I started with the "DOs."
When I began to submit my first novel to publishers and agents, I had no idea I was doing everything wrong. Like most first time novelists, I looked up how to submit and learned about the query letter, the synopsis and the style of double-spaced manuscripts with an inch border, headers yadda yadda. My query letters sucked. In the beginning I wasted a lot of money in postage trying to convince the publishers of my talent in my queries. All rejected.
I continued to polish the letter (and the book - always go back and edit) while working on my next book. I read more info and eventually had a query that publishers and agents wanted; a no-nonsense description and bio that was intriguing and well written. Years of rejection followed, but I did get some personal feedback, which I learned was a step forward. I let more than forty people read my book with flattering reviews, so I know I had something. I was at the point where I had three other books nearly finished and I was still trying to hock my first baby.
I became desperate enough for the "DON'Ts"
It became clear to me that I had to self publish. At first, I printed several versions and had them bound just so that I could see my novel in real novel form and thought, maybe that's what the publishers needed to see, but then I learned that publishers and agents wanted their submissions in basic manuscript form and would not even look at a printed version made to look like a real novel. Every source I looked into told me that publishers and agents would not touch a self published book or a print on demand and it would be near impossible to get it on the shelves.
So, what did I do? I created my own publishing company, bought ISBN numbers, printed the book, designed the cover and began to sell my book on the internet. I didn't like this. I had to take matters into my own hands, but soon I learned the publishing business is a lot harder than it seemed (and expensive). My new plan was to try to get a publisher interested in taking over my book (I had collected some great reviews) and as luck would have it, The Book Expo America was coming to New York.
I bought my ticket and went to the Expo with ten or so copies of my book (which looked like a real novel) and planned to convince these people in person. The first day went well, I handed out eight of my books and was told they would check it out and I should call them back. The next day (I wasn't even going to go) I spotted the Medallion booth and remembered that I had submitted to them years back and they rejected me. What the hell? I talked to the vice president and told him my story. I had not signed a contract with my own company, so the book wasn't legally anybody's property. He took the book and told me to call him in two months. And as I posted in the previous blog, three weeks later, they called me to tell me that they loved the book and wanted to publish it!
I did exactly what I wasn't supposed to and finally had success! Now, this is not meant for any inspiring writer to do the same. I truly believe this was right place, right time for me. I don't go back to the Expo on Sunday and I'm still on square one. You could conceivably ruin your chances if you follow my lead, but if anything can be taken away from this is that after you've exhausted all of your legitimate options, you need to find what works for you. If your work really has merit, maybe you need to make it stand out from the slush pile.