I haven’t had much time to work on my novel in the past couple of months, but I make a point of reading industry blogs and reading some writing-related forums. On writing forums it’s becoming more and more common to hear people discussing the impossibility of getting an agent and the wonders of self-publishing. The other day one such person complained about querying “billions of agents” over “several years,” proving that getting an agent is just luck.
Writing a novel is a huge accomplishment… but that doesn’t mean the novel is of publishable quality. Writing well is a craft that is learned, practiced, honed. Putting words on a page — even lots of pages — doesn’t necessarily mean the writer is improving as a writer. Without additional study, *intentional* study, the person may just be repeating the same mistakes over and over.
There are lots of ways to improve craft:
- Take writing classes. I’ve taken two classes on structure this year. I don’t think either was over $50. Classes can be found on all sorts of topics in a range of prices.
- Study — active practice the exercises — at least one writing book each year. I have a library of writing books. I find maybe one in six is worth delving into deeply. My favorites are Story, by Robert McKee and The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maas.
- Attend writing conferences. I attend one local conference each year, minimum. Staying local keeps the cost low.
- Join and participate in critique groups. I belong to Backspace and Critique Circle online. I have friends “in the real world” who give great feedback. Be cognizant of the skill level of your critiquers, though. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid.
- Enter contests. I entered three this year. Won one — The Sandy. Great way to get feedback, often from industry professionals.
- Read industry blogs. I have about 20 industry blogs in my Google Reader. Yes, it can be a time suck, but it’s a great way to get the inside story on what and how to query.
- Take advantage of any auctions or contests where agents offer critiques and feedback on your work. This can be expensive, but seriously, it’s worth every penny — and the money often goes to charity. It’s worth saving for. This is feedback from inside the industry — the people who will ultimately be buying or representing your work. Listen to them!
- Write, rewrite, and test your query. Keep stats. If you don’t get a request for a full or a partial on a minimum of 10% of the queries you send out, revise before sending the next wave. I’m not actively querying yet, but I worked on my pitch for this novel for over a YEAR before I got the “WOW” reaction I wanted.
When I presented this list to the person who had submitted queries to billion of agents, he pooh-poohed it. What he doesn’t realize is that I’m not the only person doing these things. When you submit to agents, you’re competing against lots of people who are doing all of these things. And chances are, if you’re not doing these things — not actively trying to *improve* your craft — they’re getting requests and you’re not.
Of course, that’s probably just luck. Hey, have you considered self publishing?