Finish your manuscript/book proposal before searching for an agent.  Don’t make the mistake of interesting a potential agent, only to be forced to admit that you haven’t finished the book.  If an agent likes your first three chapters, he’ll ask for the rest.  If you can’t immediately provide that, he’ll likely lose interest – which will be difficult to snag again.  Even if you do a rush job and finish, you’ll still be submitting your first draft – a very bad idea (see above). 

Make sure your writer’s group critiques your entire manuscript before submitting it.  You need their objectivity, and they need yours.  Be sure to take their advice, too – especially when they’re all in agreement.

Be open to criticism.  After rewriting my novel no less than three times, a fellow writer (now a six-time New York Times bestselling author) read my manuscript and pronounced me a “future bestselling author.”  Before I could bask in the heady compliment, however, she gave me some “suggestions.”  I took them all – and rewrote the book again.  Early on, I learned not to take criticism personally.  If you want a writing career, you will, too. 

Give your latest rewrite to at least three people who are not afraid to tell you the truth.  These volunteers should not be close friends or relatives, who will be tempted to equivocate – and who will unconsciously read your voice into the manuscript.  They must be objective.  Have them edit it, line by line, and provide a written critique (if they will).  If their advice is vague, ask probing questions like “What did you like best?”, “What did you have trouble believing?” and “What would you change?”  Make rewrites accordingly.

Do not hire a book “doctor” (editor).  They’re expensive and extremely subjective – and you’ll only get the same feedback that fellow writers will provide for free.  I paid $1,200 for my professional critique years ago, a sum I could ill afford.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best advice.  Instead, turn to your writer’s group, where you’ll find a consensus (or not) – which will help you decide whether to take their advice (or not).  With a book doctor, you’re only getting one opinion, and a very expensive one at that.

Next week, in Part II of this article, I’ll offer suggestions on creating and running a writer’s group.  The following week, in Part III, I’ll provide strategies for snagging that agent. 

In the meantime, stay sweet y’all.  And don’t give up.  Remember: writers not only write – they keep on writing.

Annabelle Robertson is an attorney, an award-winning journalist and the author of The Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You’ve Caught Your Man, winner of the 2006 USA Best Books Award for humor.  To watch a video of Annabelle and download the first chapter, visit www.SouthernGirlsGuide.com.