Aspiring writers often seek advice about how to find a publisher or a literary agent. Unfortunately, most authors don’t know much about the book business, unless they happen to live and work in the New York publishing world.
For the rest of us, who live in Omaha or Dubuque and don’t know many publishing insiders, the best way to learn about the book business is to read a good book about it. Here are a few links to books about publishing, how to write a query letter or a book proposal, and how to approach a literary or screenwriting agent:
Books About The Publishing Business:
- The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit: Everything You Need to Know about Queries, Etc, by Elizabeth Lyon.
- The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out Of The Rejection Pile, by Noah T. Lukeman.
- Getting Your Book Published For Dummies, by Sarah and Adrian Zackheim.
- How To Write A Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen.
- Write The Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold And Why, by Jeff & Deborah Herman.
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013, by Jeff Herman.
See also How To Query A Literary Agent.
Here are some other good books about what it means to be a writer, how to tell if you might be one of these unfortunate wretches, and above all why you should quit writing immediately if you “kind of like writing,” but are mainly interested in becoming rich or famous:
- On Writing, by Stephen King.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing & Life, by Anne Lamott.
- Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
- Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, by Flannery O’Connor.
- Three Uses Of The Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, by David Mamet.
- The Art Of Fiction, by John Gardner.
When professional writers offer advice, it ranges from Samuel Johnson’s famous pronouncement, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” to Charlotte Bronte’s, “I am going to write because I cannot help it,” to Stephen King’s, “Writing a book is like sailing the Atlantic in a bathtub–plenty of room for self-doubt.”
A writer hoping to make a living in the trade might find a compromise in Mark Twain, who said, “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”
Twain’s advice may seem harsh, but if you’ve been writing for more than three years with no pay and wonder whether you should keep after it, then try quitting. It’s always sound advice. Even if you can’t quit, while you’re trying you’ll probably stumble into an interesting job that has nothing to do with writing, but is swarming with great stories.
If you try to quit writing, and just can’t stop, then your decision is made: You are a writer, and the only question is whether you’ll ever be paid.
See also, Rejection, Your Constant Companion.