Do you know what to expect after you get THE call and sign with an agent? A lot more work. Why not complete some of those tasks either before you query or while you're waiting for a response from agents?
Here are ten projects you can tackle before an agent offers representation:
1. Write an author bio of yourself. You'll need this for your website, and your agent will require this information when pitching to publishers.
2. Have a professional headshot taken. This will also be required for the same reasons as #1.
3. Create a website. A website is a must. Don't think that because you're not published you don't have anything to share on your website. Use your bio and headshot. Set up a "books" page to list blurbs for the novels you're querying or writing. This will change once you've sold, but it's something to catch a reader's eye until then. Showcase contests and writing awards you've won. If you've had any articles published, have a page with links to them. Don't forget to list writing related organizations you belong to like Romance Writers of America, or others. Your website might not look like much yet, but it shows an agent and editor you're serious about the business. They want their authors to have a web presence. Plus, once you sell, you won't have to worry about starting a website, just updating it.
4. Start blogging and join social networks. While some agents are fine with you doing this after you sign with them (and others don’t mind if you don’t do this at all), more and more agents refuse to sign anyone who hasn’t already built a following either through blogging or social networks. You need to prove to them that you’re serious about self-promotion and that you’re able to do it. Don’t forget they get a percentage of your sales, so it’s in their best interest if you sell a lot of books. If they don’t feel you’ll promote your books (and since publishers don’t do much marketing, if any), the agent feels you’re too much of a risk. Translation: too much work for very little money. She’d much rather sign with someone who appears eager and able to self-promote.
5. Set up a dependable email account. Free email accounts are great, but have limits. Some aren't stable and you can lose everything in your inbox. What if you had a request from your favorite agent in your box but never knew because that message was lost in cyberspace? The other problem with a lot of the free email accounts is they tend to limit your storage space. Most often edits are done electronically. What if your editor or agent sent you your manuscript with editorial suggestions? Will your email account allow a large file, the size of your full manuscript, to be sent to you or will it bounce back to your editor? What about your fans? At some point, after you sell, you should expect to receive fan mail. Do you have a different account for that?
Make sure your email address reflects your professionalism. This is not the time to be cute with an address like: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You want your name to reach people, so use it in your email address. Better yet, use the email through your website server and double up on free advertising. For example: email@example.com. This tells the recipients your name AND your website address. Clever, huh?
If you have a name that can easily be misspelled, like mine, you might want to have two email addresses with one forwarding to the other. I could’ve had firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com However, my hosting package only came with one email address. Rather than pay for a second, I used my last name instead: firstname.lastname@example.org Every once in a while, I receive an email from someone who thinks Labelle is my first name, so they address me like this, “Dear Labelle”. :)
Every email you send can be a source of advertising for you. Simply craft your signature tag with your full name (or pen name if you're using one), website URL, and blog URL. Just don't go overboard with this list because a long signature can turn people off.
6. Grow a marketing list. This way, when your novel is released, you can contact people who might want to buy your book. They've already shown interested in your writing or they wouldn't have given you their email address. Be careful with this. Only contact people who’ve given you permission to do so. Setting up a form on your website or blog to “catch” email addresses is not the best way to form a list. If someone hasn’t specifically given you their email address so you can contact them when your book sells or is released, then they’ll probably consider your message spam. And nobody likes spam. You’ll be lucky if all the person does is delete your message. The reader may report you or refuse to ever buy your books. Not the best way to start off your career.
If you set up an email capture system on your website or blog, make sure people know what they’re signing up for. (This is the little box where people who visit your sites can sign up for a newsletter, enter a contest, request a free bookmark, or whatever you have in place.) You want your reader to have a reason to trust you with their email address. Don't ever betray them by selling that list.
7. Have a marketing plan in place. More and more publishers expect the author to do a majority (if not all) of the marketing for their book. If you sign the contract without a marketing plan, you'll have to come up with one fast. Why not take the time to create a well-thought-out plan right now?
8. Write the synopsis for your next two books. Yes, you read that right. Often, agents like to sell a new author as a three book deal, but that doesn't mean you need to have three books ready to go. A synopsis for your next couple of novels will show the publisher you're not a one-book-wonder.
9. Brainstorm titles for the novel you're querying. More times than not, your editor (and possibly your agent) won't like your title. This can be really crushing for some new authors, but if you have other titles to suggest, you have a better chance of ending up with something you created.
10. Write your next book. Don't sit by the computer waiting for a response from the agents you queried. Move on to the next project. This will help make the time go faster and set you up with Plan B in case an agent or editor likes your style but not your first book. As tempting as it may be, if the novel you’re shopping is the first in a series, don’t work on the second book right away. It’s too risky. What if an agent comes back and says she likes your writing but not the concept behind the series? All you have to offer her is a book in the same series. Instead, work on something else. If the agent likes the series, you can switch to book two once you’ve signed with her.