Advice to Writers

How do I get published?
I get asked this question a lot. For some reason, it makes me a bit uncomfortable, like wearing Wrangler’s and dingo boots. But everyone seems genuinely fascinated in how authors got where they are. So here’s my nickel advice:

Write!

Yes, write.

Most people talk about wanting to write, or a book they have in their heads, or hearts, but most people don’t write.

So write.

Write every single day. It’s like exercising. You have to do it, even when you don’t have the time or don’t feel like doing it. I didn’t just sit around all day eating Fig Newtons and “being a writer” (I do love those little Newtons). I worked. Full time. I had to work to get here, just like I had to work extra hours for a promotion at work, or a raise. So, I woke at 4:30 a.m. for years to draft America’s Boy, writing for two hours before work, writing when I got home, writing on the weekends, even if it was just for 10 minutes.

You write, and write, and write.

What do you write?
That’s up to you! But listen closely to this, if you listen to nothing else: Write what you know, what you feel, what you believe, what needs to come out, not what you think you should write, or what you feel might sell. Sounds very college professor-y, right? But it’s true. Writing anything other than what you have a passion for, anything other than that story that needs to be told, and you’ll be a sellout. And you’ll know it. And agents will know it. And you’ll feel hollow, because what you’ve written is hollow. I’d love to write romance novels, or mysteries, but I’m not wired like that, or motivated to write those genres, even though they’re huge sellers. I know I would fail.

And when you think you’re done writing your book? Write some more. And when you think you’re finished? Set it aside for a while, go back, redraft, edit, rewrite and redraft.

And then rewrite it. Again. And again. Until you know you have it right. And you will know.

Then pick up Jeff Hermann’s Guide to Literary Agents or Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. Do your research. Follow the guidelines to a tee. This is a business, not a hobby. Develop your query with as much seriousness and creativity as you do your manuscript. This single query letter is your interview. This query is you in a suit and a tie. This query is your firm handshake. This letter is the literary world’s introduction to you and your work. Treat this process with the seriousness and respect it deserves.

Show patience. Don’t email agents, unless they email you first. Never call an agent, unless she calls you first. Don’t let your panic win. Believe in your work. I was picked from the slush pile. And by “slush,” I mean a tidal wave of anonymous submissions, sitting on the floor, in random order, like piles of garbage at a dump. I had no connections. None. I knew no one. And if this can happen to me, it can happen to you.

When you secure an agent, trust him or her implicitly. They know the business, and they believe in your work, or they wouldn’t have taken you on in the first place. And then when you secure an editor, trust her, while staying true to yourself and your work.

Work with as much exhilaration and hope and spirit on your second and third and fourth books as you do your first. Don’t ever take this gift of writing for granted.

Life is a journey. Enjoy this brief ride.