ADVICE ABOUT PUBLISHING
(mostly boring stuff for adults)
1. Learn as much about the markets as early as possible.
Some forms of fiction are extremely difficult to sell. I have
plots that I would like to explore but that simply don't seem viable in
the marketplace. There are a number of books on getting
published. Probably 75% of them are garbage, but you'll learn a
lot from the other 25%. One that is well-regarded is HOW TO GET
2. Learn the rules of the various genres. It seems that I
am constantly running into people who want to write children's books
featuring little animals talking in verse. I have yet to run into
one of these people who has taken the time to do word and page counts
on current children's books; to learn anything much about the
techniques of poetry (or the current unpopularity of the form in
children's lit.); or to figure out that cutesiness is the kiss of death
in this business. So, they are doomed before they
start. There are also genre rules for romances, westerns,
gothics, science fiction, and even YA stuff. There is an
entertaining book on the subject by Dean R. Koontz with a title
something like WRITING SCIENCE FICTION AND OTHER GENRE FICTION.
And, once you know the rules, you can know when to break them.
3. Poetry is great, but it doesn't pay well. I'm not
saying don't write it, but keep the day job.
4. Unfortunately, short fiction rarely pays well. Today's
paying magazine market is so small and the competition so tough that it
is easier to get a book published. There is a slowly growing
market in books of short stories, but novels are still much easier to
5. Some people are prolific enough they can make a living writing
nonfiction magazine pieces, but you need to sell a lot to make it
pay. The nonfiction market in books is good, and some people are
making a real killing. The children's and YA nonfiction markets
don't pay very well, but it is a good genre to get a career
started. By the way, about 75% of the YA nonfiction is contracted
for by the publisher. If you can get on an editor's list, she'll
keep you busy. (Most YA editors are female.)
6. Once you've decided what you want to write (if you haven't
started out sure of that), WRITE. Set aside time to write even if
it's only a few minutes a day. I have never heard of anyone making it
as a professional without working a regular schedule. Keep to
your schedule even when you don't feel like writing. Be careful
not to talk your ideas to death. The less time you spend talking
about them and the more time writing, the better off you'll be.
Likewise, don't show your work to ANYBODY, spouse included, until
you're really ready. And, of course, rewrite, rewrite,
rewrite. It's a drag, but very little is very good in first
draft. A dozen times is none too few.
7. The internet can do many things but good reference books are
still important. Some of the ones I use:
The Chicago Manual of Style
This is the ultimate style book. If you need to know how to
footnote in Icelandic, check Chicago.
Words into Type
advice on style. Excellent on the mechanics of publishing.
. A good,
quick reference to journalistic style.
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate
. (I believe the TENTH is now out.) That
dictionary you used back in college? It's dated. Badly.
The Careful Writer
Theodore M. Bernstein. There are many good handbooks, this
is one of the best.
Somehow the electronic ones still don't quite make it.
The Writer's Market
Bible for the freelancer: contains market information, lists of agents,
awards etc., and many good articles on submission, query letters
etc. This is an expensive book. Unless you're doing a lot
of magazine articles, use the library's copy. This year's edition
will be on reserve, but last year's may well be in the stacks.
Look for older editions in the library's annual book sale.
(The Literary Marketplace
This is the publishing industry's guide. There are many long
lists of editors, agents, imprints etc. Use it in conjunction
with The Writer's Market as needed. (No need to buy it.)
Modern English Usage
This famous book will untangle your stickiest questions about usage.,
Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
I own both and use both. If I were to own one, I'd choose the
good, quick reference to literature.
The Columbia Encyclopedia
Short accurate articles on just about everything.
Compact Oxford English Dictionary
The O.E.D. is the ultimate authority on word meanings and
origins. The compact edition, complete with magnifying glass,
comes in two thick volumes. It is often offered as a bonus for
joining Book of the Month Club or the like.
The Ultimate Visual Dictionary
Want to know what that thingamajig is really called? Check here.
This is the best of the three visual dictionaries I own, but all are
Partridge's Dictionary of
I'm not very fond of this. It's extensive but heavily British in
outlook. I'm looking for a better slang dictionary.
The Timetables of History
An outline of history with handy cross-referencing of developments in
Times Concise Atlas of World History
One of the best historical atlases.
Hammond's World Atlas
need a new one. Where are some of these countries ending with
8. The quickest way to become a professional is to act like
one. The books on getting published will tip you off on some of
the amateur mistakes. For example, never send a piece to Fiction
Editor. Send it to a person. The name will be in THE WRITER'S
MARKET or THE LMP. Example two: don't tell them how much they
should like your piece; they're not interested in your opinion but in
your work. Do anything you can to show that you are a
professional, intent on being a professional, or at least know the
rules of the game.
9. Submission format is not difficult: double space with one inch
margins all around; use a heading (name of the piece/your name/Page -
#) in upper right hand corner of each page; start the first page of the
piece or chapter halfway down (this is to give the editor a space to
make notes). Include a stamped return envelope until you are
10. Don't bother copyrighting your material before submitting it.
All you need is a dated copy. Chances are almost non-existent
that anyone will steal your work. By in large, publishing is an
honest if exasperating business.
11. Rejection kills most writers in the ol' proverbial bud.
One or two rejection slips and they toss the pieces and their ambitions
aside. Rule 1: Never worry about the quality of a piece until
it's been rejected at least ten times. (There are just too many
reasons for a rejection other than quality.) Rule 2: Never let a
rejected piece spend the night in the house; get it out again.
Rule 3: Remind yourself as often as necessary that if the jerks can't
recognize brilliance, that's their problem. Rule 4: Always be
working on another piece. The more you have in the mail, the less
the individual rejection hurts. I used to keep a dozen queries,
grant requests, sample chapters, or completed pieces in the mail at all
times. That way there was always hope, even in the years I was
building a huge collection of rejection slips. Even now, I
usually have at least a half dozen things out at any one time.
12. Agents. Most won't take you unless you're published, which seems
rather a Catch 22. But give one a try if you feel that you have a
large part of a marketable book. (Very few handle articles,
poetry, or stories, and then only for the big names.) The worst
he or she can say is no. Then try another or try to sell the book
yourself. Just don't give up.
13. Don't pay reading fees. Ever.
14. Children's picture books are deceptively simple in
appearance, but they have some strict rules. There are a number
of good books on the subject. I would suggest that you visit a
first-class library for a look at the books available. Perhaps
even better, visit or write the Children's Cooperative Book Center at
the University of Wisconsin--Madison (600 N. Park St., Madison, WI
53706) or one of the other children's book centers around the nation.
15. Unless you are a professional illustrator, do not send the
MS. with illustrations. Do not arrange for a friend to illustrate
it either. Publishers will almost always reject collaborative
efforts. The editor will line up the illustrator.
16. Consider joining a writers' group or organization. The local
ones are handy for manuscript criticism and mutual support. Just
don't get hung up on the organization and forget that your focus is on
becoming a writer. By its nature writing is a largely solitary
profession. Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and
Illustrators (SCBWI). It is fairly expensive but I recommend it
highly for the newsletter and workshops. Address: SCBWI, 8271
Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.
17. You can learn a lot at a workshops or in a class.
However, as with writers' groups, don't let attendance at workshops
become a substitute for writing.
18. No matter how you do it, keep faith. If you keep working at it,
eventually you'll make it. (Now and then, glance at the garbage
on the paperback rack. It helps to remember that some real idiots
Greatest good luck,