- Make sure at least two other people read over your novel, people whose opinions you respect. Listen to them, but if what they suggest goes against your instincts, feel free to discard any or all of their advice. It's your novel, no one can write it for you. But if all of them say the same thing, I'd pay attention!
- If for some reason, the first novel isn't working for you, don't be afraid to scrap it a different one. Believe me, it's scary to say that it isn't working, but better to set it aside than to try and force something that doesn't feel right.
- However, if you find yourself doing this with every book you start, then you need to decide where you're going wrong. My suggestion: read! I was trying to write traditional, Harelquin-esque romances and it didn't work for me. Then I read a Mary-Janice Davidson novel and something clicked for me. I started writing like I wanted to, and I haven't looked back since.
- Never start querying publishers/agents until after the novel is finished. This can be a red flag to them that you aren't serious. Wait until it's completed before sending it out. (You'll see this on a lot of agent's advice sites, so I'd pay attention to it.)
- Once your novel is completed and you feel it's been polished within an inch of it's papery life, DON'T sit on it! Get it out there. Have a plan. Do you want to go the traditional publishing route, i.e., get an agent, go to the Big Six publishers, and cross your fingers? Do you want to go electronic publishing, with some of the smaller presses like Carina or Samhain, and cross your fingers? Or somewhere in between, like with Harlequin, who will accept unagented submissions but IS a big print publisher (and has imprints that will only accept agented submissions)? Once you know where you'd like to head, you'll feel a lot more comfortable about the journey. You'll have a direction, a goal, and that's a good thing.
- Once you've decided, read the guidelines of the agent/publisher. If they say they don't accept romance, don't send it to them. If they say they do, check their "heat levels". I write on the mild side of erotic, so I can't send it to a strictly "sweet" publisher or agent. Also check and see if what you've written fits in with any of their imprints and, if so, who you'd send your query to. (The query step will be taken care of by your agent if one agrees to work with you.)
- Do your homework. Don't be afraid to write to authors who write for that agent/publisher to ask their opinion. Not all will answer, but enough will to give you an idea if the fit will be right for you.
- When writing the query letter, mention you've completed the novel and are working on a second. This lets the agent/publisher know you're serious about your writing.
- Don't think your job is finished after you type the end. It's just beginning. This is your business as well as your passion, and you have to treat it as such. There's website design, blogging, social media (if it scares you, I'd suggest Facebook to start rather than Twitter), advertising and promotions, editing, monthly newsletters... LOTS of work goes into being a published author. I spend half my day writing, and the other half working on all that other stuff. How much time you put into it will be up to you, but at a minimum you'll need a website if you're accepted for publication. The readers need to know where to find you.
- You have to make sure your website is easily navigated. There's nothing worse than a reader who has to ask, "Where's the books?" when you're an author. Check other author websites to see how they're doing it, and with what. Several use Wordpress; others use programs like Yahoo!SiteBuilder. Still others will pay someone to create and maintain the website. It's all up to you and what you can afford.
Scared yet? Don't be. It's the most satisfying career I've ever had, and I'll give it up when I'm five years dead and buried. Maybe not even then.
P.S.: I'm mailing Cynful to my betas first thing in the morning! WOOT!