How I Got My First Book Deal and How You Can Too

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Jermaine Reed, MFA is a college professor and writer from Chicago, who creates fiction, nonfiction and local and national news stories. Please join Jermaine’s email list to get notifications on new blog posts, writing advice and free books. Get his recently released Science Fiction novel A Glitch in Humanity by clicking here. Follow J Reed on Twitter @jreed913 . Check out The Reeders Block Podcast and subscribe there to hear more.

Everyone says, “I should write a book.” Then, they jot a few words in Microsoft Word or whatever writing app they’re using, close the file and never look at it again. But that’s not you. You’ve written a book or are just about finished, and you’re thinking, “How do I get a book deal?” I thought the same, and getting a book deal was simpler and more complicated and simple as I thought it would be.

When I penned my first serious story, it was a full-length action book, over 75,000 words. Depending on the genre, a novel can be anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 words. That’s a lot to write and even more to revise, edit and proofread. To hone my craft, I began writing short stories. Within a few months, I wrote dozens, focusing on dialogue.

At the same time I was receiving rejection letters concerning my short stories, I had begun writing Operation Soul Cast

As I began sending my short stories out to magazines for publication, I kept noticing a recurring theme in the rejection letters: The reviewers said I “told too much.” They said I didn’t show enough. They also complained that the exposition didn’t allow them as readers to make their own conclusions.

At the same time I was receiving rejection letters concerning my short stories, I had begun writing Operation Soul Cast, a Science Fiction novella (a short novel) with about 30,000 words. When I finished writing this novella, I sent it out and got similar feedback from Tor.com, a reputable publisher.

…the novella of 30,000 words, I wrote in a weekend.

With every rejection, my face reddened a little more. Inside, I questioned my own talent. Outwardly, I blamed the publishers for being closed-minded and unable to spot talent. After throwing a Kanye-like fit, I read and reread the rejection letters.

After rewriting two short stories and parts of the novella I previously mentioned, I sent the pieces out to publishers, and all three got picked up.

I didn’t write my first serious story until I was in my mid-twenties.

In full disclosure, I have a bachelor’s degree in English Writing and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. You don’t need a degree to be an author. However, you do need some of the skills associated with college-level writing and insight into creating fiction.

I haven’t always been a fiction writer. Though I attempted to write stories as a younger teen, I didn’t write my first serious story until I was in my mid-twenties. I thought writing fiction was all about the grammar and punctuation, but I was wrong.

For your manuscript to shine, it must show more than tell.

If your manuscript is filled with error upon error, no publisher is going to take your writing seriously. My command of the English language gave me an advantage, but it isn’t the only thing that sealed the deal in terms of my getting a book deal.

For your manuscript to shine, it must show more than tell. That means describing actions more in-depth than “He ran quickly” or “The cave was hot.” You have to describe the sound footsteps as the person ran or the sweat that drenched them as they stumbled by cactuses in the desert.

…no one told me about elevator pitches, query letters or synopses.

Moreover, you must revise, edit and proofread your manuscript as well as possible. Some writers ask if they should hire an editor or proofreader. How confident are you in your command of grammar and punctuation? If you are not that confident, hire an editor or proofreader; if you are confident but can spend the money without jeopardizing the rent payment, hire someone. If not, prepare to spend hours upon hours perfecting your manuscript.

To continue, in all the blogs I read about getting published before I actually got published, no one told me about elevator pitches, query letters or synopses. If you’re writing a novella, novel or full-length nonfiction book, having all three would be safe; but you’re definitely going to need a query letter (one page) and a synopsis (500 — 800 words. An elevator speech is usually 18 — 25 words). Follow the links within this paragraph to learn more about each.

What matters is how you use the rejections to your benefit…

In closing, after publishers rejected my manuscript for my book Operation Soul Cast, I huffed and puffed and took the advice. There are a couple types of rejections in the publishing world: general and personalized. General feedback is nonspecific and is a ready-made rejection letter. Personalized or specific feedback gives clear examples of how the manuscript failed and could be better. If you get the latter, use it to rework your manuscript. Rejections come and go. What matters is how you use the rejections to your benefit to make a stronger manuscript that will help you get a deal. If you follow the steps, getting a book deal is easy; if you don’t, getting a book deal is the equivalent of solving a Rubix cube on your very first try.

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Published by Professor J

Professor J is a professor, author, poet and screenwriter.

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