Get Published: Questions from a publishing panel

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Hi everyone! This week I sat on a publishing panel for writers at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, which was the most impressive library I’ve ever seen. It’s not only full of books and beautiful architecture, it has great conference rooms, a gift shop and a cafe… and more. I didn’t get to see the whole thing, but if you are ever in Topeka, Kansas, go check it out.

Anyway, we were given questions ahead of time, and I know that sometimes when I get in front of people with a microphone I tend to go off on bunny trails and forget what I’m talking about, so I answered my questions beforehand. The event coordinator liked them so much, we took four of the longest answers and made a hand-out for the attendees to take home.

I figured, since everybody liked my input, I would just share it with you. Some of the information repeats itself to fully answer each question and some of it comes from previous blog posts, so if bits of it looks familiar, it probably is. Here you go, and sorry about the length!

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1/ An author has an idea or a draft or a polished manuscript… what now?

A/ First, you need to finish that book. A wonderful book will sell, no matter the genre, so spend some time getting this right. Think of who the best authors are in your genre. They are your competition. Your book doesn’t have to be worthy of a movie deal to be successful; but shoot for the stars. Self edit, then have beta readers give you suggestions.

Agents will only get your first couple of chapters. That doesn’t mean polish your first three chapters and leave the rest. Whatever you change in the beginning, must be repeated throughout the manuscript. A few things you want to do:

–Start with action- that doesn’t mean you have to be in an action scene running away from the bad guy, in fact, I don’t recommend doing that at all because we don’t know the characters yet and we won’t be following or invested, or even care about them yet. But don’t wait too long to start the action, either. It’s a balance.

— Don’t begin your story with an info dump, or pages of exposition

–Have a strong voice. What is voice? Read this post:

–Vary your sentence lengths

–Have a complete story arc. More about that here:

–Look for repetitive phrases

–Avoid clichés

–Don’t start a book with a dream or a character waking up…or looking in a mirror and giving us a laundry list of descriptions.

–Cut unnecessary words. Here are twenty-eight:

–Steer away from tropes when possible, unless you have a twist for it. Young adult literature is famous for tropes. If you are writing YA, read this post:

–Avoid vague language. When saying “it,” make sure your subject is clear, or replace “it” with the name of the object.

–Know your POV style and stick with it. The same goes for tenses.

–Check your spelling and grammar with a free download of:

–End with a resolution. Even a cliffhanger should resolve some issues in the story, enough to feel comfortable moving on. (Although, I admit, I am bad at this. I tend to leave off during a big scene.)  :^(

B/ Practice self-editing. There are a ton of books and services that can help with this. Google “self-editing” and you will be presented with a plethora of ideas. Some of them are above, but it is not an exhaustive list. Publishing is a game of chance, but you can help yourself by having a strong manuscript. Prepare your work properly in a double-spaced document, with no spaces between paragraphs; the first line of each paragraph should be indented; keep margins normal; number the pages; put “title/author name” in the header; and use 12pt. font in either Times New Roman or Calibri.

On the first page list: the title, your name, and your contact details. Don’t forget this information with your query sample. Do not worry about copyright—you already own it as soon as you write it and the publisher will help you with this. Bringing it up in your query or the first page is overkill and makes some agents feel like you don’t trust them not to steal your work.

Check your word count, too. I found that many agents will reject a query based on a too-high or too-low word count. Here’s a little chart I go by:

Realistic MG: 25-60K Sweet spot (30-45K)             Fantasy MG: 35-75K (45-65)

Realistic YA: 40-90K (45-75K)                                     Fantasy YA: 50-100K (65-85K)

Realistic Adult: 70-110K (80-90K)                              Fantasy: 90-124K (100-115)

Westerns: 50-80K (65K)                                               Memoir: 70-100K (80-90K)

When you finish the manuscript, put it aside for at least a week, then go back and read it with the eyes of an editor. *Tip: If you change the document, either font, or color, etc. your brain will see it as an entirely new document, and you can pick out mistakes better. I like to mail my manuscript to my kindle and when I read it like a “real” book, the mistakes jump out at me.*

Keep reading during this time. Reading good books will help you to see what needs to change in your own and give you the feel of a storyteller. Always read. Besides, you need to know your market, you will need to know who writes like you, these are your comp titles/authors. It goes a long way if you can compare your book to other successful types of stories and/or authors.

C/ Have your manuscript read by beta readers. These groups are best when they are a mix of readers, writers, strangers and friends. Readers know good books, writers know what makes a good book, your friends will be nice and tell you what you want to hear, but a stranger will tell you what they like and don’t. These are all valuable for feedback. Some companies have “beta reading programs” where you can sign up for beta readers or purchase a list. However you do it, make sure to get advice that has to do with: filling plot holes, grammar and spelling, what’s implausible, what their favorite parts are. Is the voice strong? Is the POV consistent? Do tenses mix? Edit accordingly.

D/ Now that your manuscript is ready, you need to ask yourself, do I need an agent? If your dream is to be published by Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, or Harper Collins, generally called the “Top 5,” then you need an agent. These publishers require you to have gone through the slush pile and made it through the selection process. But if you are going to self-publish or take your manuscript to a small publisher, you may not need one. Agents will still get you a contract at a small house if you wish, but if you can submit on your own, you can save the 15% agent commission and negotiate your own contract. There is legal help online for authors, as well. This site offers free legal advice to its members: Some niche markets, that are not going to gain an advance with a Top 5 house, may need to be self-published, like: Poetry, flash fiction, academic/educational works. But with some marketing effort, self-published projects can still do well in the marketplace.

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2/ Could you explain a bit about what an agent’s role is? What is the publisher’s role?

That depends on the agent. They should give you edits that you should complete. They should communicate with you regularly and they should tell you their policy on communication from you. You should tell them about any publishers or acquiring editors that you would like to work with and why. They will draft your pitch letter, and it should be very different than the query you wrote. They will then pitch your book to one editor per publishing house per round. It is a long process. Editors have piles of pitches to go through, and many manuscripts that are chosen by an editor, have to then be discussed around a conference table in a meeting and be voted on by a majority. The agent will take care of the responses. They will tell you about offers and give advice on what to do. IF YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE AT ANY POINT> SEEK A SECOND OPINION. They will negotiate your contract and explain it to you. All you need to do is make sure you’ve checked out the publisher. Do you like their covers? How well do their books do on Amazon? Would you want to be lumped in with their authors? If they are who you want, then sign. Some agents are done at this point. Some agents will see you through to the book launch. Some will help with the launch. They may or may not have marketing ideas for you, but it is not their job. They should be in your corner rooting for you like your own personal cheering section. They will be your liaison to the publisher and help you present yourself to the world of publishing.

The publisher should follow their contract, generally taking about 60% of your profits. They should have a number of free books for you, or at least have them available at cost. Be thoughtful when getting locked into a contract that gives the publisher first rights to publish anything else with those characters and/or in that world. Your agent should know how to negotiate your contract, but you will still need to review it. Learn what you are looking for to make informed decisions. Nothing breaks my heart more than someone who has trusted their counsel completely and gotten bad results from incorrect negotiations or career-changing advice.

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3/ What are the most common mistakes prospective authors make in querying an agent? Publisher?

Don’t get my name wrong, or my agency. Make sure you personalize each email…with the correct information. Don’t send a mass email or carbon copy anyone when querying. Don’t query more than one agent per agency at the same time. In fact, don’t deviate from submission guidelines at all.

Don’t tell me how much I will love your submission. Agents want to make their own judgement based on your submission. Telling them they are going to be blown away with your skillful work puts them off. They will read your sample, but do you really want the agent to read your work after you’ve just irritated them?

Don’t overdo your bio. Yes, they want to know who you are and relate to you. However, they only need to know about it if you have something in common. What they really want to know in your bio is whether you have any writing experience or not. Are you in a writing community? Have you published any short stories? Is this your sixth published book, or your third unpublished manuscript? These things make a difference and tell them more about you as a potential client.

Don’t send me what I don’t want. Meaning, don’t submit to agents who don’t take your genre. There are ways to find out what each agent is interested in and what they do NOT like. Try places like: their agency website,, #MSWL, Through your research, you will also know which agents are closed to submissions- do not send to those who are closed, the queries will not be read.

Don’t sound like everyone else. Your book is special, make them see it. The entire reason for a query is to excite the agent about your concept. That’s it. They don’t need to hear more, and nothing less. It should take you about two or three paragraphs to introduce no more than three main characters and give us the stakes. Meaning, what will happen if your main character does not succeed in their mission? Why will we care if that happens? Agents are total strangers to you. It is your job to take those paragraphs and excite someone you’ve never met with your story idea. If you can do that, you will get them to read your sample with potential in mind.

Don’t be too creative. What I mean here is to stand out but stand out in your writing. Don’t use crazy fonts, colors, all caps (except when first introducing a character), or, write the query in the voice of your main character.

Don’t be politically incorrect. Enough said.

Don’t give me ultimatums. “Get back to me within two weeks if you want to take advantage of my book.” Yes, people do say these things. “Maybe we can help each other out…” Do not try to bribe or intimidate potential agents. You wouldn’t do any of these things in a job interview. Picture a query as your book baby’s interview. Be professional, be concise, don’t be rude.

Don’t send a query made entirely of rhetorical questions. What would you do if you woke up and the whole planet was on fire? Who would you run to if your entire family turned into zombies? Would you be able to make it through the jungle with your grandmother if you knew you were being hunted, but you didn’t know the killer? Sounds exciting; but use your writing chops to excite them rather than using questions. Some writers see that as cheating, or the lazy way to get the attention you seek.

Do NOT query if your novel is not finished. Just don’t. This is an auto-reject. Don’t send in first drafts or manuscripts that have not been read by anyone other than you. And your mom. I like your mom, but she may not be an editor. She might be, but she’s still your mom and you need a beta reader. What’s a beta? Someone, not your mom, who reads your manuscript and gives you constructive feedback. You need more than one because they may disagree. If they agree on something, it deserves consideration. You are the one who has to change it. Do not send a manuscript that’s not ready. Meaning, it needs to have seen several drafts, been read by others, been edited and polished. Your agent will give you edits, but they aren’t going to go rounds with you. Sometimes they give you the opportunity to revise and resubmit because they see the potential in your story. Ultimately, they are looking for work that is one revision away from being published. Don’t waste your time querying a book that isn’t ready.

Don’t send me something self-published unless it has made at least 5,000 sales in a year. Unless they have proven themselves to have a platform, publishers are not interested in self-published books. You haven’t proven that you have buyers, so they have no reason to believe if they publish you that you will do any better. Therefore, agents will generally auto-reject them without any sales information. Conversely, if you are querying a self-published book and you have decent sales information, make sure to include that with your query.

Don’t tell me you have a copyright. Everyone has a copyright. The minute you wrote your novel, it had a copyright. It is yours. If you are mentioning it to an agent, they read it as, “My work is already copyrighted, so don’t you go stealing it!” They take it as an offense. So don’t worry, your ideas are safe with agents. No one is going to steal your story. Most authors have more story ideas than they know what to do with. And no one is going to write it just like you. Finally, and I don’t mean to upset any authors here, but whatever you’ve written, it’s been done before. There is nothing new, original, or unique under the sun. Though we all want to believe it has to be because it came straight from our brains. Our brains are actually quite similar. That’s why we have so many things in common. I digress.

Don’t follow up unless I have missed a deadline. That is why many agents say to give them nine to twelve weeks to respond. It may take them that long or longer to get to your query, it may not. If your potential agent is going to conferences and taking pitches, those people often get priority because they paid to see the agent personally. But they can’t have authors trying to follow up before they get a chance to read their query. If it’s been 12 weeks with no response though, unless they have stated, “If you haven’t heard back in twelve weeks, it’s a no,” you are welcome to email and nudge them. Just say, “I queried you on (date) and I hadn’t heard from you, so I was wondering if you’d had a chance to read my submission?” Publishing is a formal business–be polite, be clear, and not too personal.

That’s it for querying. I have a few more “don’ts” for publishing in general:

Don’t forget your platform. Work on building your audience before you publish. In fact, I would say to work on your marketing strategy while you wait to hear back on all your queries.

Don’t pay for programs to help you self-publish, programs to help you through querying…authors shouldn’t be paying anyone but maybe an editor. Not that those people are bad, or don’t have value. I help authors with the querying process myself, but all the information you need is free on the internet. Will it take some work to find it? Yes. Try places like Is it worth it to pay someone else? That’s up to you, but you’d better do your research on the people you hire. There are a lot of us out to help authors, but there are others who see dollar signs on your foreheads.

Don’t pay to publish through vanity publishers or pay for reviews. Keep your wallet tucked away. These people feed on hopeful, naive authors who just haven’t learned the process.

Don’t make your own cover. Unless you are a professional cover artist, of course. There are plenty of options out there. Your cover is the first thing that the reader sees. It is your cover that makes them read the blurb or pick it up in the bookstore to read the back. If your cover stinks, it doesn’t matter what your book is about. If you splurge on anything in your book writing business, do it on your cover. Don’t be stingy with your cover art.

Don’t skip the editor. You are going to want to send a polished book to your agent. If you need an editor, it is BEFORE you query. No matter how great your book is, you will look unprofessional if you have spelling and grammar errors in it– or in your bios and blurbs, as well. Grammarly is a free download that will help with spelling, grammar and usage mistakes.

Don’t stop writing. While you are marketing your published book, you need to be starting or continuing the next work.

Don’t stop learning about the publishing process. Bad publishers prey on unknowledgeable authors.

Don’t take rejection personally. So you weren’t in this agent’s top ten, but maybe you are in the next agent’s top five. It’s all about what that agent wants to see or if they believe they can sell your work.

Don’t forget to have a great book. If you can’t say, “I have a GREAT book!” and mean it, saying it out loud with a straight face to strangers, you’re not ready. I’m kidding here, but what I’m saying is that agents get tons of good books coming through that they have to reject because they aren’t there (ready) yet. Don’t just turn in a good book, make it great, and be proud enough of it to do all your research. Great books get published, they just have to find the right agent. Look at how many times history’s famous writers were turned down before they were accepted.

Don’t blindly sign any contracts. I hate to say to watch out for agents and publishers, but there are people who will take your money and run, so to speak. Research everything.

Don’t be afraid. If you don’t know it, look it up on Google or YouTube. Ask the nice people in the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, or an author forum on Facebook. Knowing the truth erases the fear.

Don’t ever quit.

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4/ Is there a baseline expectation one must have for you to take them on as a client?

Good book, great concept, well-written, has some type of social identity i.e. is active on at least one social site. For me, those things were enough, but other agents have different priorities.

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5/ Why did you decide to self-publish your books instead of going the traditional publishing route through a literary agent?

N/A- I did have an agent.

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6/ What are the pros and cons of independent publishing? Traditional publishing? Small press vs. large press?

Pros & cons of Independent: lots of work versus getting all your own money. Small versus large press? Large=provides an advance, access to a legal department, a team of editors, published in bulk numbers, has marketing department, can put your book in libraries and brick and mortar stores nation-wide. *versus Small=publishers in name only, no legal department, or teams for promotion, possibly published on self-publishing site, print-on-demand, limited marketing budget, and e-publishers may ask for exorbitant percentages on print books, but the agent must catch it. I have heard from several people who are very happy with their small publisher. I am sure there are people here who are published with a small publisher and they are happy with their deal and the publisher’s participation. I am happy for them. Truly. I just wish that was the case across the board. Of course, the large publishers have been known to give a person an advance and boxes of unsold books, then ask for the money back, as well. People will have good and bad experiences with both. Do what you dream and don’t quit, don’t settle.

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7/ What advice do you have for beginning writers who want to publish their books independently?

Have a story that you believe in, write it well, edit it, have it read by others, edit again, have it read by more, or an editor, and edit again. Do that until you know that if you mess with it any more, you will ruin it. THEN look up all the self-printing services. There are websites that compare them for you. Decide what you want and need before choosing your publisher. Follow instructions on the site. They are all there for you, every step of the way. Some people have difficulty with the formatting, but that can be hired out quite inexpensively.

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8/ What do you wish you’d known or done differently at the beginning of your foray into publishing?

Have a book that I KNOW without a doubt can be a bestseller. See it big in my mind. Seek advice and ask questions on places like my blog. Edit until I know it’s good enough. Don’t settle. And unless you want a large publishing house, self-publish.

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9/ How should an author go about finding an agent?

I would make a spreadsheet to keep track of your agents. is a place where you can do this online.

You can find agents and their wishlists at the following places (in no particular order):

1.– -agents and acquiring editors at publishing houses put their wishlists on their page and often have information on their personal likes/dislikes and how to contact them.

2.–  -same concept as above without a photo


4.–Each agency’s website has their agent’s biographies, many listing what they are looking for.


6.–Literary Marketplace

7.–Conferences, book festivals- check out the agents before the conference and vet them- many agents prioritize the queries from personal pitches. You can rise to the top of the slush pile.


9.–Google- no, seriously.

10.–In the acknowledgements of books like yours

11.–Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents

12.–#MSWL on Twitter

13.–The Guide to Literary Agents blog-

14.– – for $25/month you can look up agents and see what they’ve sold and to whom. If they don’t have many sales, check to see how long they’ve been working. If they are new, you may have better luck getting them, but don’t send them something they’ve never sold before. They may not have the contacts and you don’t want your book baby to go through trial and error.

When you look agents up, look to see what they are currently publishing (on, and find out if they are accepting queries from their website. On you can read the comments that other authors have given concerning agents they’ve queried. See if your personalities match through checking their social media. And make sure they haven’t been listed on Writer’s Beware or have unsavory comments on Absolute Write.

*There are scam agents out there. How can you tell them apart? First, they are not at reputable agencies. They charge fees for reading or editing your work, or an assessment of your writing, and anything that will get them money. I’ve said this before, but never pay an agent. They might have suggestions or connections for you to use, but they should not get kickbacks. I had an editor friend and I would let people know about her, she gave discounts to the people I sent to her, but I got no kickback. That’s okay, if you choose to use an editor before you go to an agent or publisher, but your agent should have their own edits to give you.

*There are also “amateur” agents out there. They are not the same as deceptive agents- they’re not after your money. They believe they know enough on their own and are working the business to the best of their ability, and many just don’t know any better. It’s what they’ve been taught, and they have struggled through the learning process without industry guidance. They really believe they are helping authors, but they haven’t been in the business long enough to have gained the connections in publishing to get you a contract with the big publishers. So, they make deals with mostly small houses; and some of those you could get for yourself. They may refuse to supply a potential author with their client list or sales information because of this. In that case, run away. *A bad literary agent is worse than no literary agent.*

* Check the agent’s social media. It may have their most recent Wishlist (a list of what they are looking for in terms of manuscript plots). And you will see how they interact with others, as well as if they are dropping hints on what to do/what NOT to do, when querying them. Choose about a dozen names to research, up to twenty-five. See what they like and don’t like- see who their colleagues are. You should be able to tell if they’d like what you’ve written. Don’t spam them, but feel free to like, share, and make comments on their posts. Most of the literary world is on Twitter, so I suggest looking there. Never done Twitter? Afraid of the unknown? Don’t know how to tweet? Or what to tweet? Never fear, read this article on how and why to use Twitter:

* You MUST follow their submission guides. If you do not look up each agent’s submission guidelines you are setting yourself up for auto-rejection. Most agents have the same requirements: a one-page query letter, a one- to two-page synopsis, and sample writing. The sample should be the beginning of your novel; however, non-fiction proposals can include writing from anywhere. But there are always exceptions. Some agencies have submission forms, and many are now using Query Manager. In this case, have your query letter written and copy/paste it into the query field. Just because it’s an automated form doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them the same query as you would put in an email.

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10/ For a writer, where does an agent’s work end and the author’s begin?

That depends on the agent. They should give you edits that you should complete. They should communicate with you regularly and they should tell you their policy on communication from you. You should tell them about any publishers or acquiring editors that you would like to work with and why. they will draft your pitch letter, and it should be very different than the query you wrote. They will then pitch your book to one editor per publishing house per round. It is a long process. Editors have piles of pitches to go through, and many manuscripts that are chosen by an editor, have to then be discussed around a conference table in a meeting and be voted on by a majority. The agent will receive and track the responses. They will tell you about offers and give advice on what to do. IF YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE AT ANY POINT> SEEK A SECOND OPINION. They will negotiate your contract and explain it to you. All you need to do is make sure you’ve checked out the publisher. Do you like their covers? How well do their books do on Amazon? Would you want to be lumped in with their authors? If it’s what you want, then sign. Some agents are done at this point. Some agents will see you through to the book launch. Some will help with the launch. They may or may not have marketing ideas for you, but it is not their job.

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11/ Are there reasons a moderately successful self-published author has for seeking traditional publishing?

Some people want the experience of being traditionally published, some believe they can make more money, some believe that a publisher will do all the hard work for them, some people are after the exposure possible with the marketing team of a large publisher, some want to be able to say they’ve done it, some people feel that self-published books are for amateurs who are not good enough for a “real” contract and they believe they have only succeeded if they have been traditionally published, as if they need a pat on the back by someone important to believe in themselves, like I used to be. But now I think that if you are going to do all your own work, and with most small publishers you will, then you might as well get to keep all your own money.

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12/ Where do you receive your clients from? Unsolicited queries? Conferences?

Queries, conference/event queries get priority, and Twitter pitches. I try not to accept queries from more places than that, but they come from everywhere.

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13/ Abstruse instructions, summaries, synopses… Do agents set up authors to fail so that they can reduce the slush pile?

I thought this was funny. I was like, what? No! But in all honesty, some important agents are very selective in their process and will reject an author based on query submission structure as well as submission content. I know agents who reject based on word count, many reject on the basis of subject matter or genre, some reject all self-published authors, everyone has their preferences and dislikes. And agents are people. The reason we send all the info to each agent, is because we have no idea what they will accept or reject, we may have done everything right and still get rejected because it wasn’t for them, or they already have a book too similar to it. That’s half the answer. the other half is that many agents, like I did, use every bit of that information. The query is telling me your concept in a concise way that hooks me, and I can see if you’ve put effort into your query structure, if you care that much. I want to know the story, so I read the synopsis and check for plausibility, plot holes, rising action, climax, resolution, and basically a good story plot. but I don’t know how well you write, so I need that sample to see if I think you can pull off that great plot. Do I like your style, does it have any typos, does it start with activity, does it captivate? Make sure to polish those first chapters but don’t forget to continue it throughout your novel. Many novels get rejected after being asked for a full, because the first three chapters were great and chapters four and up, went downhill fast.

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14/ How important is a social media platform in publishing?

Depends on the agent and/or agency. Most agents would like to see that an author has a webpage and is active on at least one social media platform, and one writer’s group online or off, and hopefully you have a blog. lol. they just like to see that you are actively trying to begin your brand. because starting from the bottom is very time-consuming as most of us know. It takes time to gather lots of followers and contacts. Of course, those with great numbers of followers are ideal, because every contact you have is seen in publishing as a potential sale when your book comes out and you market it, because the people most likely to buy your book in the beginning, are the people who know you. but it’s not required that you have a great number of followers if your book is fantastic. Always query your best.

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15/ When should an author begin building an online presence?

When they decide to become a writer. They change their profile names to @susieQauthor or @WriterMark, they say, hey, I’m going to write a novel, or even, hey! I’m going to take that thing I’ve been working on for the last six years and turn it into a novel. That’s when you start changing your name and making special profiles, collecting followers, networking and gaining contacts. Don’t push people to be interested in your book, or to buy it. Just be yourself and like, share and comment like everyone else. Readers want to see you be authentic, not begging for a sale. By the time you edit, get readers, edit again, get more readers or an editor, and edit again, write your query letter, research your agents, and query, the agent will see you’ve been active for all this time, and it should take time, and it should be fine.

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16/ How does an author go about getting meaningful reviews of their work?

As an author, I would love a good answer to this question. I have found that asking book bloggers and reviewers have yielded the best results. The agency I worked with previously gave its published authors a list of known book bloggers to help with marketing. I have asked personal friends but those close to me are deleted by Amazon, but book review sites have gained me several reviews.  (Booksweeps and Authors Cross Promotion)

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17/ What are some resources you’d recommend for writers hoping to publish?

Read books like Stephen King’s On Writing, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, Edit-proof Your Writing, and any other good books on craft. A terrific book will get published. It’s always a gamble, but your best chances lie in a great story. Read blogs by literary agents, or those of us who have been in the field and now want to help. They will tell you what agents expect and why and how to do that. And don’t forget to use an editor. If you can’t afford one and all you have is your second cousin who taught ninth grade English for ten years? Resist the urge. Ninth grade English is not the same knowledge base as how to edit a novel in your genre and what publishers are currently looking for in order to help shape your book the right way. Plus, she knows you. She knows your mom, or whomever, but you are probably not going to get a fully unbiased and possibly harsh opinion, if needed. How would you even know which of her advice to take? Get someone from the local college’s creative writing department to recommend someone good to use inexpensively.

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18/ What do you see for the future of publishing? self-publishing?

There will always be traditional publishers because some people feel they have only succeeded if they have been traditionally published. Some people need that outside approval, acceptance into the club of bestselling authors, or at least authors of big publishers. But self-publishing is growing. More people are published now than ever. And you can find some real treasures out there. Unfortunately, you have to eat a lot of raisins with the grapes. It makes it hard to know for sure if you are wasting your money. People use traditional publishing by the big houses as a measure of quality in writing.

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19/ How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I realized it’s easier to do it all right, or better, the first time. Take it slow, write what you mean, edit, edit, edit, and don’t settle on your dreams.

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20/ At what point should a writer throw in the towel with a particular project?

Sometimes, one has been querying for rounds and rounds and not getting back any acceptances. Have you gotten ANY feedback about the book or your writing that may help? Gather the consensus of opinions, if you have any, and consider making those changes. Halt querying and work on your professional query letter, your blurb, the things that are not pulling agents in. Have someone critique these things for you. Be positive the agents are seeing your book in its best light. Make sure your first pages introduce setting and characters, capture attention, show clear plot structure, and entice the reader with action.

If you aren’t getting any positive responses, talk to someone about making your query better. That is what I do- I help authors with their query submissions at If you have a good query, but aren’t being asked for the full, take a look at your synopsis and sample pages. If you are getting requests for the full ms, but then receiving rejections, you need to edit your manuscript again to make sure that the rest of the book is as good as your first three chapters.

Then query again. You owe yourself and your book the second chance. Once it is published, you can’t turn around and change your mind. Find more agents and query again. Maybe try or for more choices.

You will know when you are done querying. At some point you say to yourself, I want to be published and this is not happening.

I, personally, say not to give up- if your dream is Top 5 or imprint, then revise and submit, revise and submit, until you make it. Never give up.

But I know that most of us do. I did. I was told that I couldn’t do any better than what I got. So I settled. Do NOT settle. This is your book baby. Getting a big publisher after having a small one, is extremely difficult. So is trying to query your self-published book. Publishers will not take books out of series, and many publishers have a clause in their contract that gives them first rights to publish whatever you write next with the same characters or world. It’s best to do it right the first time.

Can dream publishing scenarios happen? Yes. Does it happen? Yes. Does it happen to best-sellers? Yes. Does it happen to regular Joe Smith and his Pilot Dreams of Yonder? Not usually enough to bank on. But even if you’re like me and you already have a book out by a small press, you can always write a new series and take it to agents. Just don’t forget to market the heck out of your first book(s) because the agents will be concerned with your sales information on previously published works.

Only you can know when it’s time to pull the plug and move on. I believe, if you cannot get your dream of a big publisher, that you should self publish. I have looked at Draft2Digital and it seems legit. I would use them myself.

Why self-publish rather than accept a small press? At least I will be published, right?

Many small publishers are regular people who began to self-publish themselves or someone else on CreateSpace or another self-publishing site. They learned that if they make themselves a company, they can publish others’ books for free as well, and keep 50-70% of the profits. They may also attach prices to your own book when buying for yourself, to cover their costs from formatting or cover artistry, whether you hired a cover artist or not. They can lock you into a contract for your series that you can’t get out of.

Small publishers are notorious for having little to no budget for marketing, so you, as the author, will be doing all your own marketing. You will be contacting betas, bloggers, book groups, libraries, conferences, doing the marketing budget and all promotion by yourself. And it is hard to see what promotion is working when you don’t have access to your own sales information.

If you were going to be published on a self-publishing site and doing all your own marketing, why wouldn’t you want to keep all your own money?

So, I guess the question comes down to: do you want to make changes and query again in hopes of a deal? Or do you want to stop, settle for what you’ve got, and start making some money on it?

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21/ How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Four full books and one novella

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22/ What are you reading?

Just finished: The Reader, The Speaker, and The Story-teller trilogy by Traci Chee. In a review of my book, a reader mentioned that my book was like “The Reader” crossed with “Divergent” and a sprinkle of “Harry Potter.” I’d never heard of the Reader, but that review makes it one of my comp books, and you should all know your comp books. This was hard for me, too.

“Comp” titles, or comparable titles, are often requested or required from agent in their queries. Mostly, I believe, because comp titles are important to publishers. Unless it is required, you do not NEED to have comp titles in your query. Let me be clear here, even if you don’t research and find comp titles for your query, you will be asked at some point by a publisher, a fellow author, and/or your agent. If you are asking how many titles you need, the answer is: from one to three titles should suffice.

First, why do agents even need comp titles? The titles you give your agent are going to tell them: A. if you did your research B. if you know the industry C. what editors might be looking for a book like yours. (Editors meaning “acquiring editors” at publishing houses. They are the ones who choose your book and offer it to the publishing house for a decision on publishing it or not.)

Publishers want to know your comp titles because they tell your team who your audience is, and how big your book’s potential might be. Your marketing team will consider sales trajectories, and your sales team (who has about thirty seconds to convince a rep to take your book), can relate your style of writing, or similar plot, or characters by saying, “Fans of Lucy’s Diamond by Scott Hildengarten will enjoy this book because…” Or they can say, “This book is a cross between (or like) Lucy’s Diamond by Scott Hildengarten and Shimmer by Jamie Hassenphlatt.” This gives your book the attention it deserves and shows it possible sales potential.

Okay, it’s important. So how do I choose my titles? Any tips you can share?

  1. Choose a recent title, published by an industry publishing house between one and three years ago.
  2. Choose realistic titles. Books that have had relative success, to show that you are on to something. But avoid big brands (i.e. Harry Potter, Divergent, etc.) and classics (i.e. Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye) as comparable titles.
  3. Make sure to actually read your comp titles! Industry people will know if you haven’t.
  4. Choose titles that are in the same genre, same form (paperback vs. hardback), and same target audience (unless you are stating that your book is the “teen version” of a certain book).
  5. It is even better if you can add a description of how your book is different (and/or better) than the comp title(s).
  6. Use the tools available to you. Goodreads has an option to put in characteristics of a book and it will show you similar titles. You can also use Amazon’s advanced search function, or look at the bottom of a book listing for “people who liked this also liked…”
  7. You can use authors themselves as comps. i.e. “My writing style is similar to John Green, but my book includes the edginess of Jennifer Wilson’s stories.”
  8. Tip* Movies and tv shows can also be used as comps, but I would refer to the book it came from, and include one other solid comp.
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Thanks everybody! As always, if you need more information, feel free to ask!


2 thoughts on “Get Published: Questions from a publishing panel

  1. Richard O'Meara says:

    Thank you so much for the information provided here.
    I’m new to this field and have an idea I hope could be submitted in the near future. The idea is purely visual. I want this book idea to be a collection of drawings, however I’m not an artist. May I ask, does one need to be an artist/illustrator in order to be considered by a publisher? Any feedback or advise is greatly appreciated. Thank you

    Richard O’Meara


    • Jenn Haskin Author says:

      Hi Richard. Is this going to be a children’s book with illustrations, or an illustrated adult story, or something like a coffee table book? The difference is important. Most adult fiction has no inclusion of images, with the exception of maps in the front matter. It really depends on what type of book you are planning. You do not have to be an artist/illustrator to get a publisher. However, if your book is purely visual, you would need to have the “concept” complete for a non-fiction book, and for a fiction novel, you must have a finished product to present to agents/publishers for consideration. Only non-fiction can present an unfinished book, but with completed concept. I don’t know what you are trying to accomplish with your vision, but you might look at places online like or for artists-for-hire. Collaborate with an artist and share your ideas. Maybe offer to share royalties or some other negotiation. Get someone on board with you that can at the very least make up something to show agents/publishers what you have in mind, and have the script complete. Then you may have to do some digging to find an agent or publishing house who is looking for something like what you have in mind. It’s not commonly done, except in Children’s Literature, and I don’t know that there’s a market for it, which would be shooting yourself in the foot. Publishers won’t take a book that there’s no market for. I’m not saying there isn’t one, because I don’t know. It would take some research. So my advice is to look into that. See if there’s anyone looking for/accepting books like the one you have planned, make sure you plan it out well, and if at all possible, take a finished product to publishers/agents for consideration. I hope that helps some!


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