As any author can tell you, there's more to getting a book published and into the hands of readers than just putting words on paper. Once the story is written, it's time for revision. Then more revision, and more revision, and even more revision. There might be a rewrite or two somewhere in there as well. Then, when your manuscript is perfect, it's time to submit to agents or editors. Or is it? You have an awesome manuscript, but what about a query letter? a synopsis? a clue as to where to send the thing?
Now you're getting into the hard stuff. Trying to describe an entire 300-page book in one to three pages is a daunting task, especially when you have to make it attention-grabbing. Writing the synopsis is something I put off until the last possible moment because I dread it so much. Writing and revising a novel is nothing compared to trying to make that novel sound interesting in a very limited amount of space.
The query letter is also intimidating. How much information about the plot should you put in? Which words best describe the book? How do you get around having next-to-nothing to say about yourself that might convince the agent/editor that you really do know how to write? The letters I send out are always the third, fifth, or twentieth version. The originals are great starting places, and usually include a great lesson on editing for interest and clarity. Never would I submit those to even my most trusted critiquing buddies. They get anywhere from the second draft to the tenth. And by the time they're done with it, I have a much better letter than I could have come up with on my own.
Where to send the perfect submission package of query letter, first chapter, and synopsis can be almost as difficult as writing the letter. The only way to find an agent or a publisher is to research, research, research. Once you've found what you think is the perfect match for your book, research some more. I once found who I thought was the perfect agent for me. She was interested in the kind of things I wrote, she worked for a well-known agency, she just seemed like the right match. Then I did a little more research and discovered she was the audio rights agent. I need a literary agent and a publisher before I need to worry about audio rights. Sigh. I went on to query another agent in the same agency who seemed like a good fit (I got a very nice form rejection).
After many submissions to agents, I've learned a very important lesson. Never give up. I've received many form rejections, one personal rejection that let me know my story has potential, but was quite right for that agent, and one query that got lost in cyberspace. From all of this, I was able to see that my "perfect" manuscript wasn't quite as perfect as I'd thought. I'm revising it again and will hopefully send out a submission package to a publisher this week. I still have to read that first chapter one more time, go over the letter for what seems like the millionth time, and make sure my synopsis is as exciting as the book. And while I'm waiting for a response, I'll be looking at the rest of the manuscript to make sure it's as perfect as I can get it just in case the publisher asks for more.
Ah, the joys of writing for publication.