Help! I need publishing advice for a young writer.

January 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

A friend asked me for publishing advice for his daughter, and I gave him some, but now I wonder if what I said was good advice, or if there were important things I left out. So I’m putting this out there in hopes that you—my dear, few, neglected readers—can help.

Help-WantedFirst of all, let’s just address the elephant in the room. Hi, elephant!

Hi, Dave. Where’ve you been?

Good question, my pachyderm friend. Short answer, #amwriting. Also, #amplayingFallout4. #shutupdon’tjudgeme

Okay, on to business. A few days ago, my buddy Chris sent me this note:


My daughter is closing in on completing her first novel and would like some pointers as to where and how to send her manuscript. Do you have any pointers, thoughts, things-not-to-do, etc for her?



My first thought was, Damn, I’ve been out of publishing for so long, anything I used to know is long past the expiration date. But I wanted to encourage a teen writer, so I wracked my brain and came up with the following response.

Hey, Chris,

First of all, congrats to your daughter on completing her first novel! That’s no small feat; a lot of beginning writers don’t make it even that far.

I guess the first thing I would tell her (and I’m assuming she’s on her first draft) is that her first draft is not a finished manuscript and may not be ready for submission. Hemingway famously said that 90% of writing is rewriting; from personal experience, I’d say it may be closer to 99%.

Once she’s got that first draft finished, she should set it aside for a week or two, and then re-read it from beginning to end. Having a bit of distance from it will help make the seams and rough edges jump out, which she can then smooth out.

Once she has that done, she should show it to someone who hasn’t seen it before, who will give her an unbiased review of it. A teacher, maybe, but someone in her target audience would be good, too — i.e., if it’s young adult science fiction, say, then find someone in that age group who likes SF.

When she gets the review(s) back, she needs to read/hear their comments with a thick skin and a pinch of salt. Just because they are pointing out things they don’t like doesn’t mean the book is bad, and if she feels like anything they’re suggesting doesn’t fit what she’s going for, she should ignore it.

Make the changes she thinks makes sense, don’t get discouraged, and keep revising. Polish, polish, polish.

Again, I’m assuming she hasn’t gone through all that yet.

Once all of that is out of the way, she can start submitting it to literary agents and editors. This is an agonizingly slow process, and it will likely result in many rejections. That’s okay! Many great novels were rejected dozens and dozens of times before they were finally published.

Advice about finding agents and editors: Look at books similar to hers. If it’s YA SF, look at other YA SF novels published in the last year. Submit it to the publishers of those books. Check the author’s acknowledgements; they often thank their literary agent, which is a good way to find a good agent. Build a list of them.

CAVEAT: There are a lot of bad, dishonest agents out there. Anyone can throw up a website and call themselves an agent. Likewise, there are also bad, dishonest publishers. A good rule of thumb is that money should flow TO the writer; never pay a “reading fee” or any other kind of fee to get the manuscript looked at or published.

She may also want to investigate the world of self-publishing. Twenty years ago, it was considered vanity publishing; now, it’s a viable way to get your work out there. Hugh Howey published “WOOL” online himself, and made thousands of dollars — to the point that when a publisher approached him about doing a print version but wanted the digital rights as well, Howey declined. He finally found a publisher for a print version, but he still sells the novel and others online himself.

So that can work, but he’s the exception, not the rule. She might want to look into Amazon’s publishing program, though, as an option.

I can probably go on and on, but I’ll stop here. If she has any specific questions, let me know. Publishing has changed a lot since I was involved in it, but if I don’t know the answers, I can either find them easily or show her where to look.

Hope this helps! Good luck to your daughter on her quest for publication!

So I guess I had more to say than I thought. But ever since I sent that reply, I’ve been wondering if it’s good advice, if it’s helpful advice, and if I left out anything important. So I’m asking you: What would you have told this teen writer?

And no, I don’t know anything about her book and I haven’t seen anything she’s written. You know as much about her work as I do.

Leave your advice, tips, links to helpful articles, etc. in the comments, and I’ll pass them along.



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