Because I do Critique Partner matchmaking, I meet a lot of people who are in the beginning or beginning-ish stages of their journey toward publication. That doesn't always mean someone is a 'new' writer; I was this writer after ten years. It just means someone is learning the procedure of creating work that will lead them toward a goal of publication. This means using accepted plot structure, focusing on character arcs, creating a brand for yourself with a genre in mind, etc. etc. etc.
I've compiled a list of advice and resources for people at this stage in their journey. I'm not saying this is the ONLY way to do it; I'm just giving a general overview of some things you can do at this juncture to help you forward your goals of a.) polishing your manuscript and b.) signing with an agent.
So you wrote a book or ten. Maybe you queried agents with disappointing results. Now what?
- Keep the following cradled in your anxiety-filled writer's brain: The success of this one book does not make or break you. Publication is a long, winding road. You have many more stories in you than this. What makes you a writer? The fact that you are here, doing this work.
- During the following steps, do not even glance at your manuscript.
- Stop querying for now. You'll be sad later when you can't send a better draft out because you've already queried the known universe.
- Develop relationships with at least 3 critique partners. Use my online form as well as the #CPMatch and #pitchwars hashtags to search. Make sure to find people in your genre who are at a similar writing level. You cannot work with an agent without this. Your agent will ask you to have drafts read by CPs quite often. A lack of CPs will hurt your writing process more than almost anything else. A good CP is someone to help with brainstorming as well as revisions, and you have to reciprocate.
- Study the following books: Anatomy of Story and Save the Cat. Don't skip this step!
- Disclaimer: Some people hate Save the Cat because they find it overly prescriptive or they hate this particular system of outlining. If you have a different book that focuses on plot structure, characterization, theme, genre, etc., then use that. And let me know! I'm always looking for new books. But something like Stephen King's On Writing is not prescriptive enough IMO for this particular exercise.
- Once you have notes from CPs and have read these books, take a look at your MS. You'll notice that the things bothering your CPs go back to things talked about in the books, and you'll know how to fix them! It's a great feeling.
- Draft a new query letter. Use the fresh arterial blood of a virgin under the light of a full moon. (Just kidding, but get it read by your CPs a few times.) Do your research! Read agent blogs about query letters. Learn about agent pet peeves. Read successful queries. Stalk agents' websites. When you query someone, make sure to personalize the letter. I could go on about this all day. DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK. Check out what agents are saying on the #tenqueries and #askagent hashtags. You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression. There are a lot of things agents hate, loathe, and detest in queries. Don't do those things! After all this hard work, it would suck to shoot yourself in the foot.
- Send out new queries to agents looking for projects just like yours. Enter Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, Sun vs Snow, and whatever else. Send your book to small presses. Whatever you want to do, do it now. Give your book a chance to be picked up.
- You've done all you can do with this book. It's time to write a new one. The next one will be better, it will be more organized, and you will love it more than the last one.
- Drink, cry, and send your writing buddies direct messages filled with angst. Repeat this step as needed.