It’s a little crazy to think that the last book in the Hybrid Chronicles will be releasing in less than a month. Has it really been that long since I was sending out queries for What’s Left of Me (then Hybrid) and refreshing my email every three seconds?
Sometimes, it honestly doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. I can’t even remember how I got started learning about the industry—probably the internet! I do recall reading a ton of writing books, and getting the print version of the guide to literary agents or whatever it was called, and writing down names that represented YA.
Back when I was querying my very first novel (the one I wrote before What’s Left of Me), I only sent queries by snail mail. I think there was something concrete and business-like about typing, printing, and addressing a letter that appealed to me. After all, I’d been chasing this publication dream since I was twelve, but it had always been an nebulous thing. Putting stamps on envelopes…sending them off to NYC…it felt legitimate. I think I probably queried about ten or twelve agents, which felt like a lot at the time!
Unfortunately, none of those SASEs included came back with a positive answer Fortunately, I had read enough advice online (I think my main resources back then were QueryShark and Miss Snark) to know I should bunker down and write another book while waiting for query replies. That book was What’s Left of Me, and it all went on from there!
Publishing is a big world, and a lot of it really can only be learned through experience. There’s a wealth of information, to be sure, but some is outdated, and much is a matter of opinion. It was easy for me to get lost in the minutia (1-inch margins!) rather than try to figure out the whole beast of a thing. However, there’s something to be said for good advice, too.
I get a lot of emails asking for advice for just-starting-out-hey-wouldn’t-it-be-cool-to-publish-a-book writers. Here’s a list of my tips. It will probably be too basic for a lot of you out there further along on the publishing road, but hey, we all started out in the same place! Hope it’s helpful for someone
Advice for Aspiring Writers
1. Finish the book. If you’ve already accomplished this, hooray! But if you haven’t, don’t underestimate the difference this makes. It’s one thing to write a lot of nice scenes. Another thing entirely to craft a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end.
2. Read in your genre. I have to confess that while I was writing What’s Left of Me, I was too mired in high school reading to read for fun (sacrilege, I know), so I was really out of the YA-loop as well. But I’d lived YA books for all of middle school, so I suppose there was that
But seriously, in hindsight, I would tell myself to read more in the genre. Not only does it let you know if the “shiny, original” idea you have isn’t actually that shiny, it lets you know how other people have written stories similar to your own. I don’t believe that reading in a genre, knowing the “usual structure” (or, to be more blunt, “cliches/rules”) of a genre means you’re going to fall into the same. Know the rules so you can break them, right?
3. Set goals—but you-driven goals. That means, you don’t tell yourself “My goal is to get published in the next year.” Because honestly, that’s not something you can control. You might work really hard, and write a great book, but it doesn’t get in front of the right people, or does so at the wrong time. Rather, set goals that are under your own control: “I will finish my book this year” or “I will start querying in April.”
4. Know the industry…but try not to kill yourself stressing about it. I worked as an intern for a literary agent for about a year, and read a lot of both queries and manuscripts during that time. People give a lot of “rules” about queries, but honestly, as long as you’re sending a few paragraphs that make the reader want to read your story, you’ve accomplished the point of a query. There are guidelines, of course, to be more professional about it, and I recommend reading a lot of samples and then showing your query to people (both who have and haven’t read your story). But try not to freak out too much. (I know, easier said than done!)
I could go on, but I promised just the highlights!
How about you? Do you have any advice for just-starting-out writers? Things you wish you’d known?
Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012. Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, will come out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.