Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lisa: You really want my advice?

As a published author, the most common question I get is – can you give me advice on how to get published?
I do understand it can be a bit daunting when you don’t know anything about the publishing business and don’t have a clue as to where to go first. (Although I often want to say – ever heard of that thing called google?)
But here’s what really gets me. Many times, the person asking the question hasn't even written a book yet.
To me this is like a single girl with no boyfriend going around asking new brides for recommendations on caterers, florists, wedding cakes, etc.
I mean, come on. First thing’s first.
Read, write, read some more, write some more, study the craft, maybe take a class or two or go to a writer's conference, write some more, and maybe then you can ask me about getting published.
Why are we so anxious to get published? Why aren’t we more anxious about writing the best book we possibly can? Because honestly, if we do that, if we invest the time and energy into our writing, the publishing part will be a piece of cake. Maybe not wedding cake, but cake nonetheless. And once your book is on the shelves, you want as many people to love it as possible. And the only way that's going to happen is to spend the time and energy writing an amazing book. But good writing isn't enough in today's competitive market, you say. Yes, you're right, it's tough out there. Having a little luck on your side certainly won't hurt. But knowing someone or having a special "in" isn't enough either.
I can't help but wonder if sometimes, people who ask me about getting published are hoping I can give them a fast pass somehow. Well, sorry folks, this ain't Disney. 
How did I get an agent? How did I find an editor who loved my work? How have I continued to sell six more novels after that first sale? The old fashioned way. Lots and lots of hard work. Nobody gave me a fast pass. 
Years ago, I wrote a novel and it sucked. I wrote another one, it sucked a little less. I wrote another one, and was almost there, and then, I wrote a fourth one. It was different. It was risky. And it made my heart dance and sing. I stopped writing with the goal of publication and started writing something that made my heart dance and sing. When I finished, as excited as I was, I didn’t jump to sending out queries right away. I knew I needed to make it as good as I could make it. So I got one critique, then another, and a third, and I revised accordingly after each one. That book, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, eventually landed me my agent and after that, a contract with Simon Pulse.
So, you want my advice?
Write the best book you can. It's not easy, I know. Believe me, I know! And if all you get are rejections, then write another book, better than the first. And keep writing. Try a new genre or a new age group. Maybe you haven't found what you're meant to write yet. I think the first years of writing and submitting can be a lot of trial and error - figuring out what your strengths are and maximizing those. 

Once you have a great book ready to submit, there are wonderful resources out there for you to tap into. Here are a few off the top of my head:

www.scbwi.org - The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, with publications and conferences that will help you on your path to publication.
www.verlakay.com/boards - A place where writers gather and share all kinds of information about writing and publishing
www.agentquery.com - A database of literary agents. Search here based on what you write, or search name(s) of agents you've heard about.

In case you’re curious, the second most common question I get is – I want to write a book, but I don’t know how to get started. Can you help?
That one’s easy.
Start at the beginning. And don’t stop until the book is finished.


  1. I heart this post. When in doubt, I just think to myself, "write the next book."

  2. Hard work, yes. Though some days a magic wand might be nice. Excellent advice~

  3. Finally! A perfect link to direct people to when asked how to publish the children's book they will someday write. Thank you, Lisa. I'm bookmarking this one....

  4. As a new writer, unpublished so far, I suspect many who ask you are wondering if it's something they could do to support themselves. Some simply want encouragement to follow their dream. The others are dreamers and never will write.

  5. Jenny - Just keep writing, just keep writing...

    Amanda - If you find that magic wand, will you share? :)

    Sheloved - Glad you found it helpful

    Anon - I do try to give encouragement as much as I can. And there is nothing wrong with dreaming. Dream big, I say! But along with that, I think people have to do the work. Good luck with your own writing!!

  6. Fast pass, please! Thanks for the post, Lisa. You give off generous vibes, so I imagine you get approached for advice a lot. This is good. And true.

  7. Snort, snort, chuckle ... a fast pass! There's something about that feeling of passing by all those people standing in line! :D

    But you're right. There is no fast pass in this business. Sometimes it's hard to persevere, but that really is the only secret to getting published, isn't it?

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. I imagine "How do I get published?" ranks up there with "Where do you get your ideas?" I suppose some people probably want to know in advance how difficult it's likely to be before they commit themselves to writing a novel, although I do question how much they REALLY want to do it if they're going to bow out before they even start. I suppose you don't want to tell them that you can work as hard as you can, but sometimes it still comes down to luck.

  9. Perfect advice. And I suspect if everyone followed it, getting published would require less luck - because the slush piles would be smaller!

  10. (She cartwheels wildly into the room)

    Wait, but can you tell me how to get published?

    (Insert hysterical laughter here!)

    Totally kidding. This is right on the money. Thanks for giving it to us straight. I love your advice. This post is chock full of good old fashioned common sense! Thanks again ...

    *POOF* in a whirl of words she was gone

  11. What a lovely post. I enjoyed the reading and very candid responses to people. Thanks for sharing.

  12. awesome free advice! please post more stuff like this in other posts!