Our chat with John…
Try to know your craft as best you can before you approach agents or publishers. They are all ridiculously busy at the moment, so don’t give them reasons to reject your stories. Ensure that they are the best they can be before sending them out. That might mean hiring a private editor to work them through with you (it’s not cheating to do that) but it costs money, which you may not have. If you can afford to do one thing, I would highly recommend joining SCBWI, as they not only offer a community of like-minded creatives for you to meet and make friends with, they also have writing competitions, workshops, a conference, and critique groups looking for new members. As soon as you have signed up, ask about joining one of those critique groups. Even if you don’t join SCBWI you should look for a critique group. The rigour of reading and critiquing other stories and having yours regularly critiqued is vital for improving your craft.
Once you have a handful of stories you are really proud of, then consider approaching an agent or a publisher but do your homework on them. Make sure they represent authors similar to you or publish books similar to yours.
If, like me, you want to be published multiple times, or perhaps want to build a career then the last bit of advice I’ll give is to persevere. You may be snapped up straight away and have no problem selling your next story, and then the next but if that isn’t the case, don’t despair. The journey to success doesn’t end once you have signed for your dream agent or signed a contract with your dream publisher. That agent then has to be able to sell your future stories and that publisher needs to feel there is a market for them. Neither of which is guaranteed.
I could have given up many times over the past 10 years of my journey, but that perseverance has kept me going. As has the support of the many friends I have made in that time. Friends I met through SCBWI. Friends in the critique group I’m a part of. Friends who I have made online in social network writing communities. These are people who totally understand the journey you are on because they are too. They’ll cheer your successes and pick you up when you are down. So go out and find your team because they will be your biggest supporters and your biggest champions.