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How to get Your Book Published as a New Author


When I was writing The Ice House, I scoured so many blog posts and articles about completing my first manuscript, finding an agent, and querying.


I was always on the lookout for some sort of verification that the writer of that particular article was more qualified than I was to have a book published. Usually, I found something: they’d been published before, they had an MFA in creative writing, they belonged to a family of writers, etc.


I didn’t have any of those things when I began querying, and I landed a wonderful agent, and eventually, a book deal with Little, Brown Young Readers. I wanted to share more about my own experience because I think it’s important that aspiring authors hear real stories about writers being published through querying and eventually being discovered in the slush pile.

1. Complete your manuscript


I’ve written already about how the story of The Ice House evolved. In retrospect, it was a clunky journey with ebbs and flows, stops and starts. I’d attribute my determination to finish and submit the book to the feeling of inertia that was overwhelming me at the time. Writing gave me something tangible to do. It connected me to an aspirational future-me who was a published author. What does this mean for you? I’m all about tactical advice. So of all of the advice I heard, books on writing I read, etc., the two things I would recommend to any writer are:

  • Write every day for 30 minutes. If you can continue past the thirty minutes, that’s great. But some days 30 minutes was all I had, and guess what, I still finished the book. Also, sometimes, even now, 30 minutes feels impossible. That’s okay, too. But really commit to the majority of days, writing 30 minutes.

  • Find a quote that inspires you as a writer, and stick it on a post-it note on a wall you’ll see every day. If you don’t have one, here are my two:


“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.”

— Beverly Cleary


2. Edit. Ask yourself what are the strongest parts of this draft of my manuscript? What are the weakest?

How do you know if your manuscript is done? Most of the time, it's not.

When you’ve finished a draft, read through it again and make a list of strengths and weaknesses.

Struggling with prose? Dialogue? Plot? Something else? Are there too many characters?


Make your list, check it, and then take a week away from writing. When you return to editing, come up with solutions and work scene by scene.


When you think you are ready to share your “final” draft with someone for feedback, do not pick just anyone. I didn’t know any middle grade authors, or published authors at all, to ask for input before querying. You might not either. That’s okay. I do know some family members I consider to be excellent writers, and so I asked two of them to read and give me notes. If you don’t know anyone you would consider a strong writer, then think about any great readers you know. Find someone whose opinion on literature you actually trust.

You’ve given a great deal of time and attention to your manuscript. If the people you let read it aren’t going to give it the thoughtful consideration it deserves and offer feedback that is both honest and constructive, it might discourage you.

It could help to share your bullet pointed list of the weaknesses you identified and worked to fix with your reader. That way, as they read, they can consider these specific sections/areas, and provide direct feedback where it’s most needed.


“ Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet." — Cheryl Strayed

Once you’ve edited based on any constructive reader feedback, take another break. As much as you might dream of finishing your manuscript ASAP, the process is going to take a very long time. I’m one of the most impatient people I know. But despite all of my attempts to rush this process, it still takes a very long time. And it’s better to spend the time editing here than revising after a round of querying that goes unanswered.

Reread. Take notes. Revise again if necessary.

3. Query


How do you know if you are ready to query? I think this is a very personal decision that probably involves a whole number of factors: time, expectation, experience, patience. For me, I decided it was time to query when I felt that I’d done all that I could to make it better. I was at a place where I felt that either I would start querying agents, or just give up on the book altogether. I had a gut feeling that it was worth it to at least try. If no agents responded, at least I wouldn’t wonder about it later on.

I was not great at querying. I read all of the blogs on writing query letters, etc. I lurked on message boards about agent response times. I had a very difficult time writing my query letter. I also consider myself to be introverted, so the thought of emailing someone and pitching something to them was very against my nature. My only two pieces of advice are to follow up according to requirements listed on the agent’s website within the timeframe that particular agent provided, and think about the process as a mutual experience. You want an agent that understands your work, that you feel you can talk to, and that has an interest in helping you reach your full potential as an author. I am so lucky that I ended up with an agent just like this. Patience and good communication skills are crucial here.

4. Submission


Before I signed with my agent, I made adjustments to the manuscript based on his suggestions, which was an additional round of revisions. Once I’d signed, the process of submitting began. I am still fairly in the dark about the technicalities of this process. This is purposeful. I decided I didn’t want to hear about rejections from editors unless my agent felt that something about their feedback could be constructive.

Ultimately, I tried to keep an open mind and an open heart throughout the process. This was easier for me because I could trust my agent implicitly. I was so lucky that eventually, Andrea Spooner at Little, Brown Young Readers connected with my story. I can’t imagine the book in anyone else’s hands.


5. Revisions


In my experience, revisions are not fun. Even when I tried to reframe it as an opportunity to make the story better, there were still times I thought I would never finish. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a debut author and had so much anxiety about each step of the process, or if it’s just because writing can feel very isolating at times, and ultimately I knew that it was up to me to stick to a deadline and implement feedback. The Ice House went through several rounds of revisions. Some were harder than others. My takeaways from all of this revising are: Ask yourself:

  • Do you need this character?

  • What purpose is this character serving?

  • Is every single scene serving the character’s arc?

  • How will each character demonstrate change?

  • Can supporting characters reinforce the theme?

  • What are your most used words? Some writing software, like Scrivener, can provide this info for you with their stats feature. If a word is used a disproportionate number of times, see if you can revise sentences to cut that word.

 

I hope that these tips inspire you to keep going and continue the overwhelming but worthy journey of writing your book. It’s hard, but it’s possible! Let me know what questions you have in the comments below, and as always, thank you for reading!