This is called querying...a nice word for baring your soul and getting your heart ripped to shreds by total strangers. More specifically, by literary agents. You have one, brief shot to make a good impression and that one shot is called a query letter.
A query letter is a brief (3-4 paragraphs, no longer than 1-page) business letter letting the agent know:
- Why you selected him/her to query
- The genre of your book
- The word count of your manuscript
- What the story is about
- Why you're the best person to write it
- Your publishing history
- That you can write...(demonstrated by your ability to do all of these things in less than one page and make it fascinating enough that they want to read more).
Then you send the letter (and perhaps a 1-2 page synopsis and/or some sample pages or chapters, depending on their submission guidelines), and wait.
After a few weeks (or, in some cases minutes, hours, or days), the rejections start flowing in. At this point, that "I'm-on-top-of-the-world" glow you've worn since writing "The End" (for the sixth or seventh time, after each round of edits) is replaced by a morose, dull look of dejection. No one loves me. They don't even like me. They hate me. <Sigh.>
The London Olympics provided me with a new slogan and path forward when I get to the heavy-sigh stage:
Yes, that's all there is for it. Rejections will come, rejections will go, and until you've amassed a significant number of them, you probably haven't put yourself out there sufficiently as a writer.
This week, when I started to sink below the heavy-sigh stage into the I-suck stage, I received a phone call from a dear friend who also happens to be a brilliant writer--and one who makes a living at it! I'd sent her my ms to see what she thought. I'd been considering some drastic changes after only a relatively few rejections. Hanna said "Don't change a thing! It's exactly right just the way it is." She loved it! She really loved it! Her enthusiasm and positive feedback were just what I needed to keep me calm and carry on querying.
It's hard (impossible?) for a writer to judge his or her own work. In the past, others have judged my writing worthy of publication. When I go back and look over my publication list (something I had to compile as per one agency's submission requirements), I'm prepared to cringe. Will I be embarassed when they go and look at these? I will be judged based on the words I've written. Are there things I'd change? Certainly. But, rewriting forever more, in search of perfection, won't get us published.
At some point, we have to take a deep breath, keep calm, and carry on. That means querying and rejection. These days, while waiting for the rejections to roll in, I practice my casual, flip of the hand and merry response for future interviews: "Rejections? I have hundreds of them. They come with the territory. A writer just has to expect them, have patience, keep calm, and carry on."