Over the past year in this blog, I've focused on my journey as a writer: from rough drafts to finished manuscript to agent to snagging a publishing contract.
I've tried to stress the importance of thinking ahead and planning for each step along the way. However, even when I tried to plan, some things took me by surprise.
I'm going to recreate here a list of things to think about--in roughly the order you need to address them. Some items were on my original list; some have been added as I encountered them:
1) Write and FINISH a Manuscript--This, of course, is the most important step. Although 81% of the population believes they can write a book, the vast majority never actually finish a manuscript.
2) Find a Critique Group--I waited too long to do this. Ideally, you should start this step while your book is still a work-in-progress. Having critique partners you can trust is essential.
3) Network in Your Genre--Again, I waited too long to do this step. I did not begin this until my manuscript was finished. I believe you should start networking while you are still writing your manuscript. Find at least one organization that specializes in your genre. I waited until my manuscript was finished to join RWA and Sisters-in-Crime.
4) Take Classes, Either Online or In Person--I have not attended conferences, but I have been a regular in online classes. There are many, many classes offered online for as little as $15. I found them very helpful in honing my skills.
5) Pseudonym--If you plan to use a pseudonym, select it early. Be sure to Google it and see what comes up when you enter it in a search. I made an error here. I selected Maya because of my respect for Maya Angelou. However, I didn't check on Maya together in combination with Reynolds. It turns out that Maya Angelou holds the lifetime Reynolds Chair at Wake Forest University. That guaranteed that entering "Maya Reynolds" will pull up the name of Maya Angelou as the first entries in any search. It has taken me most of a year to improve my standings in the various search engines.
6) Begin Early To Take Notes on Agents and Publishers--It is never too soon to start taking notes on the agents and publishers associated with your genre. Check those names against writers' websites such as Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. That way, by the time you are ready to begin your query letters, you'll have a qualified list.
7) Think About What You're Willing To Do In Terms of Marketing--Start by investing in business cards for yourself. At a minimum, you'll need a website. However, a static website address is not enough. You need a way to drive traffic to your site. To this end, I decided to try my hand at blogging. I blogged anonymously for some time before moving to this site and beginning to blog under the name Maya Reynolds. By the time my first book comes out in print I will have been blogging for nearly two years. If you blog, you need to think about how often you will be willing to post. A post once a month is probably not very helpful. Commit to posting at least twice a week. Some writers I know have opened sites on MySpace or other social networking sites.
8) Think Ahead To Your First Conversation With Prospective Agents--Make a list of the questions you'll ask and the things you need to know. One important point is whether a prospective agent does a lot of manuscript editing or not. My agent is a former editor. I trust her eye and her skills. However, many agents have no interest in editing at all. Which do you prefer? How often can you expect to hear from the agent? If s/he will only contact you when they have news, will that satisfy you?
9) Think Ahead To Your Contracts--Hopefully, you will have two contracts: one with your agent and another with your publisher. You can trust your agent to help you with your publisher's contract, but who will help you with your agent contract? I was fortunate enough to have a lawyer friend willing to vet my contract for me. You can find sample contracts online. One that I found particularly helpful was on the EPIC (Electronic Publishing Internet Connection) website.
10) Think Ahead To Your Copyright--Are you going to want your copyright in your own name or in your pseudonym? If you want it in your pseudonym, you'll need to be ready for that, establishing your pseudonym legally as your business' name.
11) Think About An Address for Fans--Of course, you'll have an email address, but what about those fans who might not be connected to the Internet? Do you want a P.O. Box? Do you want mail to go to your agent and be forwarded to you? I do NOT recommend giving out your home address. There are a lot of wackos out there.
12) As You Get Closer, Think More About Marketing--Will you do giveaways? Will you do contests? Do you want a publicist? Have you located a company to print bookmarks and other tokens to hand out?
Hope this list will be helpful to you.