‘I want to write a book’ advice for new writers

Some of the most amazing connections happen on Twitter, like the conversation I’m having with a new author. My answer to @pasquale0022 took more than 140 characters. And I hope this info is encouraging to all aspiring authors:

Dear John,

Everything you need to write is within you. Lucky you! New York is the quintessential writing town. There are undoubtedly a myriad of local resources whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. If I were you I’d join a writing group ASAP. Try a few on for size, choosing one that is kind, fun and productive, composed of writers working at levels at and above where you’re currently positioned. Check out area libraries and bookstores. Read books like yours and find out who published them. Troll cyberspace and bookstores to find books that are comparable to yours.

Find a book (or two, or three) on writing that rings your bell and make it your bible. For me, reading about shi**ty first drafts in Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird” changed everything. Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” also sticks to my ribs. Elmore Leonard’s writing tips got me through my first novel, headlights aimed in the fog, continually creeping ahead just as far as I could see.

Find and follow writing blogs that click with you. Writer’s Digest is indispensable for agent listings and writing tips. Brace for a few extra e-mails in your inbox daily; the useful advice you receive is worth a chunk of spam. Some of the special offers are intriguing. But don’t feel like you have to pay anybody to accept, evaluate or publish your writing. There are more writing tips than you have time to read about on the internet. Choose the best of those to cull through each day for a set amount of time. Then get to the writing. It’s not just the most important thing. It’s the only thing.  Are you going to talk or are you going to DO?


Find the patience to refine, refine, refine. You’ll feel it when you’re approach the end stage. Run spellcheck more than once and have your work copy-edited. Errors matter. Magical elves are not going to come in and fix them for you. You can’t trust anyone but YOU to make sure they’re corrected. Misspellings, misused words, omitted words and punctuation gaffes are reader speed bumps. If you want your work to be taken seriously – or to be looked at at all by editors and publishers – then be prepared for the serious work in this stage of preparing your manuscript.

Find and follow writing-author-publishing blogs and websites. You’re right: Bookbaby is a cool site. My husband offers his music through cdbaby.com; that’s how I discovered it. The bookbaby blog contains tips that are applicable across all publishing models:


But don’t rule out pursuing other legitimate ways to publish your book, including a traditional agent or publisher, a small press, an academic press … lots of options.  QueryTracker is an easy way to keep a spreadsheet of where/when you send out queries to individuals who might be interested in going to bat for your book. There are also good general articles about how to find and contact agents or publishers and what they expect when you submit to them. For example, a publisher might want to see the first 25 pages, a chapter outline and a query letter of no more than 500 words. Yep, it’s that specific. And yeah, the rules are for you. Follow them.

In the site’s separate publisher and agent listings you can plug in different genre combinations and find website links and other leads. You can find out who’s putting out the kind of book you’ve written. You waste your time if you don’t do your homework. For example, you wouldn’t send a memoir about life on the streets of New York to a publisher that specializes in romance novels or children’s picture books.  


If you decide to pay to publish your book, avoid rip-offs by investigating what you’re getting for your money. Here are a few of my favorite sites to help you find a publishing set-up that works for you.

Writer Beware by Victoria Strauss http://www.victoriastrauss.com/writer-beware/

WritersWeekly.com with the fabulous Angela Hoy http://www.writersweekly.com/

Absolute Write Water Cooler forums and threads http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

You can have your book up on Amazon this week for free by using CreateSpace https://www.createspace.com/

But please don’t do that. Please don’t be one of those delusional authors who puts out a sloppy, poorly formatted piece of work yet still expects great reviews, brisk sales and an easy rise to the top of bestseller lists. Don’t embarrass yourself like that. No one is good enough to publish without being edited.  Period. You will not catch all of your mistakes. And there’s only so much spell-and-grammar check programs can do.

Sadder than even a sucky book is a book that could have been terrific but is only so-so because the author didn’t rewrite, revise, correct, edit and polish. If you care about your writing and your book you won’t skimp on the details. No money? Barter or swap. Figure out how to do it. Because it needs to get done before you submit the manuscript anywhere.

Put your ego aside and consciously focus on absorbing your editor’s corrections, suggestions and changes. Sometimes even the gentlest criticism can sting a vulnerable new author who isn’t ready for the red-lined TrackChange world of ruthless cuts and brusque-balloon comments about lapsed continuity, lack of plausibility and boring clichés. So it’s important to find an editor you click with who respects your voice and style. I really like this Publishing Perspectives article about choosing an editor:


Everything you need to write is within you. But stay humble. Be patient. Keep working.

Finally, the manuscript is ready. There’s no need to copyright at this point. Worrying that someone is going to steal your story is almost as silly as the idea that nothing like your story has ever been written before. This post from Angela Hoy on typical story themes for that site’s periodic short story contests shows how often writers are on the same wavelength: http://writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/008837_10302014.html

If you’re really freaked out about the stealing fear, mail a copy of the manuscript to yourself, which may offer some additional copyright protection in the unlikely event someone hijacks your work.

And let the querying begin. Whether you are seeking an agent, a publisher or are taking your book to market with a self-publishing service, you’ll need to mind the fine line between being assertive and being an ass. Here’s one of many query-letter advice columns that I found helpful:


If you don’t mind bite marks on your scalp, venture into literary agent Janet Reid’s world where the Query Shark shows no mercy but imparts welcome wisdom:


Don’t expect instant answers – or any answer. There are many ethical, courteous, compassionate publishing professionals who will get back to you in time, even if only to say they’re completely buried and haven’t gotten to your query/manuscript yet. But even though communication aptitude is the fastest and easiest it’s ever been, there are cretins who can’t find it in their hearts to auto-reply, let alone shoot you a personal note. The best way to handle this drawn-out uncertainty is to work yourself out of limbo. Start on other writing projects. Meet the rejections that are bound to come with equanimity. Don’t take it personally. It’s not personal. No matter how much you might want to fire off a scathing reply, resist the temptation.

Acceptance, when it comes, will be all the more joyful. Wishing you luck, creativity, persistence and success!


Freelance writer and editor Cyndi Perkins loves to help aspiring writers, so if you have a question go ahead and ask. As the former managing editor used to tell her reporters, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. Cyndi’s debut novel “More Than You Think You Know” is coming via Beating Windward Press in fall 2015. Her latest work is also set to appear in upcoming issues of PassageMaker, Southwinds and Lake Superior magazines.   

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