The ABCs of Publishing
by Erin Brown
My twenty-month-old son is obsessed—and I mean, really
obsessed with his ABCs. The little man falls asleep, singing in his
soft, sweet voice, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G! Giant Rock! H, I, J….” You
get the idea. In fact, the haunting melody of Cookie Monster’s “C is
for Cookie” has been on auto-repeat in my brain for the past week.
So after the gazillionth rendition of Ernie and Bert’s “L is for
Linoleum,” a lightbulb (also starting with L) clicked on in
my head. Authors need their own ABCs of writing: a simple,
easy-to-remember checklist on the road to getting published.
Although there aren’t any yummy ones on this list like “Chocolate
cake,” or sexy ones such as “Literary Lingerie,” I hope you’ll find
these Author ABCs helpful as you forge the path to success…or at
least the path to the letter Z.
If you can get one, do it. They will save your butt (and your
wallet) in contract negotiations. Your agent will also do all the
dirty work like talking money and crushing heads at the publishing
houses so you can concentrate on more pleasant things, such as
In your query letter, it’s always a plus to have a strong author
biography. List any relatable information (degrees, your own career
as a dog catcher if your heroine is a dog catcher) plus anything
that will boost your platform: start a blog and get a following,
enter contests, write some short stories or articles for journals or
Characters: Characters win over plot every time. An original
plot is nothing without the development of compelling characters
(with the exception of Da Vinci Code).
It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Make it
All authors need editors, period.
If you hear something consistently from agents or fellow writers,
strongly consider taking that feedback and making changes to your
manuscript. But don’t rewrite the entire plot because Aunt Martha
said that it didn’t make sense that the farmer guy falls in love
with the nice lady because she didn’t even like enchiladas! (Not
Oy, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a perfectly
lovely manuscript with errors out the yin yang. It’s almost always a
“no” because an editor (and agent) knows it would be a nightmare to
edit and publish a writer who doesn’t know basic English.
How is your novel or non-fiction proposal different than what’s
already out there? Why should an agent, editor, and a reader spend
their good time reading your lil ol’ book?
Imagination: This one is easy, but often authors fall into
the trap of writing what is currently selling. Break the mold
instead. Really give readers something fresh and new. Strive to
Jobs: Keep your day job until your second or third (or
Research, study, grow. Learn as much as you can about the
marketplace and the craft of writing.
As in, be literate. Read everything you can get your grubby little
hands on—other writers will make you a better writer.
Let’s face it—getting published is tough. So go into it with
passion, but know that it can often be a discouraging, uphill
battle. Don’t be pessimistic, but be realistic. *see “Keep Your Day
Learn to hear and deal with the word “no” from agents and editors,
and then learn how to take the feedback and run with it. How can you
turn a “no” into better writing and a greater chance of getting
If you do reach the point of getting an offer from an agent or
publishing house, don’t jump at the first offer or contract! Take
your time, get an attorney to look over any legal documents, really
decide if the agent or house is right for you or whether you just
want anyone to publish your book. Don’t make a decision without
careful thought and consideration.
Start strong, end strong, middle strong. ’Nuff said.
Perfect the query letter. You have only one page to pique interest.
Respect your reader:
Your readers are smart. Sometimes, less is more.
Show versus Tell:
(Tell) “She was an angry, crazy woman.” (Show) “You better
run, you finger-lickin’-belly-flapping-hard-hearted-frog-stranglin’-fricker-frackin’-stinky-wallomower!!!!”
Even in its state of flux, this form of publishing is the best way
There’s no one more annoying and hard to work with than an overly
demanding author who thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips. You
can still stand strong behind your creative vision while being
humble and congenial.
Find yours before beginning. Show your characters’ from the
Choose wisely, my child.
Now I know why this is the X-word for all ABC lists. X-ray
your inner feelings as a writer?
In the end, you answer to yourself. So stand behind what you believe
in, but also be humble enough to take the advice and direction of
others who just might be able to help you towards your ultimate
It takes a lot of enlightenment (and perhaps whiskey?) to find
happiness and/or publication.
*This list for writers was brought to you by the number 4 and
the letter W
Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for
over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own
freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her
website at www.erinedits.com