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. 

A Agent: 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 sunbathing.

B Bio: 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 websites. 

C 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).

D Dialogue: It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Make it count.

E Editors: All authors need editors, period.

F Feedback: 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 following? Exactly.)

G Grammar: 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.

H Hook: 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?

I 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 invent.

J Jobs: Keep your day job until your second or third (or fourth!) bestseller.

K Knowledge: Research, study, grow. Learn as much as you can about the marketplace and the craft of writing.

L Literate: As in, be literate. Read everything you can get your grubby little hands on—other writers will make you a better writer.

M Manage Expectations: 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 Job”

N No: 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 published?

O Offer: 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.

P Pacing: Start strong, end strong, middle strong. ’Nuff said.

Q Query: Perfect the query letter. You have only one page to pique interest.

R Respect your reader: Your readers are smart. Sometimes, less is more.

S 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!!!!”

T Traditional Publishing: Even in its state of flux, this form of publishing is the best way to go.

U Unpretentious: 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.

V Voice: Find yours before beginning. Show your characters’ from the beginning.

W Word Choice: Choose wisely, my child.

X Xylophone: Now I know why this is the X-word for all ABC lists. X-ray your inner feelings as a writer?

Y You: 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 goal.

Z Zen: 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

Erin BrownComment