Step 1: Have an idea
This unshapely blob of a plot may stew in the back of your mind for months or years before you are ready to put a single word down on paper. But you need a general idea of your plot, characters, and theme before you move on.
Step 2. Synopsis
Create a synopsis first. It’s painful but super helpful to see the main plot points you need to hit.
Step 3. Chapter Outline
This outlines what happens in each chapter. How the plot moves forward, major changes for characters, tensions, etc. Follow Snyder’s 15 Beats from his book, Save the Cat.
Step 4. First Draft
“The first draft of anything is shit.” So said Ernest Hemingway. Get this draft out. Resist the urge to edit on the way. Just get. it. out.
Step 5. Edit
I try to edit at least three times before the next step.
Step 6. Beta Readers
Exchange chapters with another writer. Critique. Don’t get defensive. Don’t offend.
Step 7. Send Queries in Batches
Ten or twenty at a time. Gauge the responses. Too man form rejections means the query needs reworking. Too many partials but no full requests means the first three chapters need work.
Step 8. Wait
Probably the hardest step. Try not to get too obsessive about checking email.
Step. 9 The News
You start to hear back from agents. Lots of rejections. Loads. Dozens of form letters addressed to ‘Dear Writer’. The only thing that outweighs the rejection letters is the silence. So many agents don’t even respond these days.
After two months, hope begins slipping away.
Then you get a full request. Then two more within the week. Everything is going to be alright. The sun is shining again. Birds are singing. You write the reply emails carefully, make sure your documents are attached correctly five times, then push the ‘send’ button.
More rejections trickle in, but those three full requests keep you above water. But three weeks later one of your three dream agents, who you’ve been stalking on social media, sends you a rejection on their full request. It has a few nice sentences about your plot, characters, and writing style, but it ends with that dreaded phrase, ‘It’s just not right for me’.
Three more months pass. The season’s change. You wake up every morning, and before you even head to the bathroom and before your eyes get a chance to focus, you check your email. It’s a ritual now. You have spam and advertisements and notifications from Facebook, but no news from the remaining two agents with your manuscript. Others have already received feedback on their manuscripts. Last week one of the agents signed a new author. It should have been you. It wasn’t.
Two more months and you get another rejection. ‘Just didn’t connect with the protagonist.’ Now only one agent has the manuscript.
One month later you decide to send a gentle nudge to the agent. They assure you that they will get to it soon.
Three months later you receive the final rejection. It’s while you’re out grocery shopping for a dinner you’ve been looking forward to cooking all week. The email is a form rejection. No personal notes. Not explanation of what is wrong with your book. Your gait slows. Mind fogs with damp depression. You cook dinner but it tastes like ashes. That night you drink and cry. The next morning you instinctively reach for you phone to check email, but then you remember.
You’ve exhausted your list of agents. You aren’t the next J.K. Rowling. You move the folder full of drafts and research and notes deep into your computer where you don’t have to look at it anymore.
You spend two months not writing a thing. You try to watch more movies. Read more books. Eat more cake. Your belt gains a loop. But something is bubbling. An idea. A concept for a new book. A better book. A story that makes you excited. A full year after you started sending out queries, you turn your mind to the next project.
Step. 10 Keep writing.
Get to work on that next book. Then repeat steps 1-8. Try to avoid that penultimate step.