Thursday, January 15, 2009

How To Get Published

There have been hundreds of books on how to get published. Here's my condensed version:

1. Write When You Can - Find the time to write, even if you have to give up other things to do so. And know who your audience is, and as much about that audience as possible, before you write your first word.

2. Finish What You Start - Turn off your internal editor until you finish that first draft, and get to the ending no matter how much you think it sucks.

3. Edit What You Finish - Rewrite, add, cut, and polish. Then give it to others to read, consider their suggestions, and keep repeating the process until you've got something your peers, and you, consider decent.

Here's a critique sheet to help you out.

4. Submit What You Edit - Since you know your audience, you should know who reps/publishes your type of story. And don't get hung up on writing the perfect query letter. The writing sells the writing, not the query letter. All a query needs is a two sentence description of the book (mention setting, genre, and a bestselling similar work by another author), some praise for the recipient, and a thank you.

5. Repeat

That's all. Now stop sweating the process and go do it.

If you have any questions, put them in the comments section of this thread. Or if you want my undivided attention, visit me in person.

For everyone in the St. Louis MO vicinity, I'll be in town Jan 16 and 17.

Joe will be doing a presentation 7pm - 9pm. Details at

Saturday, Jan 17 - BIG SLEEP BOOKS, ST. LOUIS
Joe will be doing a signing at this wonderful mystery bookstore, 1pm - 2:30pm.

Feel free to spread the word and come see me. The library event has a cash bar. How cool is that? Naturally, books will be available at both locations, and besides dishing out wisdom I'll be giving away some free cool stuff.

Hope to see some of you there.


Anonymous said...

Wish I could be at one of the locations.

Steve in Germany

PokerBen said...

One of your best posts ever. I love how condensed, and how nice and tidy it was. You pretty much eliminated all the BS.

Question: I want to write, some have even said I'm pretty good at it. Problem is, I desire "To have written", more then "to write".

How do I get my butt in gear, and get something written?

Like a t-shirt I have says : "Procrastinators Unit!...tomorrow.

PS. Just received my copies of "Afraid" & "Wolfsbane & Mistletoe", can't wait to dig in. Also, wish you would come to Colorado.

Davin C. Goodwin said...


I've used your crit sheet. It's a great feedback mechanism.

Although, as alwsys, the feedback/results can be humbling....

Have fun in St. Louis. Give the Budweiser factory a salute for me.

Mark Terry said...

I think your description of the query is great. So many writers are overthinking that these days. I loved reading an interview with Joe Hill who asked his Dad, Stephen King, what a query letter to an agent should look like. King wrote something along the lines of:

I am a grate riter and want you to sell my book bcuz it will be a bestsellr and make tuns of money.

Then King said, "Make sure it doesn't look like that."

Mark Terry said...

Oh, to which I would add my single greatest advice for making your query letter better: rewrite the damned thing.

So many I've read have at least one typo in it. Just take the extra 10 minutes to re-read it, tighten it up and make sure your own eyes don't glaze over in the first two sentences.

Bobby Mangahas said...

Nice and concise information here Joe. Cash bar at a library? Hot damn.

Now, if you'll excuse me, back to the process.

Anonymous said...

Writers wouldn't be stressing so much over the query if they weren't getting so make rejections and being told conflicting information.

Dave Zeltserman said...

A critical step left out is to understand the market. Research the type of books that publishers are buying and are being heavily sold. That doesn't mean trying to chase after a hot topic or write a clone of a best seller, but it does mean trying to understand what properties bestselling thrillers (for example) might have in common, and trying to write a thriller that has those properties, than say, trying to write a type of crime novel that NY is not buying. In other words, be smart about what you're trying to write and give yourself the best possible chance to have your book sold.

Dave Zeltserman (whose very dark noir novel Small Crimes was picked by both NPR and Washington Post as one of the best books of 2008, but still rejected by just about every house in NY because they don't like buying dark noir)

Lisa Katzenberger said...

Feedback to Ben: the getting started part can be pretty trying. But once you get those fingers flying over the keys I'll bet you won't be able to stop. Try and set little goals for yourself. Maybe that it's you'll write 500 words on three separate days your first week. Or on Saturday you'll unplug your internet connection, disable solitaire and just type for 30 minutes straight. The first draft will likely be crap. Not because you are a bad writer (surely you are a great writer indeed!) but because all first drafts are pretty much lousy -- that's their purpose. For me, accepting that part and letting the crummy writing fly at least gave me words on the page to work with. Then revise from there.

So try some easy slam dunk goals and push yourself further little by little. And in the end you'll hopefully have fun too!

Good luck!

JA Konrath said...

Steve--You mean I'm not worth as flight across the Atlantic. I did mention the cash bar, didn't I?

Ben--Inspiration is like starting a fire. It's a huge pain in the ass at first, but once you get it started it quickly becomes easier, bigger, and a lot of fun. :)

Davin--Thanks, and I will.

Mark--Good point. It doesn't hurt to ask peers to read your query.

RJ--I'm geeked about the cash bar. Never did a library event with a cash bar. I love Missouri. And Missouri loves company.

Anon--Writers wouldn't be stressing so much over the query if they weren't getting so many rejections and being told conflicting information.

All writers get rejections. It's part of the biz. Don't take it personally, and don't blame the query letter. If you were rejected, it was because the writing wasn't what they were looking for.

Give them what they're looking for.

Dave--I agree, but I believe "understanding the market" is the same as "knowing your audience." Editors and agents and publishers are readers first and foremost.

Lisa--Good advice. Limiting distractions and allowing yourself to write crap are good ways to stay focused.

PokerBen said...

Thanks Lisa, very good advice. I will definitely give that a try. Please keep the advice coming guys, I need all the help I can get.

Also, Mark Terry, I found your articles on writing very useful indeed. If anyone hasn't already checked them out, I highly recommend them.

Miss Mahana said...

Thanks for the advice.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

A cash bar at a library? Wow. Just wow. There's only one downside to that. I'll bet it cuts into business at the gas station across the street.

JA Konrath said...

Indeed it will, Ann. :)

Jude Hardin said...

I would add that reading is crucial, in and out of your chosen genre.

And don't be afraid to tell your story your way. Have fun with it. Create something editors and agents haven't already seen thousands of times.

Anonymous said...

In the last two years I've drafted and revised a novel that's out to readers for feedback (using a modified version of your sheet), and last year I sold my first short story.

You'd think I'd find it easy to keep going, but I've got a day job that takes 50-60 hours per week. Posts like this remind me to squeeze writing in where I can and never give up.

Just wanted to say thanks!

Kathryn Magendie said...

2. Finish What You Start - Turn off your internal editor until you finish that first draft, and get to the ending no matter how much you think it sucks.

This is one of the things I "preach" the most ...

Aim said...

thanks for the great advice. Forget about St Louis, when are you coming back to Rockford, IL?!?

Anonymous said...

Writing is often a thankless task and it's certainly difficult to remain motivated in a solitary environment. This is why getting together with others is a great motivator. But, you are absolutely right. Stay focused on your project and stay set on your goal. How much do you want it? That's the real question. How much do you really want it?

Carleen Brice said...

Thanks for the critique sheet!

Leon1234 said...

Hey, how are you doing fellow writer. I would love to speak to you sometime. Please, let me know when you are available. Thanks

Mary said...

This is the best query letter advice I have read. Thank you!

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Anonymous said...

So here's my question: From everything I read about publishing, it seems to take a LONG time. I am writing a novel for youth, but it seems to be becoming a series and I just don't know when to send it to a publisher! I can already tell the plotline I have laid out for the first book is just going to be way too long to appeal to youth, but I can't find a way to work an ending in there. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

The whole "Don't worry about writing the perfect query letter" bit really puts me off because it's simply not true.

Most agents will ONLY take queries, and if they don't find something in it that catches their attention, they'll pitch it in the circular file.

I hear agents say time and time again that the quality of the query letter is a benchmark of the quality of the actual writing, so, assuming they don't take sample chapters accompanying your query, a badly written or boring query will get rejected out of hand no matter how exciting your actual manuscript is.