Lisa Regan: 10 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Sent My First Query

I'm happy to have fellow suspense author Lisa Regan at The Serial Killer Files today! Lisa offered to share what she's learned about publishing and what she wishes she'd known before she started querying.

Her debut novel, FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER, is out now.

Two books. Six years from query to contract. 238 Agent rejections. 11 Publisher rejections.

It was a long, hard road. Especially because the feedback I got from both agents and publishers was very positive. They usually couched their rejection in glowing praise: "This is a great book." "These are strong projects." "You're a great writer." "I was on the edge of my seat reading this." "In many ways, this book is a home run." "It was very, very close."

Pass.

It wasn't something I could work on. It's not like they were saying my characters were flat or my plot had holes or my pacing was off. Those types of things can be fixed. Being "great" but getting passed on over and over? I was never quite sure what to do with that.

Still. I learned a lot of things from query to contract and here are the top ten tips I wish someone had given me back in 2006 before I sent out my first query:

1.    Don't let any agent or publisher read your book until it's really ready. Don't be in a hurry. Do the work to make it what I like to think of as "shelf-worthy". In other words, before it lands on the desk, or more likely the e-reader, of an agent or editor, it should be so tightly constructed and polished that it reads the same as any book you might pull off a shelf at your local bookstore. To get to that point, see #2.

2.    Get critique partners and beta readers. Use them. A lot. Ask both writers and regular old readers to read your manuscript and polish it up as best you can based on their advice. You'll need at least 5. I recommend a number closer to 10. Do not use people who have any emotional attachment to you. They will not be honest with you.

3.    Pay attention to your entire book. Plenty of people can write a fabulous opening chapter. But to get published, the entire book has to hold together. It has to make sense all the way through. Also you can't start out with a thriller and end as a romantic suspense novel. It won't work. If you're not sure your book makes sense or you're not even sure what type of book you're writing, see #2.

4.    Make sure your word count is within the acceptable range. I understand for my genre it's between 85,000 and 110,000 although the high range is frowned on, especially for debut novelists. Your "great" book will be rejected if it's too long.

5.    Don't be afraid to cut--words, scenes, subplots--to make the book shelf-worthy and keep your word count down. Not sure what to cut? See #2.

FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER is out now! Click HERE to purchase.

6.    When an agent is on their second pass and they say they want to make a list of suggestions and go over them with you to see if you're both on the same page before offering representation--that means they're not going to sign you. That's a no. Take it as such.

7.    If an agent loves your book but passes anyway, ask for a referral. They'll usually give you one and although it certainly doesn't guarantee a contract, it will usually result in the referral agent at least reading your work.

8.    If you've sent out 10 queries and gotten no response, send more. I hate to break it to you, but 10 queries is not a lot. It is barely a drop in the bucket. If you've sent out 25 to 50 and gotten no response, then you might need to rework your pitch.

9.    Network, network, network. Find other writers and make friends with them. You'd be amazed how much easier rejection is to take when you've got a bunch of writer friends in your corner. Support them in their endeavors. We're all headed in the same direction. We need to help each other out.

10.    Do. Not. Stop. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep querying. This business is so hard. But if you've got a good book and you keep working at it, chances are that something will break eventually. If you stop, that won't happen for you. When you think it's madness to continue is exactly when you need to forge ahead and keep going.

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