by R.C. Lewis
Whether you're going to pursue self-publishing or the traditional route, one thing is consistent.
You need to do your homework first.
I see people failing to do that on both sides, particularly by peeking around at queries up for critique on sites like AgentQuery Connect. People who've sent out dozens of queries already but reveal they don't know the most basic facts about agents, querying, and traditional publishing. People who get requests for partials or fulls, and then ask if anyone knows whether the agent is reputable. And especially lately, people who self-publish and within weeks are getting ready to query.
The message we send when we do these things isn't a good one. Above all, it makes us look like we don't take ourselves seriously as professionals. Traditional or self, we are professionals and need to act like it.
If you're at the point of, "I wrote a novel. Now what?" here are some general steps I'd recommend.
Research All Avenues You have a lot of options, especially these days. You can query agents and pursue publication with a major publishing house. You can submit to some publishers without an agent. Or you can do it yourself and self-publish. Dig way into each and figure out which is right for you and your goals.
Take the Long View Now that you've gotten your hands on all the info possible on the various routes to publishing, don't assume it has to be one or the other. When figuring out what will be best for you, keep yourself open to different routes for different needs. Also keep Plan B options in mind.
Pick a Path and Do the Work Going traditional? Learn how to write an awesome query. Research agents and only query ones you know are reputable. (This is assuming you've already gone through and revised, edited, and polished your manuscript.) Doing it on your own? Your manuscript should be even more polished than a querying author's—consider hiring an editor. Get a killer cover. Form a clear business plan.
I'm not saying there aren't reasons to change our minds. (Remember what I said about having a Plan B?) However, if we do all the requisite work beforehand, there should be little chance of "Whoops! Just kidding. Let's have a do-over."
Decide what to do, and do it with conviction.
R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).