Advice for Writers Getting Started

Like all agents and many published authors, I frequently receive emails with questions from writers. Sometimes they’re specific questions about the business, but often they’re sweeping and general, like:

How do I get published?

I have several templates I use to answer people’s questions, but I’m getting bored of my same old answers. So help me out here. What’s your single best piece of advice for the person at the beginning of the journey to pursue publishing?

Have a terrific weekend!

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Edward G.

    >The best advice is to learn how to write well using your own voice. A story that is compelling, pithy, and has a twist in the tale will always find a home.

    The whole world of publishing is changing. What it means to be published is changing.

    I wish Rachel would talk openly and honestly about what it takes these days (like 2010) for a new author without any audience or platform to get their first novel published by a major house.

    Because I'm beginning to think it's not really possible. I'm beginning to think it goes something like: write the book, get it professionally edited, build up an audience somehow, self-publish and show a track record of sales, then approach a few hundred agents and maybe a major house will look at you, if your agent has already sold the screenplay version to a major producer.

    By all means, correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Kerryhudson

    >Hello, I've just had my first novel accepted for publication in the UK by Chatto and Windus (Random House UK). I don't normally offer hints or tips (don't feel particularly qualified to!) but there are two things which I think will make a huge difference to finishing a novel.

    1. Write like you don't believe your book has a hope in hell of being published. Certainly write it to the best of your ability, think about the craft of writing a novel and keep potential readers in mind but always remember that without a book there will never be a deal. So, every time you sit down to google an agent, a publishing house, read another article on debut publishing or another author by a debut novelist ask yourself 'why aren't I writing.' Don't put the cart before the horse.

    In fact in most situations that is the question I will be asking myself.

    2. Don't do drama. The writing world is full of office politics too. Step away. Unless the situation is a threat to your writing or your person (usually fairly unlikely even in militant writers circles!) step away politely and explain you have writing to do.

    Speaking of which I should go practice what I'm a-preaching.

  • Meagan Spooner

    >Read blogs. Agent blogs, editor blogs, author blogs, blogs of fellow aspiring writers… The more you learn about the world you're trying to break into, the easier you'll find the task. We have more information at our fingertips via the internet than ever, and I think too many aspiring writers fail to take advantage of it.

    Demystifying the publishing world is, I think, the best step a writer can take toward publication.

  • Nerine Dorman

    >Finish the manuscript! If I had a dollar for every time a person approached me with this question about publishing, I'd have been able to quit my day job and be a full-time author.

    Too often people have these nebulous ideas but they don't have the dilligence to sit down and finish a mansucript.

    Even if you only write 250 words a day, WRITE THEM! And write 250 EVERY DAY!

    • Tiana Whetstone

      I have finished my writing, but am having a hard time finding out who to send it to, who to have edit, and how the process works. Help?

  • Andrea K Höst

    >Read a hell of a lot. Write the story you want to write. Then put it in a draw, write something else, read lots more, then take that book out of the drawer and edit.

    Nothing gives you perspective on your work like time.

  • TOMSPY77

    >I feel like the one guy above in that I'm not quite sured I'm the one to be giving advice.

    I write mainly non fiction and have been published for reviews and features on cult television, featured in book on one show with a few articles and reviews of mine published in it, and have just started editing a cult tv site to be launched in January.

    That said, mine would be the old tired thing of write what you know, it was this that got me the chance to do as much as I've done so far, and I have learned much along the way.

    Also, don't try to write if you are not writing frfom your heart. A terrible effort only breeds a terrible piece of work, fiction or non.

    Thomas Willam Spychalski

  • TOMSPY77

    >See, the last part is truth, look at my typos lol ;)

  • Nathan

    >For whatever it's worth, this idea has always made sense to me. If we read the books that we love, the kinds of books we think we would like to be writing, and then turn them into textbooks. Identify the themes or elements that make those works effective and appealing. If we can get a handle on why those are working, we can begin to emulate those tried and true practices in our own writing. Obviously, I'm not published, but like I said, that idea seems to have always made sense to me.

  • Ann Nichols

    >That's easy – Don't give up, don't get discouraged! Work at it every single day just as you would any job, but one you love immensely. (But don't give up your day job until you do publish, several times over!!) Then, one must pray that they are in the right place at the right time and that the agent or editor who sees your "masterpiece" just happens to feel as passionate about the subject as you do. Because when it comes right down to it, we are all humans. And the best book in the world might be presented to an agent or editor but if it doesn't click with them… it will be overlooked. I've often thought how the "Lord of the Rings" would not even be given a glance today – maybe it wouldn't have even at the time of it's publication if the son of the publisher hadn't liked it…:)
    Blessing for this week before Christmas!
    Ann
    PS I'd love for you to visit my site and please enter my GIVEAWAY!

  • IanBontems

    >Single best piece of advice I got is – finish what you start.

    I think a lot of people who start out writing are like butterflies, flitting from one piece of work to the next hoping that this one will be it but without ever finishing anything. I can't see how anyone can be published if they never finish anything they start. And that includes revising. Without the extra passes over a piece of work, it's chances of attracting attention have to be much lower.
    So that's mine – Finish what you start.

  • jongibbs

    >Find out what works best for you, then do that, a lot :)

  • Bonnie R. Paulson

    >I think a writer should know the basics of grammar and spelling. Then learn more. Then more. Then more. Then go join a writer's group and learn more. There's more to getting pub'd than just "writing a book". That link of the "So you're going to write a novel" is hilarious and spot-on.

    Have a great day!

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Learn. Learn. Learn. About the craft. About the art. About the rules. About how to break them. About the industry. About yourself. Never stop. Ever.

  • Catherine West

    >There's no magic potion. You may be the best writer in the world and still never get published. So much of it is subjective. I think it's impossible to some it all up in one single piece of advice, but if I had to, the word would be study.
    Study the craft – go to conferences, take online courses, study other published authors, learn from them and ask for advice. You'll be surprised how nice most writers are.
    Study the market – know what's selling and what's not. If what you're writing isn't hot right now, consider changing tack. If that's out of the question, then you may be in for a wait. I was. If you can live with that, great. But at some point, published or not, you will have to be willing to make changes, either to your manuscript or platform, so best get used to it.
    Study publishers and agents – not in a creepy way of course, just get a feel for who they are, what they represent, what they like and don't like. Meet them in person if possible at conferences and make connections. And do try to make a good impression. You want to be remembered in a positive light.
    Even if you're working as hard as you can at this gig, making the right connections and being super nice and polite when you post on agents blogs, you're on the right track. The rest is all just timing and circumstances way beyond your control. Sounds tough, but there it is.
    And if you don't like it, well, remember that nobody is making you do it.

  • Sarah Forgrave

    >Three things – Read. Learn. Write.

    Oh, and one more…Buy stock in Starbucks.

  • Julie Jarnagin

    >Start at the beginning and don't look for shortcuts. Spend more time actually writing than talking and dreaming about writing.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >Do a little soul-searching. Understand what you’re hoping to accomplish when you write and who you’re writing for. Figure out what you’re willing to invest. Simmer your expectations early on and plan for a long road ahead if you aim to be published.

    And here’s a quote to go along with that:

    “If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability…Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (if you’re just starting out this book is a must read)

    Hope you have a great weekend, Rachelle.

    ~ Wendy

  • David A. Todd

    >As difficult as it is to become published, I'd probably tell him, "Run away before you get hooked!"

    But seriously, as I'm not published except for some articles and poems, I don't feel qualified to give advice on how to break into royalty publishing. So I think I'd say that so much advice is available via both the Internet and published magazines or books, that the beginning writer's greatest need is to sift through this advice and figure out what makes sense. Take advice only from those who have already been published, and recently, and multiple times. Or from those who have coached those who are successful in that manner (i.e. recently successfuly agents and editors).

  • Richard Mabry

    >Don't just study the craft (although you should)–study the business (because it doesn't make any difference how great your work is if you don't query the right agent and/or publisher).

  • Heather Sunseri

    >Read books like the book you want to write. Read books on the craft of writing. Read blogs that will keep you current on the ever-changing publishing business. Collect Bible verses, inspiring quotes, and inspiring friends that will lift you up when your own self-esteem can't see you through the tough times.

  • Berinn

    >The best piece of advice I got was from the Authoress. It was simple. Treat writing as your career. It doesn't matter that you have a day job. You've got to get into the mindset that writing is more than just a hobby. Don't ever call it that, or else you'll never succeed.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I would say the best piece of advice is to write because you love to write and not let it become a job. If you can make a living at it, that’s great, but most authors can’t and won’t. Remembering that it is just a hobby makes rejection all that much easier to take.

  • Sean

    >Outside of a short story, I have never been published, so what do I know? But my advice would be to spend nearly as much time reading great author/editor/agent blogs (like Rachelle's) as you do writing. Treat them as free classes, take notes and contribute with solid comments.

    Get your stuff out there. Enter online contests and post parts of your story and your entire query letter – which is just as important as the novel itself – online. It's the only way to get feedback from professionals and peers that money cannot buy. Feedback from the pros I have gained by doing that vs that of my friends and family is invaluable! Friends and family won't always tell you how it is, if they even know how it is to begin with (which they usually don't).

    Start your own blog page on Blogger.com, so when you do comment your name and picture will be posted and can link people to your project. If you're serious, it will take time, many revisions and some extremely thick skin. Rejections are a dime a dozen in this business and should be considered as mile markers on your journey to success. Everyone has to put in their miles.

    And of course, read good books. Find a consistent, comprehensive routine that works for you on a daily basis and stick with it.

  • Mary P

    >The single best piece of advice for the person at the beginning of the journey to pursue publishing:
    Don't get all caught up in dreams of fame and wealth and let them drown out the real reason for writing. If you want to be rich and famous, find another career. If you want to tell great stories and are willing to keep on doing it even if you never make that bestseller list, just because it's what you love to do, then you're on the right track.
    Second best piece of advice:
    Be willing to start small. You may be one of those lucky people whose first novel makes the bestseller list and a blockbuster movie right out of the starting gate. But don't bank on that chance. Don't try to storm the castle before you've made it through the gatehouse.

  • MJR

    >My advice would be to focus on writing–not on publishing, query writing, and all that. Get several books out from the library about writing fiction (or nonfiction) so you can avoid beginner's mistakes (starting your novel at a funeral, for example. Yes, I made that mistake…until I read a book that said it's a cliche). Writing classes can be useful…

    If you look back at the ms you wrote a year ago and cringe, you're making progress.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I can’t say that I’ve received that question often, but I have received that question. One gentleman sent me an e-mail because he had become frustrated. He had written a book that fit in a very tight niche market and yet it was an important book for posterity. He had tried to contact one particular publishing house concerning the book and had gotten no response. I don’t know the details of why they didn’t respond. I know several of the people who work there personally and ignoring his e-mail just isn’t something they would do. Of all the publishing houses out there, the one he contacted is the one that I would think the most likely to publish his book, though given the size of the market for his book, I expected them to pass. Because of some health problems, I did not believe he would be able handle the self-publishing or vanity press process and yet it was one of those books that I felt needed to be published. Though this isn’t the instruction I would give every author who asks that question, what I told him was, “send me what you’ve got and I’ll publish it.”

    If there’s anything we can take from that, I think it is that if you write something that other people see as important, someone will publish it, even if he knows it’s going to cost him money.

  • Darby Karchut

    >Rachelle was the first agent who ever requested a full manuscript from me. And although she graciously passed on it, it gave me the courage to keep trying. So as you are submitting query after query, focus on the positive things: requests for partials or fulls is huge.

    Getting published will happen if you write from your heart, understand how the industry works, and never give up.

    After 102 queries, my novel was plucked from the slush pile of a mid-list publisher and I'm six months away from release date.

    It does happen. It will happen.

  • B.E.T.

    >Well, from my own limited experience so far, best advice I could give is do your research before you send out to a single publisher. Research about the industry, query letters, submission packets, publishers, small presses, big presses, agents, everything. I know this is preached from the rooftops by everyone, but it's so true.

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Edward G. – Rachelle has addressed frequently the subject of how a debut novelist with no platform gets published. You might want to look through her archives for some very helpful material.

    It sounds as if you are a little discouraged. That's natural at times. This is a tough industry.

    Here's some good news. A number of Rachelle's clients, myself included, are debut novelists who did not have much of a platform but worked really hard to write good novels. It helps that several of us write in genres that are highly marketable right now.

    It's possible. But it does take hard work and a little bit of providential intervention. And a willingness to understand that in the end, none of us has control over the final outcome.

  • Bryan Allain

    >persistence.

    Even best-selling authors like Tim Ferriss and JK Rowling have tales of multiple rejections.

    100% of the quitters never get a book deal.

  • Katie Ganshert

    >I want to echo Rosslyn's comment. Yes, it's hard. It takes a lot of hard work and the odds aren't with you. But it's not impossible. Otherwise, agents would never take on new authors.

  • Jean Ann Williams

    >Great thoughts and suggestions.

    I like the one that we should write like we're never going to publish the story. Combine that with the suggestion that we treat it like a real job (no thought of the word hobby). Makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    >Figure out who your main character is, then get to know him/her as well as you do your brother/sister. Learn to live in their skin. Then put that person in a situation and put your fingers on the keys.

  • Keith Reynold Jennings

    >Learn to find words for readers rather than readers for your words.

  • Susy

    >Go to a writers conference. There is no substitute for the education and the relationships.

  • Laura Drake

    >Don't get sucked into the publication vortex. You started writing because it satisfied something inside to put words on paper to describe something important to you.

    Focus on that, and you won't ever be dissappointed.

  • The Screaming Guppy

    >Google.

    Seriously. Agents, editors and published authors have given aspiring authors a wealth of knowledge. All you have to do is look for it.

    Before you start asking people to explain everything to you, take the time to educate yourself.

    Knowing at least the basics will make you more confident.

  • Chris Morrow

    >Wait until the last day of the month and then go stand in line at the DMV. Then show up unannounced at your doctor's office during the peak of flu season and tell the receptionist you'll wait until the doctor can find a free moment. Then proceed immediately to the box office. Buy a ticket for the midnight premier of the next installment of the Harry Potter series and stand on the street for four hours until they start taking tickets.

    After all of this, if you still have your sanity then you might be patient enough to be a writer.

    Continental drift moves faster than the publishing world.

  • Raquel Byrnes

    >Other than reading, I would have to say educate yourself about your profession.

    Know what submission guidelines are, what content standards you need to adhere to, and understand the process of query, proposal…etc.

    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  • Kerri M.

    >Like others have noted, reading is SO very important.

    Read. Write. Research. Read. Write. Research. Read more. Repeat!!!

  • Katherine Hyde

    >Park your expectations at the door.

    Whatever you expect, it won't go that way. Work hard and let what's going to happen happen. (Not that you should be passive, just that you have to roll with the punches.)

  • T. Anne

    >There's been so much great advice already. I think reading in your genre, writing as much as possible, and networking with other writers is invaluable. There is always so much to learn don't ever believe you know it all. Read agent's blogs to get a feel for how the industry runs.

    Have a great weekend Rachelle!

  • Joel Q

    >Finish writing a book. :-)

    I see so many people at writing conferences that haven't finish a manuscript or even a short story.

  • Edward G.

    >Hello Rosslyn,

    You wrote:

    Edward G. – Rachelle has addressed frequently the subject of how a debut novelist with no platform gets published. You might want to look through her archives for some very helpful material.It sounds as if you are a little discouraged. That's natural at times. This is a tough industry.

    Well, actually, I have a different plan in mind. So, I'm not really that discouraged, but it would be good to get the real scoop on how the publishing industry aquires new authors these days. I mean, I just read an article on Galley Cat that said editors are being tasked much more with marketing than developing talent. To me that sounds like fiction publishing is in its death throes. But I could be wrong.

  • Mary Vensel White

    >Have a friend who already has an agent. Get friend to introduce you.

  • Cecelia Dowdy

    >Read a lot and write a lot!

  • Rachel

    >If you seriously want to get published, don't ever forget that you're writing for an audience as well as for yourself. Check your self-indulgence at the door, and ask yourself at every turn of phrase, "Will anyone care but me?" As a developmental editor, this is my most common note on a manuscript, as writers are often to close to their projects to notice if they're going off on tangents, putting too much time or focus on insignificant details, or indulging their own unique tastes and interests. It's fine to write what you know and you should certainly write something you love, but take heed not to bore your reader.

  • Jan Christiansen

    >Don't forget to have fun with your writing! If you can't do that, the rest is pointless.

  • kangaroobee

    >I would send an absolute newbie to http://www.cbiclubhouse.com and tell them to read and write.

  • J.M. Lacey

    >Single piece? Research.

    Multiple? Learn the craft of writing (in other words, brush up on your English/grammar skills, and read books); Research the business of publishing (plenty of quality information out there so there's no excuse for laziness); and attend conferences.

  • Kathryn Magendie

    >Lot of the good stuff's been said, but if this hasn't:

    Decide what your goals are as far as distribution, realistic monetary gains, size of publisher, etc – so you can make a decision whether you would be happy with a small press or would only be happy with one of the Big 6, or somewhere in between. That way you know where to begin looking or when you find your agent, you know what you want and can convey that to them (of course, I'm sure you want to listen to their advice!).

  • DCS

    >How to get published.

    Rule #1: Finish the maunscript

    Rule #2 See rule #1

  • Sierra Gardner

    >Develop your own writing support group. The people who will read and edit your manuscripts, remind you life isn't over when you receive 15 form rejections in a row, cheer you on when you make one of your goals and invest in you as an author. They are invaluable and will (if you let them) help make your writing stellar.

  • Deborah Dinzes

    >Write every day. Set time aside for your writing, and maybe set aside a place if that helps you. Make a commitment to it and be disciplined about it. And when you hit that groove, clear your calendar and your other responsibilities as much as possible so that you can dive all in.
    I'd also agree with Rachel about the developmental editing advice — but I think that comes in later when you do your initial revision (which you'll have to do before submitting your work to others). And I love the quote from Anne Lamont. Really useful advice from one and all!

  • Kylie Griffin

    >I find it interesting no one seems to have suggested to join a writing organisation of some sort ie. Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers of Australia, Romance Writers of New Zealand.

    All three have proven to cater to not only romance writers but writers in other genres.

    The resources offered by such an organisation is limitless and any beginning writer will discover a wealth of information and experience at their fingertips.

    Why "go it all alone" when you can benefit from the swag of learning in craft, industry, experience, courses and conferences available with these sorts of organisations?

  • Jillian Kent

    >All excellent suggestions that will help each of us. I would add that you MUST persevere and let go of your ego. That's EGO not EGGO. No matter what, be teachable. That covers a lot of ground. And know it may take twenty years. This business is everything but fast. Do you want it that much?

    perseverance–noun
    1. steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. (Dictionary.com)

  • Anonymous

    >I'm Glad i ran across this site.Added cba-ramblings.blogspot.com to my bookmark!

  • wry wryter

    >Write.
    Research.
    Believe.
    Accept rejection.
    Start over.
    Repeat if necessary because it will be.

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