Jack and I are tucked into the cozy visiting authors cottage here in Southern Pines, NC. We’re taking Kimberly, manager of The Country Bookshop, up on her offer of waiting out Storm Sandy, as friends back home warn of an Appalachian Apocalypse, snow and ice, blocking the mountain passes ‘twixt us and them.
Besides, Kimberly and her friend Janet know this really cool wine bar….
Kim bought The Country Bookshop two years ago, but it’s been on the go for sixty(!) in various locations throughout this resort town (think horses and golf). Last night I played visiting author; as temperatures dropped and winds accelerated, we feared no one would attend, but they did–drawn in large measure by Kim’s lovely article in the Sunday paper, noting that I’d be talking about the path to publication.
We chatted about the particular process that led me to Pamela and Nichole (my perceptive-of-intellect-and-heart agent and editor, respectively). I told the story of When the Borders Opened and Closed at the Same Time (you can scroll back to it in the blog if you want; it’s what happened the day we sold the book). And I shared the most overlooked pieces of advice from the publishing community on how to get your work published:
1) Write the book. If it’s non-fiction, write at least half of it, and have the other half roughly mapped in your mind, before you send a query letter. For fiction, write the whole thing. These are drafts. They will change. They will get thrown across the room in crumpled balls, by you or your editor. But write it first. DO NOT QUERY ANYONE until you have at least half the pages you want them to take seriously, the first 50 as good as you can make them.
2) When you’re ready, go to a bookstore or library and look up books that are like yours. Read the acknowledgments for who agented and edited these. Check the Internet to see if they accept unsolicited queries. Build a list of 10, and make your query letter amazing. The first sentence has to rock the world. After that, you can just be brilliant. For query letter advice, the Net is full and so are writing books. But the most overlooked, valuable piece is:
3) Be yourself. Editors have built-in bullshit detectors. They’ve seen it all—twice. Agents have seen it all six times. Do not try to dazzle them with borrowed jewels. Write like you write. It’s not unlike dating; why pretend to be someone else if it traps you in a relationship that doesn’t click on its own merits?
That’s what I told the dozen brave souls who ventured out amid the howling winds. It’s what wise women told me. It’s what publishers tell audiences in after-dinner speeches. And it works. Go forth, and conquer.