dismayed as I explained that she needed to research the market and find the right publishing houses first. She took a deep breath and said, "Okay. I can do that."
Next step, if she had a positive response to the letter, was to prepare her "partial," a 7-9 page synopsis and the first three chapters of her book, polished until they shone like a diamond.
Synopsis? She looked like a deer in the headlights. So I gave her the parameters while she scribbled furiously in her notebook. She looked over her notes and took a deep breath. "I think I can do that."
Then, I said, comes the wait. And the worry. (Will the editor like it? Is it right for that house? That line? Is my hook strong enough?) And possibly the rejection. And then you start all over again, until one day, hopefully, you get that call. Then suddenly your world changes. Your life will never be the same again. You'll have deadlines and revisions and contracts and tons and tons of promotional activities. You'll have websites, blogs, MySpace and Facebook sites to maintain, fan letters to answer, conferences to attend, and books to sign.
She looked faint. "I don't think I can do that."
"Wait," I told her. "Sometimes I get ahead of myself. Let's go back to the query letter. Make it the best piece of self-advertising you've ever done. Don't think about what comes at the end. I was lucky because I didn't know what lay ahead. As they say, ignorance is bliss."
She finished writing, then gazed at me in wonder. "It took all that work to get where you are?"
Oh, baby. And on top of all that, first you have to tell a damn good story. Ask any of the writers on this blog. Novel writing is not romantic or easy. Even if you love it, it's still a job in which you must produce pages every day, day after day, whether you're in the mood or not.
My final piece of advice to her was this. If you truly believe you wrote the best story ever, then even if you get rejections, keep submitting it and start on another. If you're a born story-teller, you won't, make that can't, stop telling stories.