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The Last Word:
Some Thoughts on Getting Published

by Denise Tiller

Guppies come from across the United States and Canada (ed. note: and now across the world). We all have different occupations, avocations, and family situations, but we share a passion for writing and a common goal of getting published.

The first step, of course, is writing a compelling story. For me, critique groups are an invaluable resource. If you're a guppy on-line, just mention your need on the Guppy-Digest. If you don't have email, snail me and I'll post it for you.

A recent thread on the Guppy-Digest noted the importance of finding a fresh set of eyes for a final read-through. You wrote your book over a period of months and probably made numerous revisions, it's almost impossible for you, or even a member of your critique group who is familiar with your story, to do a final continuity check. It's easy to change a character's name or description, or change the location of a place or timing of certain events. I know I changed a character's middle name and put the rape victim in the same room as the suspect in the middle of the story, before I was willing to give him up as a suspect. The writer who did my final read-through caught several small inconsistencies and pointed out my affinity for certain words.

Many beginning writers forget that the process of getting an agent should start while you're still writing. Collect agent names through networking with other writers, attending conferences, and readings articles and acknowledgements. Develop a list of 20 or 30 agents and research before you query them to save yourself time, money, and anguish. It's tough to turn down an agent who wants to represent you when your eyes are full of stars. Remember, your writing career depends on whom you select. Never, ever sign with an agent who charges a fee.

Once you have a super one-page query letter and an even better one-page single-spaced synopsis, it's time to start down your list, writing the first three to five agents. Resist the temptation to query the entire list at once. The reasons are simple. First, if an agent asks to see the entire manuscript, he's likely to want a 6-8 week exclusive. You want to get the manuscript to him while he's hot to see it. If several agents want to see it on an exclusive basis, the last one might not get it for six months. By then, he's lost interest in you. If no one wants to see it, you still might get a "good rejection" where an agent points out some of the flaws. If an agent takes the time to do that, rejoice, pay attention, and fix the problems before you send it out again.

When you get rejected, and we all do, it's okay to feel bad. Commiserate with a friend or take a bubble bath, whatever works for you. But then, go to the next agent on the list and fire off a query. Don't give yourself an excuse to stop.