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Advice on Getting Published

Charles Martin
Advice on Getting Published

Readers ask me quite often, "Any advice on how to get published?"  

In truth, I'm no guru at this.  Have no monopoly on the process.  But I do have a few thoughts.  So, if you're asking the same question, consider this my letter to you.

Dear Reader,

In my experience, moving forward in publishing requires an agent.  Certainly true in my case.  They are the accepted gatekeepers of the pub world.  Acquiring one has changed since I found mine 14 years ago.  If for some reason my agent dumped me and I had to start over, I’d be in the same boat.  I have two suggestions.  Both are simple.  Few take the time to pursue them.

First, Google ‘literary agents.’  In about the time it takes to blink, your screen will give you more than you can possibly contact . Filter to find out who represents your type of work.  Get on the phone.  If you can get past the assistant, be prepared to tell them who you are, what you’ve written (give them the tag line and the hook in less than five sentences), and ask them if they’d be willing to read your first 20 or 30 pages.  I would suggest you have a completed manuscript when you do this.  I say 20 or 30 because if you don’t hook them by then, you won’t.  This approach assumes you can ‘talk about’ your story in concise terms.  Reducing it to its core.  If you can’t do this, don’t call them.  Chances are it won’t go well for you.  You only get one shot because there are a hundred thousand more people just like you trying to get that person’s five minutes.  It would be worth practicing this with a friend, a dry-run so to speak.  Also, don’t send them a first draft.  Or second.  Or third.  But, you might say, “Ive self published this and sold several hundred or several thousand copies.”  Good for you.  I’m jealous.  But, the agent on the other end of the phone won’t care if it’s poorly written.  There were 250k commercially published books last year in the US.  There were over 3 million self published.  Hence, lots of competition.  Your writing should be clean and perfect.    

Second, writers conferences.  Agents and editors routinely peruse regional writers conferences looking for talent.  My former and current editors both do this.  The well known conferences, which will show up on Google, will post a schedule where you can sign up for a fifteen minute slot with one or several agents or editors and give them your pitch.  Again, it will pay dividends if you can give them the heart of your story in a few sentences, (the tagline and hook) and give them the first 20-40 pages.  They might ask for more, maybe less.  Be prepared to give them what they want.  Usually, when you sign up, you will receive an email confirmation telling you what to bring.  You might also be able to tell them what other books your book is like.  Helps give it context.

Food for thought -- if they ask to see your work, don’t send them something with mistakes.  It should be perfect.  If you can’t do this, get help.  Don’t send them a handwritten ms. Ask them if they prefer RTF, Word of Pages.  Know the difference.  If you don’t, get online and get help.  Understand their submission requirements before you talk to them.  Most are listed on their websites and they assume you have read them and can comply.  If your work is really good, they’ll allow a few mistakes, but don’t give them a reason to put your work down.  They have 500 channels on cable, and another thousand submissions like yours sitting on their desk.  When you get their attention, don’t give them a reason to put you down.  ;-)

If you are unsure about the quality of your work, read Stephen King’s “On Writing.”  I don’t care if his writing scares the pants off you and makes you double-check all the locks. This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s the best book on and about writing I’ve ever read.  He and I are very different in what and why we write but he is a craftsman when it comes to words and this book gives you his thoughts on it.  I’d suggest you read it twice and do what he says.  It’ll improve your writing.  If it doesn’t you’re a better writer than most and finding an agent won’t be your problem -- choosing one will be.  ;-)

Blessing on your search.


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