Writing a book is a challenge, and if you’re writing a fiction novel or something shorter then you will have to have the entire work finished before you can be considered for publishing. There are many routes to print, and self-publishing is an option that you could use if you don’t want the hassle of sending out query letter after query letter just to wake up in the morning or spend all of your lunch hour reading rejection letters. By this point I have just trained myself to look for the word “Unfortunately” so that I can just delete the rejection with haste.
Are agents necessary?
Yes, and no, there is no short answer for something that is so complex. Many publishers that are larger want to filter down their piles of submission by only accepting work sent by a literary agent. There are some larger companies that will allow un-agented work to be reviewed, but the wait time for their eventual answer will be long. Arthur A. Levine is an imprint of Scholastic that allows authors to submit manuscripts without an agent. J.K. Rowling is among one of their success stories. So do you need to have an agent? I didn’t have one for my first novel and I was able to find a publisher that would print the book.
If you want a large advance however, you will need an agent to fight for you. You can find directories and a simple Google search for literary agents turns up a multitude of small and large agencies. Most will take a percentage of your royalties (around 15%) and you will have someone in your corner to fight for your manuscript and sell it to the highest bidder.
Getting to work
The best part about writing a non-fiction book is that you don’t have to waste your time writing it only to not have it published. You simply write a proposal for the book and try to sell the idea of it. This is good for those not wanting to waste time but often you have to have an existing platform of fans or colleagues (Or maybe a higher degree). For fiction writers, and those who sold their proposal, you will have to buckle down and write that book!
Your work is important to you right? Then you should set aside a time to do it. Maybe the reason you want to become an author is because there are no set hours, and you would enjoy the free schedule. This can be a minefield, and if you put it off for too long your deadline will pass without you turning in the work. For first time authors you can take all the time you want, especially if it’s not your first job. But if you are writing a series of books and this is your second novel (Just as I’m doing right now), then you will be expected to churn out another one within a year. So put the time aside to work and be productive.
Editing can be hard to do if there are 100k words in your book. But I like to take the time to edit once after finishing a few pages, or at least after I finish a chapter. This will make your second edit more proficient, and if you need to make changes your third edit will be a breeze after you’ve been over the whole book once already. The final edit is essential and you should take your time and be careful with it. I made the mistake of rushing my first one and there were some errors made. But everything is a learning experience, and next time I won’t be so hasty. Remember there is always a second edition to write too!