Happy Monday, everyone! I know, I know…Mondays. Bleh. Luckily, Donna Galanti is here to cheer you up. When it comes to publishing, she’s done it all: her short story collection is self-published, her debut novel was published through a small press, and she’s recently acquired an agent for her children’s book series. Today, she’s here to share her journey to traditional publication—the lessons she learned and is still learning as a published author. So be encouraged, everyone. IT CAN BE DONE!
Over three years I traveled a writing road to become published. It was challenging, and every step (forward and backward) led me to an agent, a publisher, and a 2-book deal. If you want to become traditionally published, I hope my journey helps you realize that it really does all start with one step, and ALL these steps will benefit you once you get that book deal.
1 step to get out of the comfort zone
Three years ago I crawled out of my writer’s cave and met other writers. I attended workshops, conferences, and networking events. I challenged myself to take a class on how to write in a different genre. Writing is impulsive. Be impulsive and take risks to get outside your comfort zone.
Are you ready for discomfort? Once you have a book deal…you’ll be asked to sign at book expos, present at conferences, do author panels, write blog posts, or present at school assemblies.
2 years submitting to 189 agents
I spent years submitting to agents. Be ready for rejection and combat it with more submissions. Your query letter is your sales tool to get an agent to ask for the full manuscript. Keep getting rejected? It’s time to revise that letter. New agents are prime for querying as they all want to build their client lists. I recommend following the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. My friend and agent, Marie Lamba, has a great advice column on getting an agent here on her Agent Mondays.
Are you ready to keep pitching? Once you have a book deal…your agent may need to spend months pitching your book to publishers, and you await more rejection until it finds a home.
3 rounds with my developmental editor and 3 beta readers’ feedback
Spend the money and use a developmental editor. Frustrated that my manuscript was being rejected, I knew something wasn’t working. My editor at Writing Partner helped me see what I needed to do (three major rewrites over two years) and apply what I’ve learned. Here are 5 things I learned from my editor. Find the right beta readers who know how to decipher fiction and read the genre you write in. Give them a list of questions to help guide them.
Are you ready to take criticism and apply it to make your work better? Once you have a book deal...you will work with an editor at the publishing house, or your agent as an editor. They will request changes – and expect you to know how to fix them. Will you know how? Be open to changes. Read my friend Kathryn Craft’s editing journey in regards to her book deal.
4 (and a half) months waiting for an offer
It takes a long time to hear back from agents and publishers who have your manuscript under consideration. While you wait, keep revising and submitting your work and getting feedback. Study the publishing market. Get free e-newsletters to Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace. Read in your genre. Purchase books on how to write. See my writing resource list here. And keep coming up with new book ideas. Why? Because an agent doesn’t just want you for a one book deal, they want you for a long term relationship. When you get a call from an agent, they will want to know what other projects you’re working on. Have those ideas shaped into short pitches. I had mine on hand to seal the deal.
Are you ready to think about agents the same way? Once you have a book deal…On your new career path you need to prove you are serious about being an author, that you know your genre, and youre self-motivated to create a portfolio of writing. You want an agent who will guide and champion you. Research them before querying and talking with them and have your own interview questions ready. Here’s a great article I referenced before talking with my agent.
5 writing conferences and 5 novels read in an internship
As a writer you need to learn the writing craft, the business of writing, and how to build relationships in a writing community. I’ve been lucky to have met many folks through the Philadelphia Liars Club and their Writer’s Coffeehouse. Through an agent friend there, I was offered an internship with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. In this role I evaluated manuscripts. I learned how to deconstruct a novel. And I learned to see similar problems in my own writing and how to avoid them. I’ve also befriended many bestselling authors, online and at conferences, who want to help new writers. They’ve advised me, allowed me to guest post on their blogs, and have written blurbs for my work. They pay it forward. Someday you will too.
Are you ready to keep learning from your peers and apply what you’ve learned? Once you have a book deal…you will be elevated as a writer in a new partnership that requires you to be professional and knowledgeable in your craft – and you need to continue networking to build those valuable relationships that will boost your career.
6 in-person agent pitches
I’ve pitched my book to agents at conferences and at social gatherings. Think of it as a conversation. Agents need writers as much as we need them. Always be ready to talk about your book. Always have a business card on hand and ask for theirs in return.
Are you ready to pitch at a moment’s notice? Once you have a book deal…you will be promoting your book everywhere, formally at signings and informally in the grocery store. Have your book’s one-line pitch ready to share with that potential customer. Remember, YOU are the one person most passionate about your book.
7 months to write the first draft
I almost gave up. Remember, I challenged myself to write in a new genre? It was hard. I didn’t always enjoy it. I felt outside my comfort zone, but I gave myself a deadline to finish, and I stuck to it. And here are six things I learned about writing a children’s book during this process.
Are you challenging yourself to finish your book on a deadline? Once you have a book deal…you will be expected to meet many deadlines. You will be given an editorial calendar and go a few editing rounds on the manuscript, each time with a deadline. Got a two-book deal? You will be given deadlines to deliver a manuscript proposal and the manuscript on book two. You will have deadlines to meet for blog tours and other events. Keep a good reputation and make deadlines.
8 agents who had the full manuscript and rejected it
The biggest reason agents rejected my book? They didn’t like the voice—and that’s a personal choice. Your voice is your natural, unique expression. Wait for that someone who will love your voice. It can be the agent that helps you launch a career, like my agent, Bill Contardi with Brandt & Hochman. It can be the publisher, like Month9Books, who fell in love with my middle grade novel. If they love your voice in one book, they most likely will love it in others you write.
Are you ready to take rejection and keep persevering? Once you have a book deal…your changes to the story may be rejected. Your title may be rejected. Your next book idea for the second book in the deal may be rejected. Get used to rejection and think of it as positive traction.
And now it all comes down to one. One agent. One publisher. One deal.
I spent years preparing to publish my book and when it happened, it happened fast. Within a month I had an agent, a publisher, and a two-book deal. But look at the number of steps (and missteps) I took along the way to get to that ONE. Going through all these steps may be disheartening at times, but doing so prepares you to step into the authorial role and work with your agent to build a career. Because you will encounter these same steps as a published author.
Are you ready to take these steps again? And again?
What’s my next step? The challenge of transitioning my brand from an author of dark adult fiction to children’s fiction. That may be a post here for another time–once I figure it out. ☺
Donna Galanti writes suspense, young adult, and middle grade fiction and is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc. She is an International Thriller Writers (ITW) Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT (Echelon Press) and its sequel, A HIDDEN ELEMENT (Imajin Books), which releases summer 2014. Book one and two of her middle grade series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, debuts in 2015 (Month9Books). She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse that has lots of writing nooks, fireplaces, and stink bugs but sadly no ghosts.