Have you ever said to yourself, “I oughta write (or publish) a novel”? Well, here are the steps necessary to be a novelist:
1. Write a good book. A great book. Take a year (or many years) out of your life and creatively fill paper with at least sixty thousand words. Your novel will have to be good - better than the approximately 100,000+ manuscripts submitted each year, to rise to the top of the heap.
2. Edit your work. Several times. Read it over and over again. Look for overused words. Eliminate adverbs (which Stephen King deplores so much he once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”). Look for grammatical errors. Add description, lots of description. Remove descriptions that don’t contribute directly to the story. Edit again.
3. Hire an editor. A good one. S/he may edit for development, ensuring flow, pacing, structure, scene development, etc. are as good as they can be. When you receive her/his notes, edit your manuscript to include them.
4. (Perhaps) hire another editor to check for grammatical errors. Input and approve those changes.
5. Edit the book again to make sure your changes haven’t created gaps in other areas.
6. Find an agent. Check several online and printed sources to select the best potential agents (out of over a thousand) for your book. Study each agent’s website to know exactly what genre they represent. Study books similar to yours to find, if possible, who agented those books. Make a list of the ideal agents.
7. Prepare to query each agent on your list. Study each agent’s website to discover how they like to receive requests for representation. Some want a query letter containing a brief description of the book and a little background information about you. Others want a query letter with a synopsis (one page, or up to five pages). Others want a query letter, a synopsis and the first five, ten, thirty or fifty pages OR the first chapter or the first three chapters. Still others want a query letter and the appropriate pages without a synopsis. Some want the entire manuscript (with or without a synopsis). Some want the additional items (synopsis and manuscript) attached to your email letter and others want that information embedded in the body of the letter. Still others have online forms for you to use to submit your request.
8. If you don’t ‘land’ an agent, you may want to go straight to the publisher, usually a smaller, independent one. If so, follow steps six and seven above, but target your submission to specific publishers, adhering to each of their requirements.
9. Wait. Usually one to three months or more. IF you receive an offer of representation you’ll need to send the completed manuscript to the agent who may want more changes to your novel. Make those changes.
10. Wait (again). The agent will present your manuscript to various companies that publish your genre, style, concept, etc. It may take three to six months for a response. If a publisher does request your manuscript and you sign with them, they will have changes they want before publication. Make those changes. Wait about a year for layout, typesetting, cover design, etc. Sometimes publishers offer an “Advance against royalties”. These funds are sent to you as the book is being prepared.
11. If you've made it this far, you will probably get Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) which you should send to knowledgeable people (other writers, people related to your novel theme, etc.) requesting a review and/or a book blurb (which can be used on the cover or inside the front of the book).
12. OR… self publish. Use online services to lay out, typeset, create covers, obtain ISBN numbers, etc., at a cost. Also, you can learn to do these things yourself.
13. Market your book. Authors these days must take an active role in marketing and promoting books. Book signings. Social Media. Special discounts. Book giveaways in return for honest reviews (which sometimes suck). The trunk of your car. Whatever works.
14. Congratulate yourself.
15. Receive payment. After your advance has been paid off, the publisher will send you an amount equal to 10% to 15% of the sales price (minus the 15% of your payment which goes to your agent. For instance, after your royalties are paid off, if you sell 10 books for $10 each, you get $10 and your agent gets $1.50, leaving you with $8.50. Go buy yourself a Latte).