Those first few days of January make everything seems possible. Finishing your book. Getting a literary agent. Then, by mid-January, something will happen that will make that seem less doable. It’s usually something life-related, but it can also be hitting a wall with your edits, or perhaps a rejection email.
Ignore it. Getting a literary agent is definitely possible. And this really could be the year!
How? Well – let’s say you’ve just finished the first draft of your novel. Here’s how you might have a literary agent before the end of the year.
January – Read your novel through.
Stephen King recommends leaving six weeks between finishing a draft and reading it through. If you wrote your draft during NaNoWriMo, then that’s about right.
Some people like making notes as they read through their manuscript and some prefer not to. Whatever you do, make sure you:
- Read it through in one sitting. This will help you remember that plot point at the beginning that isn’t followed up at the end.
- Don’t get bogged down in the detail. Typos won’t matter until much, much later.
- Don’t despair. Focus on the parts that you think are pretty good. The rest of the novel will look like that soon enough.
Before embarking on making changes, you might want to check out our self-editing course, which will take you through the fundamentals of re-writing.
February – Re-plan your structure.
However much you planned your novel before you started, chances are that it doesn’t look exactly the same now it’s done.
That’s okay – it doesn’t need to. What your plot does need to do, is make sense.
- Make notes on what your plot does at the moment.
- Read these guides on classic plot structures – does yours match them?
- Identify the parts of your novel structure that aren’t working as they should.
- Re-plan your structure. I find post-it notes really helpful for this part.
March – Implement your structural changes until your plot is spot on.
Don’t be afraid to delete scenes, or even entire chapters at this point. You can always move them onto another document for use again later, if needs be.
- Take each new plot point in turn and think about what needs to change with your original draft to make it fit.
- Make the changes to a new draft document.
- Again, don’t get bogged down in the details. At this point, you’re really just looking at the bare bones of your plot structure. As you swap things around, you might realise that has ramifications further on in the book – that’s okay. Make a note of them to come back to later.
April – Read your novel again, focusing on your character development.
All novels centre around characters that change.
- What does your character want in the beginning?
- How does this change as they go through the novel? Is that believable?
- What does your character learn at the end?
- And what about your secondary characters?
If your character journeys don’t quite match up just yet, then go back to the drawing board and ensure your plot makes that happen. Remember – most stories are driven by their characters, not the other way around.
May – Give your novel to another writer, or an editor you trust.
Once you have your structure sorted, it can be really useful to have another pair of eyes on your work.
- Make sure they know to read only for the plot and not the language.
- Ask them if they found the characters believable (yes – even elves need realistic character arcs).
- You don’t need to agree with every comment they make, but it’s worth asking why they made it. If they didn’t like your protagonist, perhaps you need to make it clearer why they should?
Once you get your feedback, make the changes you feel will make your novel better.
June – Look at the language
Okay, so now it’s okay to start doing a copy edit. Still, park your typo hunt for the time being and instead focus on some of the larger language issues:
- How are you telling the story? First person? Past tense? Is this the best way for this story to be told?
- Is your voice consistent? Write a set of voice rules, such as syntax and grammar. Are these followed throughout?
- Are your sentences as tight as they could be? Every word you use should have its place in your sentence. If you have any lines that aren’t pulling their weight – get rid of them.
July – Give your novel to an editor, or beta readers.
An editor will do wonders for your book. They will spot things you’ve missed in structure, character, dramatisation and things you probably haven’t given much thought to before. This is their job, and they’re good at it.
Alternatively, sending your book to family, friends or writing groups can be a good way of getting this feedback. As before, remember that you don’t need to change everything for everyone, but it’s worth thinking about why a reader said what they did.
August – Proofread.
Your editor or beta readers may well have pointed out a few errors already, but there are always more, hidden away.
- Try printing your manuscript off. This will help your eye spot the mistakes on the page.
- Look for inconsistencies. Check your language rules again. Do a ‘Find’ and ‘Replace’ for any mishaps.
This stage doesn’t matter as much as you might think. Of course, it’s important that your writing is of a high standard before it’s sent to agents. But it’s much more important to get the story, characters and language right, than it is spotting every typo.
September – Start putting your work out there.
Yes – this is the scary bit. But there are ways you can ease yourself in, first.
- Come to the Festival of Writing. This will tell you everything you need to know about taking this next step and even give you a little help along the way, perhaps via one of our Friday Night Live sessions, or a literary agent 1-2-1.
- Enter writing competitions. The Bath Novel Award, or the Mslexia Novel award, perhaps? Even being longlisted for these awards can be a huge boost – not only to your writing CV, but also to your confidence.
October – Lean how to submit to a literary agent.
If you came to the Festival of Writing, you might already know this stuff. Otherwise, ensure you read everything you can on the rules of submission. There are rules and you do need to follow them to ensure you’re taken seriously.
- Learn how to write a synopsis, and have a go at making a few of different lengths.
- Polish up the first five thousand words of your manuscript.
- Learn how to write a professional query letter.
November – Submit to literary agents.
- Make a longlist of literary agents who will take your work (try searching for genre via this).
- Make a shortlist of agents who you like the best – perhaps because you’ve met them at an event, or because they represent books that are similar to yours.
- Send to the first five of these agents, making sure you follow all the rules to submission.
December – Land your literary agent.
Sometimes, it can take a while to find the right agent for your book. When you do find the right agent though, they will often know from the very first page that they want to represent you. When this happens:
- Email the other agents you are waiting to hear back from, letting them know you’ve had an offer of representation. You want to be in a position to choose your favourite, if you can.
- Meet with the agent(s) and ask them questions about what they can do for you and your book.
- Sign a deal with the literary agent of your dreams.
You’ve probably noticed that the majority of your year will be spent working on your novel. That’s because writing a brilliant book is the best thing you can do to ensure you land a literary agent. The rest, is really just knowing the rules of submission and getting it out there.
So – are you ready to ensure this is the year you get an agent? Then let’s go.
Success starts now.
To see how we could help you get a literary agent this year, have a look round our site.