Can you share with us how you went from aspiring novelist to two-book contract? Getting fiction published, I'm told, is awfully difficult. You must be quite the writer!
The good news is that I came into it knowing nothing at all (and nobody at all) in the publishing business. And, weirdly enough, the process is not dissimilar to finding an academic position.
First, of course, I wrote the book. I based it on a lot of the research I'd already done, which might have helped get people interested. (My protagonist is a fictionalized version of a real midwife.) After my sister tore it apart -she used to edit Vonnegut and Amy Tan- I rewrote it, and went looking for an agent.
There are a ton of online resources for finding agents, but the most important thing is fit. ID agents who have represented books like yours and are actively searching for similar works. Then I sent out the dreaded query letter, which you hope will lead to a request to read the manuscript. (This is basically your job letter, but shorter.)
The query letter, oddly enough, was the easiest part. The first thing you have to do is put together a one-page letter introducing yourself and your work. In terms of substance this had nothing in common with my job letter, but after a decade on the market, if there's one thing I can write it's a concise description of my writing. I wrote to a dozen or so agents, and received a few requests for opening chapters/the full manuscript.
This is when the angst gets bad. One big time agent said, "I'll get back to you Monday." This made Monday the longest day ever. She turned it down, but gave me some great feedback. (Basically, I had a one-suspect mystery. Duh.) So I rewrote, and sent out a second batch of query letters, and again I got positive responses. In the end I had two offers of representation.
Then the fun began, as my agent shopped the manuscript around to the major publishing houses. Cue the dollar signs dancing before your eyes. I wound up with a two-book contract (editors like books in a series) worth - to be honest - about half a year's salary. I've since sold rights to Germany, and hope UK will follow suit. I wrote a sequel, and am now about 1/3 of the way through the third in the series. Based on this, my agent will try to get books three and four under contract. Here's hoping.
For what it's worth if there are regulars here who have written a novel, I would be happy to pass it along to my agent. He is Josh Getzler at HSG Agency. Before you ask, be sure he reps your genre. He's done a number of mysteries, especially historicals, as well as a zombie book, The Reapers are the Angels
, and a young-adult trilogy. It's a million miles from a guarantee, but at least you'll get past the administrative assistant who does the initial winnowing.