Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tips for Writers

Writing is not an easy, armchair diversion—it's more of a blood sport, really. And there's really only one piece of advice that is worth anything: write the best book you can and then write the next, better one.

Not exactly what most writers want to hear. They are all looking for the ruby slippers, the magic key, the holy grail, the answer to life, the universe and everything. (Which, by the way, is 42.) But there is no single answer that will get you published except that first one.

That being said, I have learned a few things the hard way. They might help you, or they might not. Shrug. It's all a crap shoot, anyway. It's more like winning the lottery than anything else, except you don't have to pour your blood and sweat into a lottery ticket.

For serious writers, however, there is at least one fairly critical decision you need to make:

Are you going to submit your book, or get an agent?

'Cause…you don't want to do both for the same manuscript.

Submitting your own book to Publishers

If you decide to submit your own book to publishers, you need to face reality: most sales of new authors involve an agent. There are, however, exceptions.

  • E-Publishers and Small Press: Authors are better off selling their manuscripts directly to these publishers. Typically, there is no advance. Authors of erotica and highly sensual material do very well with these publishers, so it is definitely something to think about.
  • Category: Authors who write category romances or other types of shorter works targeted toward category publishers (e.g. Harlequin, Mills & Boon, or Avalon) then again, you can sell directly to the publisher and generally don't need an agent. There are advances offered.

If you want to sell to a large publisher, however, you will probably need an agent. Most large publishers will not even accept a query from an author, although a few will glance over a query letter.

Don't think you can send your book around to all the publishers, get a bunch of rejections, and then try agents as a last resort. This is called: shopping your book. It's deadly. If you do this, then if you miraculously found an agent, you will have placed him (or her) in the position of having no place to send your manuscript.

That manuscript is basically dead.


If your book is fabulous and you want to sell it to a big publisher: get an agent. Send your queries, partials, and manuscripts only to agents until you sign with one. It's really the only way.

Do not send the book to any publishers, first. Or simultaneously. Do not shop your book and then expect the agent to find a home for it after you've already sent your manuscript to everyone and their brother.


You've written a brilliant historical romance. You try a few agents but it's so slow and you just know that it is perfect for Avon, so you go ahead and try Avon while waiting for Agent B to respond. Avon rejects you.

By some miracle, Agent B signs you. Agent B knows the Senior Editor at Avon, personally, and could convince her to buy your brilliant book...except you already submitted to them, so that's out! Agent B can't submit there because you've already poisoned the well with your submission, just because you got impatient.

Do not shoot yourself in the foot.

Best of Both Worlds

But wait! There is a way around this conundrum. Remember that first rule I gave you: write the best book you can, and then write a better one? Well, do that. And then look at both of them.

Take the strongest, best manuscript you have and dedicate that one solely to getting an agent. No matter what, do not submit it to any publishers.

Take the other strong, best manuscript you have (and it better be good, too) and send it to publishers—if you're sure you want to take this risk. Remember, if you try all the publishers, then that's the end of the book's life. It will have to go into the drawer when you're done.

And then write a better, stronger, faster, more powerful book.


This all sounds easy, but self-control is the most difficult part. You want to do something. After months and years of submitting to agents, you want to get it to a publisher. You want to get published.

That's why you have to decide on what you can live with. And it's why you have to keep on writing and improving. Each book you write will be better than the last. Each new book will stand a better chance.

The reality is: You need an agent to sell to a large publisher. So you need the self-control to set aside your best manuscript and submit it only to agents.

And you need the discipline to keep on writing.

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