I Finished My Novel Manuscript – What’s Next?

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

I’ve been asked a couple of times over the last week whether I’ve finally hit that stage of great relief since finishing my novel manuscript. The short and surprising answer is no. Years ago, when I thought about that moment, I envisioned grand elation, perhaps even a fancy celebratory dinner. But back then, I was still wrestling with the fear of finishing and the belief that I may be incapable of doing so. Reaching “The End” was simply an imaginary ideation. But this year, determined as I was, typing “The End” was no longer imaginary but inevitable. I got there because I decided I would. Maybe that’s the reason for the missing sense of accomplishment. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel the need to stop and celebrate or even pause to take a breath before pushing on to the next step.

If you’re wondering what that next step is, here’s a quick overview:

My goal in writing this novel has always been to pursue publication. For any writer in this day and age, that can happen in several different ways. My first choice is to go the traditional route. For a detailed definition of traditional publishing along with the other available pathways to book publishing, you can check out industry guru, Jane Friedman’s, super informative chart here.

But the nutshell version is this: traditional publishers pay an advance to an author in exchange for their work and assume the financial risk in the book’s print run. The author earns royalties (a percentage of sales) only if/when the book sales climb over and above the advance paid to the author. This is called earning out. These days, the likelihood of a book earning out is fairly low, and since the author is not required to return the advance either way, that is the risk absorbed by the publisher.

Although it is possible to publish traditionally without first acquiring a literary agent—an industry professional who acts as a liaison between the author and publishing houses—the benefits of having such a valuable and knowledgeable resource on my side seem too great to pass up. So, I’ve decided that my next step will be to seek literary agent representation.

How do I do that?

First thing’s first: Research with a capital R. Depending on your perspective, the plethora of available literary agents can seem both fortunate (lots of options) and unfortunate (an almost overwhelming number of options), but however you look at it, the list needs to be pared down. Since not every agent/agency represents every novel genre, I was able to strike from my list those whose interests don’t include women’s fiction, which is the category where my novel fits. Beyond that, armed with the most recent edition of the Writer’s Market, the Internet, and a subscription to Publishers Marketplace—a handy, dandy website filled with all the latest industry news, deals, and agent info—I am compiling data on the hundreds of other agents remaining on said list.

I feel a little bit stalker-ish as I peruse agent websites and social media pages, looking for background information regarding their experience, searching for books sold and authors represented, and trying to determine if our personalities might mesh well based solely on their online presence. It’s a daunting and immense process, one that is going to take me much longer than anticipated. But diligence at this stage is oh so important because the author/agent relationship is often compared to a marriage, so finding a good match is as vital to creating a happy writing career as it is to forming a blessed life union.

Once I have my completed research in hand, I will compose a query letter and synopsis (more on those in a later post), which I will then submit in batches to the agents on my list (with breath held and fingers crossed that one of them might be interested). But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so here’s to the next step . . . onward and upward, as they say.

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