I know we've started talking plot, but I came upon a post at Write It Sideways that deals with getting started with a writing career. Since The Weekend Writer is all about getting started (it's been here at OC for four months, and we're still working on finding stories), I thought it would be appropriate to pause and focus on Want Agents to Read Your Novel? Do This First.
Now, we haven't found our stories yet, as I mentioned in the above paragraph, so forget about agents right now. Instead, pay attention to what Suzannah Windsor Freeman has to say in Do This First. I'm talking the do this first part--developing a publishing history.
So often I hear people who have never written anything at all talk about writing a book. I've heard elementary school students talk about writing books. Books--they are big things. They involve enormous amounts of time and effort and knowledge of writing process. And then, if you manage to finish one, you may find yourself having a lot of difficulty getting anyone, agents or editors, to even look at it because you've never done anything to indicate that you know how to or are capable of writing a book.
Does that sound unfair? I don't think so. In what other field of work would you be considered for a a job that's the metaphorical equivalent of publishing a book without having had a previous job, an internship, or an academic background relevant to the work you want to do? Not many. But when people who have never written anything but the book they think is publishable send it off to agents and editors that's what they're trying to do.
Read Do This First. Think about how you can create the portfolio Windsor Freeman describes. Note that she makes the point that not only will a portfolio help you get attention from agents and editors, you will actually be improving your writing with the short fiction and essays you produce.
That's why agents and editors want to see that you've written something besides the book-length manuscript you're submitting, something an editor found publishable. It indicates that you have learned how to write.