Writing Advice

Help for Authors and Writers

Ten Things for Any New Writer to Know.

You want to make it as a writer. Here are some tings to keep in mind.

I’ve come at the art and business of writing from just about every angle. I’ve been a self-published and a professionally published author. I’ve done prepress and design for book publishing. I’ve co-founded a publishing company. Here are some things I've learned:

  1. Publishers are in the publishing business for one reason only: to make money. Not to publish “important” books, to make money. A crap book that will sell is much easier to find publishing support for than a brilliant book that won’t.
  2. Because publishers are in business to make money, they’re going to want to know why you think your book will make money. Do you have a platform? Do tens of thousands of people follow you online—people who might buy your book? Who’s your audience? Why will people want your book? How will you connect with them? You better have answers to all these questions.
  3. Publishers want authors who are easy to work with, not prancing prima donnas who refuse to take feedback from an editor. Publishers know their demographic. They also know writing. If they suggest changes, accept it. If your response to suggestions or criticism is to say “but mah ARTISTIC INTEGRITEE,” they’ll show you the door. If you’re a first-time writer and they get even a whiff of hard-to-work-with from you, the answer will be no. It’s hard to make money from a difficult writer.
  4. Not every publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts. If a publisher says they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you send them one, because you believe it’s so brilliant or whatever whatever, they’ll drop it in the trash unread and add your name to the “never work with this person” list. Yes, there is a “never work with this person” list.
  5. If they do accept unsolicited manuscripts, they will have, probably on their web site, a very detailed set of instructions on how to query them. Every publisher, every imprint for every publisher, and sometimes every editor has different querying instructions. You cannot write just one query and send it to a bunch of publishers. You must follow each publisher’s querying process to the letter. I cannot stress this enough. Part of what they’re looking for is to see if you are easy to work with (see point 3) and if you can read and follow instructions. You can’t? It doesn’t matter if you’ve just written The Lord of the Rings meets The Catcher in the Rye, they don’t want you. That’s because…
  6. Everyone wants to publish a book, but few books sell. Publishers aren’t looking for reasons to accept you, they’re looking for reasons to reject you. You wouldn’t believe the flood of submissions publishers get, or how terrible they are. An editor might have sixty queries sitting on her desk just from today alone. Tomorrow there will be another sixty, and the day after that, another. Most of them will be dreadful. Spelling and grammar errors, bad formatting, flat or derivative story, grotesque failure to follow the query guidelines… The editor will pick up your query, start reading from the top, and the instant she hits a typo or an error it goes in the bin. If she’s not grabbed by the story in the first 20–30 seconds it goes in the bin. If it’s hard to read it goes in the bin. When you read 60 queries a day every day for ten years, there’s a reason you insist on double-spacing, 1” margins, 12-point Times. Follow the submission instructions. No, really, I mean it.
  7. Edit. Your. Manuscript. Edit. Your. Query. The moment the publisher sees a typo or a grammar error, you’re done.
  8. It’s hard for a writer to evaluate his own work. Get feedback from other sources. Listen to what they say.
  9. Querying is hard. It’s almost as hard as writing the goddamn book. How would you pitch the book to someone in a book storyline? If you just read this book by someone else and you really loved it, how would you get them to read it? That’s how you write a synopsis. Show your enthusiasm! What makes the book great? You have, if you’re lucky, 20–30 seconds to sell this book with your query. Use them. Engage whoever reads your query.
  10. Don’t expect to sell your book and be done. You probably won’t make any money from it beyond your advance; few authors do. The publisher will also expect you to do work to support the book—often at your expense. You’ll be expected to reach out to your base about the book, for example. Marketing the book is partly the publisher’s job, but mostly it’s yours.