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Guest Columns

How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.

5 Things Writers Should Do BEFORE Release Day

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1. Do the Website. Like, Now. Okay, you know you need a website. But release day is 18 months away. Do you really need one now? Short answer: yes.
Websites take a surprisingly long time to build, especially if you’re working from scratch with a designer. You can throw a holding place up on blogspot in a day, but if you want a quality, built-to-fit site with bells and whistles, START EARLY.

2. Contact Bloggers, Get Them ARCs, Plan Your Blog Tour Here’s the pre-release buzz thing again—you need to get on the radar of all those book bloggers before release day. You don’t know any book bloggers? Well, it’s time for some Internet research. Read more

Agent Irene Goodman On: 3 Great Gift Ideas for Writers

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1. Take part in one of my charity auctions, in which the winners receive a critique of a partial manuscript from yours truly. Each auction starts on the first of the month, but December is special because I am doing 15 auctions at once! Read more

Agent Regina Brooks On: The Publishing Process at a Glance

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1. Author writes the manuscript.
2. Author revises the manuscript.
3. Author gets critiques and implements necessary changes.
4. Author submits queries to agents. Read more

Living Life Makes You a Better Writer

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One thing that’s been on my mind, because I find it irritating like a grain of sand in an oyster, is the proliferation of what I call MFA novels. Setting is always a campus, characters are always professorial types, story lines are always midlife crises, interdepartmental affairs, sexual orientation challenges, etc. I think these are the products of MFA programs, which have sprung up like mushrooms all across the country, and I don’t think it’s a good trend for fictioneers.

Guest column by James M. Tabor, author of Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth (2010). The book has been called a “Great Read” by IndieBound and was named one of the best books of June 2010 by Amazon.
Read more

Agent Bob Silverstein On: Query Letter Tips

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First, let me tell you about query letters that immediately turn me off:

1. When they are typed on an old typewriter or, worse, handwritten and often illegible. The look of a query letter is important in making a good first impression. Use a computer!

Bob’s guest column is an excerpt from Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents. Read more

Agent Kimberly Shumate On: How to Create a Professional Submission

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What is the number one thing in a query that screams amateur? This question is oh-so-easy to answer, but it’s not one thing—but several. There is nothing more amateurish than someone who sends their material via hard copy, e-mails a gazillion Word attachments for a single book project, rambles on and on about their book that has yet to be requested by the agent, and who sends material that the agency or publishing house don’t even carry, thus wasting everyone’s time. Read more

Agent Mary Kole On: Putting In the Time to Become a Good Writer

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There are so many different iterations of this advice that I don’t quite know which genius began it all. I’ve heard it personally from Scott Westerfeld and Barry Lyga and Ally Carter and, hell, pretty much everyone. But the brunt of it is this: In order to get published or anywhere near publishable, you’ve got to write about a million bad words.

Mary Kole is an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She also runs the KidLit blog. Read more

Agent Michelle Brower On: 10 Tips for Attending Writers Conferences

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Editor’s note: I am declaring November 2010 to be “Agent Guest Column Month,” and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 16: Today’s guest agent is Michelle Brower of Folio Literary.

1. Go to get feedback on your work in a workshop or instructional setting. Sometimes writers forget that the first and most important step in starting a writing career is actually, you know, writing. If you’re a genre or commercial writer, find out how your work fits the field you’re writing in, find out if anyone is bored, find out the pages where your reader just couldn’t put the manuscript down. Read more

Agent Donald Maass On: Your Tools for Character Building

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Step 1: Is your protagonist an ordinary person? Find in him any kind of strength.

Step 2: Work out a way for that strength to be demonstrated within your protagonist’s first five pages.

Donald Maass is the founder of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Read more

Agent Scott Hoffman On: Making Sense of a Rejection Letter

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1. THE FORM REJECTION The most common (and least valuable) type, a form rejection tells you only that someone—not necessarily even the agent herself—glanced over your manuscript and didn’t think it could be sold at a high enough price to justify signing you as a client. By itself, one form rejection tells you nothing. Twenty in a row, however, may serve as a pretty convincing sign that your book, or at least the beginning of it, isn’t ready to hit the shelves quite yet.

2. THE PERSONALIZED REJECTION This can be either a form letter with a personal note added or a letter obviously written directly to you. If you receive one of these, it means your manuscript is head and shoulders above the majority of submissions an agent has read. Read more

Agent Katharine Sands On: 4 Agent Pet Peeves

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1. CONFUSING REJECTION LETTER FEEDBACK FOR BLURB COPY
Here is a relatively new nettle: writers posting comments on a website from a letter of rejection to create the impression of a blurb. This is false advertising since, the agent is, in fact, declining to represent the work, not extolling it. This is fast becoming a big no-no, plus editors know these are probably from rejection letters, so it really does not serve a writer to claim a host of agents is championing their work, when they are merely being polite and encouraging.
2. A LACK OF PROFESSIONALISM
Red flags wave when a writer starts to huff and chuff for any reason. You want to always behave professionally and purposely and positively. Remember how you interact is important indicator of how you will work with your publisher. An agent is an author advocate, but functions a bit like an officer of the court. We do not swear oaths, but we are bound to represent to each side honestly. Read more

Agent Michael Larsen On: 4 Reasons You May Want to Transform That Memoir Into a Novel

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If you’re writing a memoir (a me-moir to the cynical), you may wonder whether it would be better to fictionalize elements and release your story as a novel. What reasons might there be for making that decision?
1. Legal Reasons
Publishers are extremely wary about anything that might cause litigation. If you’re going to include unflattering things about living people, they may sue.
2. Personal Reasons
Fictionalizing your past may make it easier to write about. A memoir is constrained by the truth. Writing fiction liberates you to alter your experience as you wish. Read more

Agent Cricket Freeman On: Nonfiction Credentials in a Book Proposal

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No matter what type of nonfiction book you’ve written, if you’re proposing your book for publication you must show you’re prepared. Imagine an editor is considering two book proposals by first-time writers. Both books are equally clever in concept, suited for his house, and he’d be proud publishing either. But he only has budget for one. Reviewing one he sees a tight synopsis, a descriptive table of contents, and a short author bio. Promising.

Cricket Freeman is a literary agent with The August Agency. Read more

Agent Mollie Glick Talks: 7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

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7 THINGS AGENTS WANT TO SEE IN A QUERY

1. An entertaining but polite and professional tone
2. Multiple forms of contact information
3. Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent Read more

Agent Chip MacGregor On: Changes in Christian Publishing

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Today much has changed in the Christian book market. In the 80s, the majority of publishers who took up the Christian fiction torch did so with a missionary zeal. Perceiving the new genre as another opportunity to spread the Gospel, some publishers required novelists to declare the tenets of faith in their work. Though a few may still provide specific guidelines for this approach, evangelism has become far less of an expected element when editors consider manuscripts. In fact, a lot has changed.

Chip MacGregor is the founder of MacGregor Literary. Read more

6 Things I Learned At The Frankfurt Book Fair

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Editor’s Note: Guest column by Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos, a two-time breast cancer survivor who penned Surviving Cancerland: The Psychic Aspects of Healing.

When I landed in Frankfurt, Germany, my birthplace as an Army-brat, the same dreary weather greeted me that had left me in Boston, MA. However, when I walked through the doors to the Frankfurt Book Fair, aka FBF, the overall feeling was “contagious excitement.” Read more

Agent Joanna Volpe On: Why Realistic Teen Dialogue Isn’t Necessarily a Good Thing (and a Free Book Giveaway!)

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If you want to write young adult fiction, you need to listen to teens, but not listen to them. Any questions? When it comes to writing YA, everyone focuses on voice. And they’re right. Voice is so, so important to pin down. And when trying to nail down that voice, there is a ton of advice out there on realistic teen dialogue. Read more

Agent Scott Eagan On: Author Branding and Career Planning

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As an agent, one of the responsibilities I have to my clients is to assist them with making healthy and successful choices about their writing careers. In essence, we want to do all in our power to make sure they are doing what it takes to enhance their careers and avoid that infamous “career suicide” by writing something there can be no recovery from. Beginning writers can do the same thing, even before they have signed a contract with an editor or an agent.

This guest column by agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary. Read more

Agent Paul S. Levine On: Copyright Basics

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Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. For example, the idea of a play or movie where a boy meets a girl, but both sets of parents are against the boy and the girl “getting together” (think “Romeo and Juliet,” but also think “West Side Story”) is not protected by copyright (or by anything else for that matter).

Paul S. Levine is the founder of The Paul S. Levine Literary Agency. He is also a copyright lawyer. Read more

Agent Tina Wexler On: 6 and 1/2 Ways to Impress an Agent

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1.Write a really amazing query. Which is to say: take your time, try describing your work multiple ways until you find the best approach, read successful queries online and have as many people as possible read yours so that you’re certain it makes sense and is a shiny apple.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of an agent’s list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever sold—I leave that job to my mom—but by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query. Read more

Agent Miriam Kriss On: The Perfect Pitch

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1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre)
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can’t tell it to me in one sentence, they can’t put it in TV Guide.” Read more

Agent Dan Lazar On: Query Dos and Don’ts

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1. Be specific, but don’t vomit information. Saying “my novel is about a mom going through some life challenges” is vague, and remember: Vague = boring. However, be careful not to stuff your letter with so many details of your plot that it’s confusing to decipher what’s going on. Reading your pitch letter out loud can often help you identify these flaws.

2. Avoid the “duh” trap.Don’t bog down your writing by overstating the obvious. For example, “I’m writing this letter to tell you about my fictional novel, which I’d like to send you, and it is called TITLE.” That’s an awkward sentence. Read more

Rachelle Gardner On: 5 Reasons Nonfiction Writers Need a Book Proposal

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If you have a completed manuscript, you may be tempted to think that’s enough. It’s not. You still need a proposal. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Publishers usually don’t look at nonfiction manuscripts. The proposal itself provides information publishers need in order to make a purchasing decision. Before they even want to read sample chapters, they will review elements such as the author’s platform, how the book fits into the marketplace, and what titles already exist on your topic.

Guest column by literary agent Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary. Read more

5 Techniques for Managing Group Critiques

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1. Know your group, and tailor your critique sessions accordingly. It’s helpful to begin each reading with a quick introduction, in which the writer is given the opportunity to communicate her needs to the group.

2. Ask each member of the group to read her work aloud, rather than simply giving group members copy to read silently. Reading your work aloud helps you check for awkward phrasing, clumsy dialogue, or a plot point that doesn’t ring true. Read more

How Writers Can Use Twitter for Networking and Success

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While Twitter is useful for writers for a myriad of reasons, networking takes the cake. Using Twitter, we can connect with people who would be out of reach otherwise, people who live far away or are more important or simply uninterested in us. As I sometimes explain to newbies, if Facebook is for connecting with people you know, Twitter is for connecting with people you’d like to know.

Guest column by Alexis Grant, a journalist and social media coach, who’s writing a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa. Read more

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