Getting your work published –
a few tips
By Cherie Rohn
New author and freelance writer: email@example.com
In 1996 at a casino dealer's school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my blackjack teacher, William Hanner, found
himself sitting on a dynamite story. With only a third-grade education under his belt, he needed someone to
write his true-life Damon Runyonesque tale. William's story hit me like a punch in the solar plexus. The
scrawled words he'd set down in his dog-eared notebook so captivated me that I resolved to write his book
no matter what it took.
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I'd never written anything, but – fired with unquenchable desire and possessing the optimism born of
ignorance I started to write. It was God-awful writing at first. Then I learned a writing technique
similar to creating an Oriental lacquer bowl of carefully adding layer upon layer of details to flesh
out the story's bare bones framework. Diligent research and interviews with William's closest friends and
family rounded out the picture. My biggest task lay in preserving William's "voice", a problem faced by
many ghost-writers. After about 20 drafts, it was time to find a literary agent.
Here are some things I learned through nine years of writing and researching. While all are important, none
1. Write a good book! Sounds self-evident, but it's not easy. Great writing is its own best advertising and
attracts agents and publishers like a magnet attracts metal filings. Bill Roorbach, in his book Writing
Life Stories, says: "Editors are extensively trained in the detection of crap". Roorbach also quotes
astrophysicist Ernest Rutherford: "If you can't explain your theory to a bartender, it's probably no good".
I try to write as if I were telling a story to just one person, like I'm talking to you. If something
sounds false, the reader will sense it in a heartbeat. Whereas authentic, from-the-gut writing is hard to
2. Write a killer query and book proposal or outline. Creating these seemed more formidable than writing
the book! But they're the required foot-in-the-door with agents. It's amazing how your story comes together
when forced to describe it in brief but powerful terms. When designing your query letter, imagine you're in
an elevator with a producer or publisher. You're under the gun to sell your idea before the doors open.
(Not my idea, but a good one.) An editor told me: "Remember that your opening line
be it a query, a
proposal, or the book must 'hook' the reader's attention enough to drive them to read more".
My proposal, a sales letter of sorts, attracted the attention of the Farris Literary Agency, which I
located through firstwriter.com's
database of literary agents. They weren't the folks we signed with
ultimately, but were supportive and professional, nonetheless. (For valuable advice on proposals see
"Bulletproof book proposals",
Jill Nagle, fwn 26.)
3. Cut, cut, cut. Tight writing is powerful writing. Learn to chop your manuscript with gusto. You don't
have to "bleed" in the process. I made it a game to see how much text I could delete without losing
important elements. I stated everything as simply as possible. When I couldn't find anything else to cut, I
figured I was through. Our publisher confirmed my feelings saying the writing was "tight and needs little
4. Trust your instincts. Along the way, William kept insisting the manuscript was "good enough", though my
gut feeling said otherwise. So, several years into writing, I sent out queries to about ten literary agents
I'd located through the Writer's Guide. One agent graciously penned a few lines on their standard
rejection letter: "Great idea, but writing not up to industry standard". You've heard it before
stop until you're satisfied that you can't make it any better. I felt that if I gave it my best shot, I'd
find an agent. And that's how it happened, which led to a contract with Barricade Books to publish our book
Thief! (working title).
I also learned to be careful about who I allowed to read my writing. Even well-meaning friends and family
can inadvertently undermine your confidence. I decided to follow Mario Puzo's advice: "Dont show your
stuff to anybody. You can get inhibited" (Mario Puzo, Mario Puzo's Godfatherly Rules for Writing a
5. Find thee a literary agent. Like they say, unless you have an "in" with a publisher, you need an agent.
My most valuable resource proved to be
firstwriter.com. The Website allows you to fine-tune your selection
process and submit queries online, saving precious time. Before sending out queries, I crosschecked
literary agents I found at
firstwriter.com with their descriptions in the Writer's Guide, another
While we actually ended up with a literary agent through a mutual friend, my query letter attracted the
solid interest of three agencies listed at
"Seven essential points on literary
agents", Jill Nagle, fwn 21.)
6. Fame and Fortune. By the way, a famous writer (whose name escapes me) once said: "If you're writing for
the money, you will grow bitter before you grow rich". Late night television attracts millions of viewers
with authors who "hit it big". What most people don't realise is that less than 1 per cent of all authors
get rich writing, like J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. And it took her years of struggling before she was
The above points are by no means all-inclusive. However, following them helped me, a non-writer, morph into
a soon-to-be-published author. If a novice with a lousy ball-and-chain full-time job, writing somebody
else's story can get published, so can you!
Thief! by William Hanner and Cherie Rohn, in press with Barricade Books
due to hit bookstores in 2006. Currently, the authors seek a publisher for another manuscript, Dog
Justice, a mystery story for young readers.
"Nothing is dull," says Cherie Rohn, who has racked up an interesting list of experiences so far as a
nightclub singer, scuba instructor, TV personality, and poker room floor supervisor
to name but a few.
In the past year, Cherie combined 15 years of
design experience with 9 years freelance writing to forge a new business
Ideal Graphic Solutions
the perfect marriage between words and graphics to convey your
message. Clients range from first-time business owners who need the perfect logo to individuals requiring a
professional freelance writer
and everything in between.
"Everyone wants value for their money. I figure, if I surpass the expectations of my clients, they'll
believe it was money well spent."
Cherie lives in Ft. Myers, Florida, where she writes and dives coral reefs.
Her Website is currently under construction. Contact Cherie directly at
Are editors evil?
By Bonnie Boots
When shopping for my Halloween costume, it's no drooling vampire or motley mummy for me, but the true
embodiment of terror, a leering, lurching editor!
Admit it. You think editors are the scariest creatures in the haunted woods of writing. We all do. That's
why I invited writers to address the theme "Editors Are Evil" in any manner they wished – extra credit
given for good humour. Entries in every form rolled in, from poetry and prose to ransom notes, and what
wicked fun these writers had skewering those evil editors!
But amid the fun and fantasy, one irritated little email bristled. "I'm a hardworking editor," it said.
"Are you saying I'm evil?"
Certainly not, dear sir. Statistically, less than 10 per cent of editors are truly evil. The rest are
merely underpaid people that once aspired to literature and art but ended up editing articles about
celebrity break-ups. That sort of work may wither the soul and curdle the brain of someone sensitive to
words and language, but it doesn't make them evil.
I've done a stint as an editor, so I have some insight into this man's moan. I know his pay is too low, his
stress too high. His passion and his patience are eroded by daily battles with bean counters. He winces
when sending form letters rejecting people that can really write. But here's a fact: if he takes precious
time to explain in detail why he's not choosing a submission, the writer will write back, arguing point by
point. It's a merry-go-round, and the only ticket off is a form letter.
An editor is a business manager. The work is all about bottom-line profits. A writer is an initiator. The
work is all about creating and exploring and never about profits, until the electric bill is overdue.
Writers are not, by nature, business people. What we are, by nature, is sensitive. So when we send off a
query, a submission or a finished work and are either ignored or rejected, it doesn't occur to us that the
reasons are beyond ourselves. It does occur to us that editors are trying to torture us.
We imagine all sorts of scary things, making ourselves sick at heart because we have no real way of knowing
why our work was rejected. In the absence of information, fear takes over and we begin to think editors are
I know only one sure-fire way to ward off fear, and that is with laughter. With the "Editors Are Evil"
contest I invited writers to discover the transformative power of making fun of your fears. Make fun they
did, in the most creative, imaginative and inspired ways.
Freed from the need to please an editor, these writers unleashed their creative minds and produced a
torrent of witty writing. Poems and stories flowed in from America and Australia, from Singapore and
Greece, all giving voice to our communal fears and frustrations with editors.
It was a powerful experience, for them and for me. I learned that the writer's struggle with feelings of
insecurity and powerlessness is the same around the world. And writers learned that laughing at those
struggles is better than brooding. Laughter opens up the heart and the mind; sweeps out the dark corners
and lets a clean, fresh breeze blow through.
Remember this next time you send off a submission. We writers are not powerless. And editors are not evil.
We are all incredibly complex individuals trying to survive in a truly bewildering world. The best
survival tool we have is hidden in the corners of our mouths. It only takes a smile to reveal it.
The winners of the "Editors Are Evil" contest are posted at
Bonnie Boots is a full-time writer and part-time designer. Her wise and witty T-shirt designs allow
writers to proudly parade their talent by wearing their "Write Side Out!"
How I got a literary agent
An interview with author Richard E. Dixon
Richard E. Dixon recently acquired an agent
using firstwriter.com's database
of literary agencies. We asked him about his writing, and how he found
fw: Thanks for taking the time to share
your story with us, Richard, and congratulations on placing your book with an
agent. What's your book called, and what is it about?
RD: My novel is called The Diary. It's in two parts. Part one takes place in pioneer Oregon. Jake Baker
and his wife, Maggie, join an Oregon-bound wagon train in St. Louis is 1857. The train becomes lost in one
of Oregon Territory's most desolate areas. Jake, while searching for the trail, falls with his horse into a
deep box canyon during a blinding thunderstorm. He's too crippled by
the fall to climb out of the canyon, but survives there for fourteen years. Meanwhile, Maggie makes it to
civilisation with the wagon train. She finds work on a farm in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon,
eventually inheriting the farm. She never remarries, always hoping Jake will find her. Part two takes place
in modern times. Dave Wheeler, a young private pilot working for his commercial pilot's license, takes a
summer job on a large cattle ranch in eastern Oregon. Part of his job entails periodically checking the
cattle herds in the remote parts of the ranch by small plane. While flying low one day, he flies over a
deep canyon and sees a small cabin in it. He later rappels down and finds Jake Baker's remains, and a
diary. With information in the diary, he and his girlfriend find Jake and Maggie's great great
granddaughter, Annie. Annie is able to rappel, and asks Dave to take her into the canyon so that she may
bring out her grandpa's remains. Dave complies. When Annie enters the rotting cabin, she places a gentle
hand on Jake's ashy skull. She whispers: "It's time to go home, Grampa. Maggie is waiting".
fw: What made you want to write a novel?
RD: I sailed many years as a Merchant Marine radio officer. I enjoyed reading Westerns while at sea, and
decided to try to write one of my one.
fw: And how did you go about writing it, once you'd made that decision?
RD: I renovated an old storage shed on my 40-acre Oregon place. That's where I write, at least three hours
a day. sometimes many more. I began my novel in 1980, but worked only sporadically at it until the last two
years, when I hit it hot and heavy.
fw: Is it your first attempt at writing?
RD: This is my first novel. I've had articles published in
Sea Classics, Plane and Pilot, and Popular
Communications magazines. While at sea, I copied Morse code news broadcasts from a Marine radio station in
New York and put out daily newspapers for the passengers and crew.
fw: What was the first thing you did to try and get your novel published?
RD: I immediately searched for an agent, as soon as I had my novel polished and ready to market.
fw: How did you go about trying to find an agent?
RD: I first tried finding an agent through "Fiction-addiction".
fw: Was that successful, or did you find joining
firstwriter.com more effective?
RD: I find
firstwriter.com extremely helpful. Being able to
see what material agents will or will not
accept is invaluable.
firstwriter.com found my agent.
fw: How did you go about making your approach to agents?
RD: I composed my query letter utilising suggestions from two books on the subject, and articles from
Writer's Digest. I sent query letters out one at a time and gave each agent a certain amount of time to
respond before sending another.
fw: How long did it take to get a positive response?
RD: I searched for an agent for about three months. After six rejections,
Associates asked to see my entire manuscript. Lisa Martin responded within hours after I submitted my email
query letter. She agreed to represent me to a publisher, and I've signed a contract with her.
fw: What do you think she took you on?
RD: My agent thinks my novel is well written, interesting, and original (her words).
fw: So what's it like now that you've got an agent?
RD: I consider myself extremely fortunate to find an agent who thinks my novel is saleable. I don't respect
Stephen King's recommendation not to bother hiring an agent. He might have that luxury, but we unknowns
wouldn't stand a chance in today's literary world without an agent (in my opinion). My agent will be
sending out 12 "packages" for me to publishers in the next few days.
fw: What advice would you give to other writers trying to find an agent?
RD: I feel I should be very cautious in giving tips or advice to other writers, as I won't consider myself
one until my novel is at Barnes and Noble. I will say that I didn't at first take the query letter method
of introducing myself to an agent as seriously as I should have. Query letters are
very important. Without
a carefully and thoughtfully composed one, your excellent manuscript might never be read.
fw: What are you doing with your writing now?
RD: Now that The Diary has gone out into the big old nasty world, I feel freeeeee, and I'm starting a
new novel. This one will be a sea story.
firstwriter.com, for giving me the opportunity to think for a while that I might one day be a published author.
I know I have a long way to go!
The best of luck in getting there! Thank you for taking the time to talk to
writers at firstwriter.com
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