By God’s blessing I have an agent who is going to pitch my book to a couple of publishing houses (small ones, because you have to start somewhere), but this kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight, and I have been on a long winding road to this point in my writing career. I decided to discuss the path I took, the mistakes I made, and the reasons why I think this agent has decided to take a closer look at my work.
1. Education – I have a BA in English from Oklahoma Baptist University with a minor in creative writing, but that is not the extent of my education as a writer. I began writing at age 15 and have molded and shaped my voice, my style and my genre preferences over the course of several years. I took creative writing courses in college because I loved writing and wanted to learn the craft, sitting under some of the best teachers imaginable, but I’ve been writing short stories for a very long time. I only decided to start writing a novel in 2007, years after I had written probably over seventy short stories, keeping them under wraps, not publishing them, mostly due to confidence issues. The point is, writers need good education, and that can come from writing workshops, writer’s conferences, writing groups or enrolling in a few writing classes at the college level. It’s worth it simply to understand the importance of feedback and to get others to help you reach a better place as a writer.
2. Persistence – I am not in this place in my career (even though I feel I have just begun) because I sat around complaining that I am having writer’s block or a thousand other things that keep me from writing. I have been actively pursuing this for years. The way I see it, it has taken 5 years to get to this place, and it will take probably another 5 years to become an “A” list author if people buy my books and they sell well. It has indeed been a lot of hard work and will continue to require just as much work from me. To sit around and rest on my laurels because I might soon land a book deal is absolutely foolish. I wake every day thinking that possibly this could all vanish in a moment and I’ll be back to self-publishing. I do not take anything for granted, and if I don’t get my hopes up, then when great things happen they are that much more exciting. I am a proverbial bull-dog when it comes to pursuing a writing career, willing to do anything and call anyone to publicize and promote my books because I believe in the messages that they express. I will not quit, and neither should you. My biggest mistake was that I waited until 2007 to start building a platform.
3. Platform – As mentioned above, if I would have done anything differently it would have been building a platform after leaving college in stead of waiting until 2007. I’ve had a list of plot ideas for novels in a notebook sitting around collecting dust for years. They are not niche novels, but novels that can reach a more mainstream audience. If you haven’t started building a platform, then these are some things you need to do right now:
- Start a Blog – One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is to find some kind of thing you know a great heap about and then write a blog about that thing. Hopefully it will be information everyone can use. Writing a blog and keeping it going is a difficult thing in that you have to come up with good content every week (and in my case nearly every day). Sometimes I fail at that, but most of the time it is the best thing to get my creative juices flowing. If you can build a following through Twitter, Facebook and a thousand other social media sites, then you can reach a wider audience, but you have to get at it and it takes a long time to build a following that is worth anything. Get to blogging.
- Start a Podcast – Podcasts are fun because people can listen to them anywhere, and if you can translate your blogging topics to your podcast in an entertaining way (nobody likes to listen to Ferris Bueller‘s teacher droning on and on) you can not only entertain people but promote yourself as a personable person who might be invited to speak at a conference and also reach an audience that may never read your blog.
- Self-Publish – Publish your first book as a CreateSpace book and then offer versions for every form of e-reader. Stay away from companies that charge mountains of money for little return on your investment. Learn how to use PhotoShop or Pixelmator and create your own digital covers that really stand out, learning from wonderful websites like The Book Shark to discover what would be the most eye-popping cover for your book. Learn how to upload to Amazon Createspace, how to use software like iBook Author and Scrivener to produce your own digital versions. Buy your own ISBN numbers (I recommend 10 at a time for $250) because you will only need these for the iTunes and Nook versions, but it will give your book a sense of legitimacy. Offer the first part of the book for free on Smashwords and then release the other parts for .99 cents, and then use your blog to drive people to the free one. I was able to see nearly 600 downloads of the first part of This Broken Earth, which then translated to sales of the second and third parts of the book. It shows that your book generates interest, and that people will want to read the other two parts.
- Write What Sells – I spent a lot of time looking at what was popular in not only fiction, but also on television and movies. This Broken Earth is tailor made to fit these dynamics. It has the desolation and personal destiny of The Book of Eli, the social dynamic and love triangles of The Walking Dead, the starkly cold governmental systems and societal structures of The Hunger Games and it has wild surprises which everyone loves to read about.
- Start Courting Agents – I skipped trying to communicate with publishing houses altogether because finding an agent is the best route. Agents have connections that you do not, and most publishers won’t even talk to you if you are not represented by someone. Go to their websites, finding agents that handle your kind of genre, then read what they accept and do not accept and follow the rules. Look at their submission guidelines and do what they say. Get ready for a thousand rejection letters. Some of these agencies will send automated messages back to you, but do not let it deter you. Keep at it. Eventually you will find someone who fits with your needs, will be happy to help you, and will possibly wonder why you haven’t published through a publishing house by now.
If I were to do it all over again, I would have started trying all of this platform building when I was in my twenties. I’m in my forties now and have four children and a full time job, so it is much harder to do all of this but I will never quit. I am persistent and I will reach my dream of being an “A” list author someday. There is one part of this I’m leaving out, though. The main reason I am where I am is simply because I’m a man of faith and I’ve been on my knees a lot throughout this process. I must give credit where credit is due. It is amazing how He has led me to this agency, and I consider it an absolute miracle that they were interested in my book. I won’t quit praying, and if things fall apart I will never stop having faith that things will work out for the best, that many people will read my books and find a faith that is real, that is not political, that is of a love that surpasses all human understanding.
God still reigns.