Writing is a process, of growing and learning and honing and generally trying to be cleverer and better than the day before. Words pile on words and the desperate hope is that, at the end of the day, what you're saying matters, and is good. Practice makes perfect, and so writers write a lot more than they ever publish.
But the learning curve for writing is only one part - one aspect - of trying to get published. Being a good writer is, for the most part, not something you're taught. You just are a good writer. Oh, you can get better, but if you don't get how words flow, it's not something a book can tell you. Publishing, though, is a complicated, profit-driven business, with set procedures and standard practices, all with their own rules (and exceptions) and ways of doing things. Those things can be learned. And they need to be.
Look at Slushpile Hell to see what happens when the rules aren't followed, or follow agent Jessica Sinsheimer on Twitter, along with others, to get real time commentary on query and professional mistakes. It's pretty entertaining after a while.
So, Part Three of 'Things I'd Tell Young Me' is themed: not to do with craft or success or goals, but the strictly professional side of writing. Yes, it's Things I'd Tell Young Professional Me..
- Yup, you need to get an agent if you want to submit to traditional publishers. But ... there needs to be something beyond that goal. Getting the agent to sign you shouldn't be the end goal itself. It's a step in the right direction. You still need to get to ms. on submission, and sell it, and then write more books. Make sure your eyes are fixed on selling the work itself, not getting signed and assuming that's the end of struggles.
- Blog! It's not a hobby to fill the time, or a time-stealing waste that takes you away from real writing. Blog to get into community, and stay there - it takes effort, mate. Be consistent and courteous and keep bothering. Blogging is worth it because it lets people know who you are, and it lets other writers and editors and everyone else plug in with you. Also, the other way round. Read blogs.
- Don't be a stalker. Or, at least, if you are going to be all up in someone's online presence, try not to contact them unless you have something genuine to add. Know the editor your book's on submission to has a Twitter? Great! Follow them, sure, but don't get in contact unless what you're saying is relevant. Ditto this for agents, and other writers.
- Know those quirky, original ideas you had to get your submissions letters noticed? Yeah, those don't work. Like, ever. Query letters actually follow a pretty set format, Oh Young Simon. You can learn about it if you bother. Check out Miss Snark. Check out Writers' and Artists', and Writer's Handbook. Do a quick Google. Follow the rules, you eejit.
- Keep busy with real life. Your day job is important and to focus all your energy on potential future sales is just silly. Advances are getting lower, in general, and even if you do sell, you're an unknown. Be sensible and plan. Write because you want to, not because you want money.
- On that note, where's the second book? If you've finished your first, and it's polished and shining and amazing, where's the next? Keep working. If you want a career, you kind of need more than a single publication.