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How To Become

A Published Author:

Idea to Publication

Publishing Strategies, Writing Tips,


101 Literary Ideas

For Aspiring Authors


Mark Shaw

Published Author and Mentor


Storytelling Alternatives

Query Letters

Book Proposals

Manuscript Guidelines

Self-Publishing Concepts

Agency and Publisher Contracts

Sample Writings from the Masters

Punctuation and Grammar Exercises

Foreword by Jodee Blanco, New York Times Bestselling Author


Mark - thank you for helping me with writing my book and with creating a successful book proposal and query letter." Beth Johnson, New York City

I will always be grateful for the information you provided about how to prepare a book proposal. You really know what you are talking about author to writer." John Edwards, Seattle, Washington

How may I ever thank you? You really made it possible for me to learn how to complete my book and create a successful book proposal. Your patience and encouragement are most appreciated." Lisa Mantoba, Fort Charles, Louisiana

Thank you, thank you. Your words of advice regarding my writing skills have really paid off." Peter Lynch, Paris, France

Mark, thanks for caring about writers so much. Your advice is so practical in nature and I feel blessed to have had you in my corner." Rex Billings, San Francisco, California

Your command of the subject is beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you for this book and your help.” Avon Privette, Zebulon, North Carolina

This book and your mentoring permitted me to become a published author. Thank you.” John Daisy, Perth, Australia

Books By Mark Shaw


How To Become A Published Author: Idea to Publication

Melvin Belli, King of the Courtroom

Clydesdales: The World’s Most Magical Horse

From Birdies To Bunkers

Miscarriage of Justice, The Jonathan Pollard Story

Larry Legend

Testament To Courage

Forever Flying

Bury Me In A Pot Bunker

Jack Nicklaus, Golf’s Greatest Champion

The Perfect Yankee

Diamonds In The Rough

Down For The Count

Let The Good Times Roll

Book Report

Grammar Report

Poetry Report

Writers’ Report

Self-Publishing Report

If there is a book that you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.



Nobel Prize-Winning Author

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.



All good books have one thing in common—they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you have read one of them, you will feel all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people and the weather. If you can give that to the readers, then you’re a writer.



Dedicated To:

Wen-ying Lu,

My Shining Light


Writers Everywhere

Keep The Faith:

You Will Be Published


How To Become A Published Author or Poet: A to Z evolved from an idea to a book thanks to the assistance of many people. Without them, I could have never completed it.

Thanks are extended to Jodee Blanco, a valued friend, literary consultant, and competent author. She assisted me with the text and wrote the Foreword. Jodee continues to be a leading authority on book promotion and self-publishing.

Donna Cortese, Christina Williams, and Nancy Crenshaw, contributed much-needed editing skills. Their assistance is most appreciated.

Special thanks go to my brother Jack, his wife Sue, and sisters Anne and Debbie. I know my mother and father assisted me from heaven above.

Love and thanks to my wife Wen-ying Lu. Her support and caring ways are most valued. She is my shining light.

Thanks are also offered to my canine pal, Black Sox. His companionship at five a.m. is most appreciated.

Above all, I thank the Good Lord for blessing me with the creativity and dedication necessary to become an author. Without his guidance, I am nothing.

Mark Shaw



Foreword 8

Mark’s Ten Steps To Publication

Step #1 15

Analyze The Publishing Industry To Gain Confidence

Step #2 26

Write A Story You Are Passionate About—

But One That Is Marketable

Step #3 40

Your Passport To Publication Is Good Writing

Step #4 60

There Is No One Right Way To Tell A Story,

But There Is A Best Way

Step #5 71

Preparing An Outline Is A Blueprint For Success

Step #6 78

Traditional Publishing Is A Writer’s Best Friend

Step #7 98

Market The Query Letter And Book

Proposal—Not The Book

Step #8 123

Write A Query Letter Second-To-None

Step #9 131

Rejection Is Not Part Of The Writer’s Vocabulary

Step #10 138

When Considering A Book Contract, Watch Your Backside

Epilogue 142

Appendix 144


If you’ve purchased this book, chances are you dream of being a published author one day, of having your name in bold letters written across the front of a book jacket. To that end, I have exciting news—your timing couldn’t be better since the publishing industry is evolving at an unprecedented rate.

Fresh, new opportunities abound, especially for first-time authors. Traditional self-publishing flourishes. The Internet has been a blessing for authors and redefined the potential parameters for marketing books. The technology boom has also given birth to electronic books and digital printing. The bottom line—if your fantasy is to become a published author, there now exist many accessible avenues to transform that wish into reality.

Even though opportunities are there to be seized, an aspiring author, to take advantage, must understand the publishing industry. For example, what’s the difference between mainstream advance-against-royalty publishing, as opposed to print-on-demand or traditional self-publishing? Does every book need a literary agent to represent it, and if it does, how do you find one? What role do publicity and public relations play in the success of a book? How much does it cost to self-publish? What are the risks and benefits of self-publishing versus signing a deal with a publishing company? What does copyright mean and how do you obtain one?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Discovering answers to them can prevent you from being immersed in a confusing ocean without a life vest.

As a publishing industry veteran of nearly twenty years, I know firsthand the rewards of good agent and publishing decisions, and the heartache accompanying uninformed decisions. Experience as a book publicist (fifteen books on the New York Times Bestseller List, five at number one), literary agent, author of a New York Times bestseller, and educator (instructor at New York University and the University of Chicago) has confirmed the belief that aspiring authors need guideposts to assist them during the publishing process.

In How To Become A Published Author: Idea to Publication, my friend and colleague Mark Shaw tells it like it is, straight and to the point. Deftly combining literary acumen with legal experience, he helps you to navigate the path to becoming an author. Whether you yearn to be published by a traditional company, or traditionally self-publish, Mark explains the options and suggests criteria for deciding the one best suited for you.

When Mark asked me to write this Foreword, I was honored since I know whoever reads this book will be forever empowered. So curl up, start reading, and get ready for a remarkable journey regarding the publishing industry and how you can become a published author or poet.

Jodee Blanco

Author, The Complete Guide To Book Publicity, The Evolving Woman, and Please Stop Laughing At Me

Tbg32@aol.com, 312-961-3430

Author’s Note

Welcome to How To Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication. Before we begin, here’s a question for you: What do these authors and her/his books have in common?

Christine Montross - Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

Nancy Spears - Buddha: 9 to 5: The Eightfold Path to Enlightening Your Workplace and Improving Your Bottom Line

Patti Lawson - The Dog Diet: What My Dog Taught Me About Shedding Pounds, Licking Stress, and Getting a New Leash on Life

Dawn Knight - Taliaferro, Breaking Barriers from the NFL Draft to the Ivory Tower

Frances Jewel Dickson - The DEW Line Years, Voices from the Coldest Cold War

Sam Drash - Reaching Paradise Through Intercourse: American Towns with Unique Names

Marilyn Price - Machu Picchu, an Artist's Journal

Charles Pearson - The Last Expedition

Ron Lowry and Mary Walker - Chasing Lewis and Clark Across America: A 21st Century Aviation Adventure.

The answer: three important things – each is a first-time published author, each was published within the past three years, and each was mentored using the guidelines and strategies featured in this book. Hopefully, their success story, and that of many others who have used the book, will be an inspiration for you as to embark on a journey toward becoming a published author.

Of course, completing a book and having it traditionally published is like visiting Paris in the springtime: Many say they will—most never do. This is unfortunate since I’m certain anyone who works hard at becoming a professional writer can achieve this goal through proper planning and hard work.

Why listen to me? What do I know that hundreds of authors of books on writing and publishing don’t? Good question, but one with a ready answer: During the course of having multiple books published, I’ve learned many lessons and have been through the wars like few others since I possessed no background or education in the field when I began writing for publication in 1992. This means How To Become A Published Author: A to Z is unique because it provides practical advice about becoming a published author from someone who achieved success in the trial and error trenches of traditional publishing.

Along with my writing adventures, I have consulted with hundreds of aspiring authors through my previous work as creative director for Books For Life Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that assisted writers of all ages and skill levels. I have also presented “How To Become A Published Author or Poet: Idea to Publication” seminars at libraries, colleges, universities and at seminars in the United States as well as France and Taiwan. This has helped me to appreciate the frustration encountered while attempting to become published. Many talented writers give up, believing the odds are too prohibitive. This isn’t true if they follow a few simple rules and a proven strategy.

Authors and poets are a reflection of their experiences. Mine include, among others, being a criminal defense lawyer specializing in murder cases, a newspaper publisher (co-founded the Aspen Daily News), a network television correspondent and host (ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s People, CNN, ESPN, BBC, and Entertainment Tonight), a film producer (two feature motion pictures), a television producer (Fox Broadcasting), entertainment attorney, a radio talk show host, and earning a Masters Degree in Theological Studies at the ripe young age of sixty-two. Based on my checkered background, some conclude that I am an interesting fellow. Others categorize me as a roustabout who can’t hold a job! More about me is included in the Appendix or can be learned at my website, www.markshawbooks.net or at our weblog, www.hemingwaywantabes.wordpress.com.

These adventures have provided memorable moments adding to the education of a small-town (Auburn, Indiana, population 5,000) youngster whose first brush with publishing was selling TV-Guide door-to-door. Along the way, I have resided in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Sausalito, and Aspen while traveling to France, Italy, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Taiwan, and Germany. Doing so has permitted me to witness many different cultures, providing a background rich in history.

Memorable experiences broadening my horizons include a terrifying flight in an F-4 Air Force fighter jet, walking the streets of London with actor Ben Kingsley, riding with actor/driver Paul Newman in his race car, interviewing rock singer Cyndi Lauper in a dumpster outside the Hard Rock Café in San Francisco, and meeting my look-a-like, John Denver. I also have chatted with Larry King about the infamous Jonathan Pollard case, visited the famed Cannes Film Festival, lunched with astronaut Neil Armstrong, and interviewed Miss Nude California (keeping eye contact was difficult).

More than anything, I love books, including the Bible, the greatest book ever written, but I didn’t begin to write professionally until reaching the age of forty-eight. Prior to 1992, the only professional writing I had attempted was the first draft of a novel. When one literary agent read the manuscript and sent me a terse letter stating that my writing was “sophomoric,” I cursed the agent, tossed the manuscript out a window, and decided writing was for literary geniuses, not me. Less than a decade later, I am proud of my published books. Topics have ranged from famed attorney Melvin Belli to boxer Mike Tyson to championship golfer Jack Nicklaus, from famed aviator R. A. “Bob” Hoover to golf course designers Pete and Alice Dye, from basketball star Larry Bird to controversial spy Jonathan Pollard, and from perfect game pitcher Don Larsen to Holocaust survivor Cecelia Rexin and the magnificent Clydesdale horses. Collaboration on a music anthology called Let The Good Times Roll with musical historian Larry Goshen was most rewarding.

Publishers of my books have included large companies (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, Ballantine/Random House, HarperCollins, Contemporary/McGraw Hill), medium-sized houses (Addison Wesley, Sagamore/Sports Publishing, Taylor, Paragon House, Barricade Books), and small companies (Guild Press). I’ve learned much from observing their varied methods of operation.

To date, twenty-nine editions of my books, including one translated into Japanese, have occupied bookstore shelves around the world. Three fiction books, Dandelions in the Moonlight, The Patsy, A Jake Lessing Novel, and No Peace For The Wicked, are works in progress. Personal lack of publication in this arena, and the poetry field, does not cause the advice in this book to be invalid for poets and fiction writers. Publisher research and discussion with numerous fiction writers and poets has confirmed that the basic guidelines outlined in How To Become A Published Author or Poet: A to Z pertaining to becoming published apply to all genres of writing.

During my author journey, most critics have been kind, but my first review was shocking. On the morning after my book, Down For The Count, The Shocking Truth Behind The Mike Tyson Trial, was released, a radio talk show host telephoned. “Mark,” he began, “nice to have you on the program, but do you want to know the crux of the review of your book in the morning newspaper?” Sure, I said, believing it couldn’t be that bad.

“All right,” the host said, “here’s the headline, ‘Shaw’s Book On Tyson Worthless.’”

As my Adam’s apple slid to the pit of my stomach, I attempted to muster a response. I mumbled something that made no sense, fumbled through the interview, and hung up. Resisting the temptation to hang myself, I glared at my sleepy-eyed dogs, rose to my feet, and let out a roaring expletive that could be heard in three neighboring states.

Excellent reviews from USA Today, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times soothed a bruised ego, but the path to becoming an author had begun on a sour note. Nonetheless, it had begun. Instead of moping about the first reviewer’s nasty critique, I used it as inspiration and followed book one with book two and book three, and so forth. When book number five, The Perfect Yankee, the story of New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series was published, a New York Times book reviewer proclaimed the book, “informative and entertaining.” Columnists have dubbed me a “prolific writer,” a phrase characterizing those who write at a quick pace and manage to publish books on a yearly basis.

The release of Down For The Count provided a thrill like no other. When I teach at seminars about the publishing process, I never fail to mention how wonderful it felt to hold a published book in my hands. What satisfaction.

My journey to becoming a published author could fill volumes. Having no professional training as a writer, no college courses on the subject (during five-and-a-half years at Purdue, I majored in golf and drinking!), no writing workshops, and no knowledge of the publishing industry, I did what came naturally—I winged it!

This applied to writing skills as well. Only after having written several books did I begin to better understand what good writing was all about. My savior was a tiny book called Elements of Style, by professors William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White.

Like me, you too can wing it when you begin your quest to be traditionally published, but based on my publishing experiences; I’ve learned there is a logical progression toward the publication process. The key is to create a terrific book idea, develop a sound strategy toward publication alternatives, and then work hard to implement your gameplan. No one can guarantee success, but the odds for it occurring can be substantially improved.

To assist your efforts, How To Become A Published Author: A to Z features an Appendix with sample forms for, among others, Query Letters, Book Proposals, Agency and Publishing Contracts, and Promotion Ideas. There are also examples of terrific writing from the masters and grammar/punctuation exercises to test your writing skills. Throughout the book, charts outline writing tips, how to evaluate a book concept, proper manuscript form, and the main steps involved with the publishing process.

With careful planning and the guts to stay the course despite rejection, you can become a successful published author or poet. By being attentive to Mark’s Ten Steps To Publication, a roadmap of sorts based on my experiences, you can savor a moment you will never forget—holding a copy of your published book for all the world to see.

With this in mind, let’s unfold the map, consider several useful tips that have proven worthy, and begin the journey so you too can shout to the world: “I am published.”

Mark Shaw

A man is known by the company his mind keeps.



Step #1

Analyze The Publishing Industry

To Gain Confidence

Why Writing?

Let’s begin with inspiration. Please repeat after me: I Will Be Published! Once again—I Will Be Published!

Thank you. Keep this promise in mind while reading this book. And remember—authors are the most important people in the publishing world. Without them, publishers don’t exist.

“Being published” assumes many forms. They include binding several copies of a personal memoir or journal entries for family and friends, writing a magazine or newspaper article, penning a short story or essay for publication in magazines or writer’s journals, writing a short article to be published on an Internet site or the company newsletter, crafting a poem to be included in a magazine or anthology collection, writing several poems for inclusion in a poetry book or chapbook, or completing a fiction or non-fiction manuscript that will be self-published or released by a traditional publisher.

This said, whether you have created a book idea, a few sentences, a paragraph or two scribbled on a torn sheet of paper, a chapter outlining characters, partial text ripe for a short story, essay, or magazine article, half of a non-fiction book revealing that Neil Armstrong did not walk on the moon, the first draft of the great American novel, or several pages of poetry—STOP. Before proceeding, enter the real world of publishing.

To confirm that the quest to become a published author or poet is a priority, ask a basic question: What is your motive for writing? The answer is critical, since the journey generates a wide range of emotions including elation, loneliness, excitement, and frustration.

There are many possible motives for writing. Some people write to prove they can with no desire to have others read their work. Many write with profit in mind even though the creative arts are not about earning huge sums of money. Others want to deliver an important historical message through poetry or non-fiction while still others wish to write a work of fiction to provide escape or entertainment.

Whatever the motivation, the literary profession is based on a special relationship—the writer and his or her words. On paper, or a computer screen, you will create word after word producing stanzas, sentences and paragraphs, pages, and ultimately, a book. Along the way you may encounter writer’s block, tear up pages, threaten to throw your computer into the nearest dumpster, attempt to kick the loyal dog, and hate the fact you ever decided to write.

Each individual’s experience varies, but writing is not for the meek. It’s no surprise that many authors and poets become alcoholics, junkies, or lunatics. “The mind is a precious thing,” the saying goes, “so don’t disturb it.” But you will disturb it, and it will disturb you. When problems surface, you may feel that ANYTHING is better than facing a keyboard or writing another word.

Despite these obstacles, if you accept the challenge to write professionally, then a logical strategy is imperative. To maximize the odds of becoming published, collect information about the publishing industry, improve your writing skills, learn how to professionally submit material, and conduct research to discover literary agents or publishers who are most likely to represent or publish particular genres of work. Completion of these tasks won’t guarantee a published book, but the chances of it occurring will be increased a hundred-fold.

Book Store Research

Whether you can define the book genre you contemplate, have no clue as to subject matter, or have already written several stanzas, a chapbook, short story, chapters, or a manuscript, understanding the publishing world is critical. By examining the current state of affairs in the publishing industry, you can learn much about whether your book idea is commercially viable. If it is not, then the evolution of new ideas, or a different slant to an idea already conceived, may be warranted.

A common error committed by many aspiring authors and poets is to complete a manuscript or collection of poetry while possessing little knowledge of the inner workings of the publishing industry. Writing for publication without researching the literary marketplace is akin to listing a home before assessing its market value. Lack of information decreases the chances of selling the house just as lack of expertise about the publishing industry hinders the potential to be traditionally published by a company that will cover all costs of releasing a book.

Laborious reading or extensive research isn’t required to begin a sojourn into the publishing world. Instead, visit a large bookstore or an independent outlet. This scouting mission is guaranteed to enlighten, since bookstores are packed with written works published in many forms and through many means, often involving writer ingenuity and alternative publishing strategies.

Upon entering the bookstore, note the rectangular table or tables positioned within twenty-five feet of the door. Multiple books are stacked on them, carefully positioned to attract attention.

Welcome to the “head tables”—sometimes called the “front-of-store tables.” They features books released by the crème de la crème of the publishing industry such as Simon and Schuster, Random House, Doubleday, Penguin, HarperCollins, Warner, Bantam, Knopf, Delacorte, William Morrow, Hyperion, Little Brown, Dutton, and St. Martin’s. These companies and others who have hit the jackpot with a book invest promotion and marketing funds so their books will receive maximum exposure. Because the books are chosen by the bookstore buyers and not by publishers (who nevertheless pay for the space), there may be successful books from smaller publishers mixed in.

Studying the head tables (in some stores they are marked “Bestsellers,” “New Hardcover,” or “New Paperback,”), permits you to determine what genre of books are being marketed at different times of year, what authors are writing them, and what publishing companies have released them. This provides an overall understanding of the machinations of the publishing industry.

Publishing Industry Overview

While circling the head tables, note the ambience of the bookstore—the whispering of customers discussing which book to purchase while reading snippets from jacket covers or the first pages of the text. At the store’s café, people read, flip through magazines, write in notebooks, or type away at a laptop as the aroma of cappuccino drifts through the air.

Remember that those meandering around the store are potential customers for your book. They are the very people who may pay as much as $29.95 for a hardback edition. If enough of them can be convinced it is a must-read, a bestseller results.

Pick-up the books on the head tables, feel their texture, and note the colors, the graphics or photographs, and the style of print. During one visit, the table might reveal such books as Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, Double Cross by James Patterson, Clive Cussler’s The Chase, Born Standing Up, by Steven Martin, and The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan.

Many of these authors are the generals in the current army of contemporary books. Most of the well-known fiction writers could write a book about the disappearance of a lamppost and sell 500,000 copies. They enjoy a following of loyal fans awaiting their next book with heart-stopping anticipation.

While glancing at the books on the head tables, check the titles to reveal which is fiction or non-fiction. It will approximate two to one, fiction to non-fiction, but the ratio varies from week to week. Celebrated authors corner the fiction market, but non-fiction books such as Tuesdays With Morrie provide inspiration since sports personality Mitch Albom was a virtual unknown before this book was published. No one could have predicted that it would be on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 300 weeks and counting.

Before departing the head tables, open a few books. Read the inside jacket cover text, the author biography, and the back cover text. On the second or third page, the name and location of the publishing company is provided.

When glancing at the books, become familiar with the major players in the publishing industry, especially those who may be involved in a specific genre. With this in mind, scribble a note or two listing publishers that have published the type of book envisioned. As the writing process continues, add to the list. When the time arrives to seek publication, the list will be helpful.

To learn more about the team who collaborated to publish a book similar to one under consideration, check the “Acknowledgments” page. Besides the publishing company and the author, the team may include the writer’s agent and an editor or editors who championed the book. Note these names for future reference.

Notice the titles and subtitles on the book covers. Jot a few down, since the title is as important to marketing the book as the words written within. Publishers develop ulcers worrying about titles guaranteed to hook the reader.

Book Genres

Within a few minutes, you have learned more about the publishing process than you realize. Since there are few courses teaching the basics of real world publishing, self-education is a necessity.

Being informed is crucial. Doing so will help with creation of the type of book publishers must add to their list for fear of missing a bestseller.

Further your learning process by walking through the bookstore to view the enormous number of book subjects available. This may trigger book ideas or reveal that a book has already been written on the very subject being contemplated.

Book categories abound and vary somewhat from store to store. They include: Self-Improvement, Cooking, Relationships, Wine and Spirits, Diseases, Addiction/Recovery, Diet, Woman’s Health, Teen Series, Beauty and Grooming, Humor, Biography, Games, Sports, World History, Metaphysics, Travel, and Military History. There are also sections marked Music, Study Aids, Religion, Language, Philosophy, Fiction/Literature, Juveniles, Architecture, Art, Science Fiction, Mythology, Personal Finance, Computers, and more.

Surveys vary, but become aware of publishing trends when considering a book idea. Most industry experts agree children’s books, published in hardcover and trade paperback, occupy the top two or three spots on the pecking order. Romance novels follow. They usually account for nearly one-half of the mass-market paperbacks (smaller and less expensive than trade paperbacks and hard covers) purchased each year. Non-fiction books, biographies, autobiographies, self-help, inspiration, and so forth are among the best sellers, with fiction (general trade paperback and hardcover, general fiction, mass-market paperback, and mystery, mass-market paperback) completing the list. To gain a current understanding of which books are selling, consult bestseller lists in various publications.

If you are interested in children’s books, concentrate on these sections while roaming the bookstores. Children’s books enthusiasts will discover that companies like Simon and Schuster feature divisions specializing in books for young readers. Children’s books enjoy a long shelf life whether they are picture books, books specifically for babies and toddlers, young readers, middle readers, or young adult readers.

Travel books and cookbooks may be potential publications for the budding author. Everyone loves a travel book to aid vacation or business plans. Hundreds of cookbooks are published each year. As with any category researched, pay close attention to current books on the store bookshelves.

Religious books are a popular venue for first-time writers. There is a huge market for religious novels and inspirational books. To date, Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, a book that can literary change your life, has sold more than twenty-five million copies as the number one selling book in both 2003 and 2004. Father Thomas Merton’s autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain, continues to be a best seller more than fifty years after its initial publication.

Thousands of new works of fiction and non-fiction are released every year based on more than half-a-million submissions to publishing companies. The number of poetry submissions is astronomical, as well. No wonder many would-be authors and poets are intimidated. Don’t be.

While touring the bookstore, remember your mindset is one of an aspiring author or poet, not a customer. This is a research mission involving investigation. Plan to spend an afternoon or even a full day or two browsing the shelves. Consider what is being written, how the books look and feel, their length, and how they are presented. Each book has its own self-contained marketing program designed with one thing in mind: sell the book.

With this goal in mind, examine the packaging, the cover, and how the author or poet is showcased. Reading the author biography on the inside back jacket cover will provide insight as to his or her background and their previous publications. Inspiration is garnered from first-time authors and poets who have been published.

The type of writing contemplated—fiction, non-fiction, or poetry will dictate the amount of time you spend in that particular area. Focus on books released in recent years. With so many books published, and so little space, only books that sell remain on the shelves. Many front-list books (recent releases) become backlist assets that will sell year after year. Others have their “fifteen minutes of fame,” and are returned to the publisher or banished to the “remainder” bin marked at two bucks a copy.

Nobody can predict exactly what book will become a bestseller. Some books appear to have bestseller stamped on them, but many times the so-called experts don’t know and are guided by “hunches.” Who could have predicted that a number one non-fiction business bestseller would be Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? Some publishing company editors may have rejected the book assuming it was a booklet about the plight of Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Another unexpected bestseller was Quiet Strength by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. Comedian Stephen Colbert also provided a sign of inspiration when his book, I Am America (And So Can You) reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

Checking the fiction bestsellers provides a few surprises. There are the predictable names—John Grisham, Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, and Stephen Coonts. But among the bestsellers is the Left Behind collection by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, little-known authors before their breakthrough books, and A Girl Named Zippy, by first-time author Haven Kimmel.

Inspiration may certainly be gained by considering the spiraling career of Khaled Hosseini. His first book, The Kite Runner, was successful with the second one, A Thousand Splendid Suns, even more so.

Reference Magazines

To learn more about book publishing and outlets for publishing articles or short stories, check the magazine section. To complete the first day’s “training” regarding the book business, select publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Sunday Edition, Writer’s Digest, The Writer’s Handbook, Writer’s Journal, Poetry Magazine, Poets and Writers Magazine, and The Writer. Just as those immersed in the financial world consult Forbes to stay abreast of developments in that field, these publications are a guidepost to what’s occurring in the book world.

Other sources of knowledge about the publishing industry are publications by chain bookstores and Book Sense, a directive of books recommended by independent outlets. Each provides insight regarding current trends in the publishing industry.

Publisher’s Weekly

Publisher’s Weekly is a must read for aspiring authors and poets. The first half features advertisements for new releases, publishing news detailing sales records, the revolving door shifts of executives from company to company, and the names of authors signed to write new books. These include celebrities who are advanced a million dollars to write about the color of their toothbrush and the epiphanies that surfaced during their rehab. One year, it seemed every issue carried news of yet another body part that actress/author/fitness guru Suzanne Somers could perfect.

Publishing excesses aside, becoming familiar with the names of those in positions of power in the literary industry is important because they are the ones who consider a book for publication. Even if a book concept is rejected, the person rejecting it may rotate to a new literary agency or publishing company and later consider another book written by the same author. This is why it is wise to never write a nasty letter after being rejected. Accept the decision and move on.

The middle pages of Publisher’s Weekly feature interviews with publishing heavyweights or successful authors. Valuable tips emerge based on their experiences.

Several pages near the back of Publisher’s Weekly are dedicated to reviews of books being published in the coming months. They are catalogued under the banners of fiction, non-fiction, audio, poetry, and paperback. This section keeps the writer current on the latest news about books being published, while providing insight into reviewer’s comments regarding their content and potential.

Another issue of Publisher’s Weekly was of special interest to aspiring novelists. Under the banner, “First Fiction For Fall,” the magazine lists several publications by first-time authors. The list provided ideas as well as inspiration to those who believe the odds of a first-time author securing a publishing commitment are prohibitive.

Spring and fall editions of Publisher’s Weekly are important for authors and poets. They feature multiple pages listing book titles being released during that season. These pages provide insight into publishers and the types of books each company favors. It also presents a glimpse of the varied subject matter that becomes fodder for publication. Keep in mind that one season’s hot topics may be cold by the time a new book on the subject is written.

New York Times

The New York Times Sunday Edition supplements Publisher’s Weekly. Other newspapers feature book review supplements, but the New York Times Book Review is king. Read it several times to soak up every ounce of knowledge. Advertisements touting books are interesting and valuable, reviews are revealing, and the bestseller list indicates what books people are reading.

Two lists will catch your eye: the bestsellers in Non-fiction and Fiction. Each week the list changes but note what books stay on the list for a lengthy period of time.

For those interested in business books, the Times feature a separate listing in the business section under “Business Bestsellers.” Note the variety of book topics with some touting investment tips and others memoirs of interesting personalities such as Alan Greenspan.

The Times includes two other lists of interest to aspiring authors. They are bestsellers for “Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous,” and “Children’s Paperback Books.” Both are excellent reference sources.

Reading these lists and those in Publisher’s Weekly provides hope for the beginning writer. No idea is sacred. It doesn’t take a genius to discover a unique concept for a book that can be worthy. Imagination is the key. Never doubt your ability to create an exciting book that can be a bestseller.

Writer’s Digest

Writer’s Digest is a required reading for any beginning writer. No reviews or bestseller lists are featured—just pertinent information about writing and writers. The articles are valuable, since many contain tips concerning the craft of writing.

Various articles in Writer’s Digest have included: Craft a Killer Query, What Works, What Doesn’t, How To Build A Novel Proposal, Inspiration 101, The Insider’s Guide to Software For Writer’s, 100 Best Book Markets For New Writers, How Not To Be A Paperback Writer, The Dos and Don’ts Of Writing Dialogue, and How To Set Your Writing Goals.

Another feature of Writer’s Digest is a list of popular reference books for writers. Among them are Discovering the Writer Within, Grammatically Correct, Fast Fiction, The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, Novel Writing, Get Organized, Get Published, Keys To Great Writing, and The Writer’s Idea Book. These books provide information regarding every facet of the writing profession.

Several examples of book text are featured in the magazine as are tips regarding selling manuscripts. There is information about writing workshops conducted by professional authors and advertisements for writing competitions.

Certain issues of Writer’s Digest chronicle the inner-workings of major publishers including HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Time Warner, Random House, and Penguin Group USA. These publishers account for more than 75 percent of all books sold. The Literary Market Place, available in most libraries, is an excellent reference source supplementing information featured in Writer’s Digest.

The Writer’s Handbook and Writer’s Journal

The Writer’s Handbook contains essential information for the writer. Besides delivering a competent list of agents and publishers of books and magazine articles, the publication provides insightful articles by noted authors. Among those who have contributed are John Updike, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton, Russell Banks, and Stephen King. Much can be learned from their experiences regarding how to become a published author.

A worthy magazine for aspiring authors is Writer’s Journal. One issue featured an interview with Mitchell Ivers, senior editor at Simon and Schuster. Asked about company philosophy, Ivers stated, “The mid-list [books by established writer’s that sell well but not great] is vanishing—especially in the mystery genre. Book stores don’t want them and we’re cutting way back on them.” He added, “[the] exception to that rule is in the romance area.”

When asked what type of book he hopes to discover, Ivers said, “Stories of people’s lives. I like stories about people who say yes to life when life says no to them. I like books that help people; that last and linger in the reader’s minds.” Regarding advice for the beginning writer, the senior editor wrote, “Don’t write for the reward: the book contract, fame, money. Write for the love of writing, find value in what you’re saying and be passionate about it.”

Poets and Writers Magazine/Poetry Magazine

Poets and Writers Magazine is a prestigious publication packed with useful information for aspiring writers and poets. Founded in 1970 to “foster the development of poets and fiction writers and to promote communication throughout the literary community,” the magazine presents vital facts about every aspect of the writing process. Published bi-monthly, one issue featured 8 Editor’s Tips On Getting In The Glossies, as well as sections detailing News and Trends, The Literary Life, and The Practical Writer. Special notices and advertisements for awards, grants, conferences, and residencies are also included.

An excellent source of information for poets is Poetry Magazine. Checking their Web site at www.poetrymagazine.com provides current information about the poetry-publishing world. The magazine sponsors the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an annual competition awarding a deserving poet, $100,000.

Publisher’s Lunch.com

Michael Cader Books publishes Publisherslunch Deluxe, a free newsletter providing an overview of the publishing industry on a day- to-day basis. It also features job openings, articles on various industry personalities, and industry trends.

The companion publication to Publisherslunch Deluxe is Publishers Marketplace. For a monthly fee of less than twenty dollars, Cader emails details about all of the deals completed each day by publishers large and small. Most important besides the name of the book sold, the tagline describing it, author information, and the publisher that has optioned the rights is valuable information regarding the literary agent who represented the author. Watching who is making deals in the genre of book you are writing permits you to list agents who should be interested in your book idea. This will assist your efforts when it is time to submit your query letter and book proposal.

Publishers Marketplace also lists the names of agents and the names of the authors and poets they represent. More about both publications can be learned at www.publisherslunch.com

BookExpo America

To expand publishing industry education, consider a trip to the annual BookExpo America convention. Locations have included Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. More information is available at www.bookexpoamerica.com.

Colorful booths spanning several halls house the majority of the publishers across the country. Large publishers occupy the largest, most expensive space. Medium sized and smaller publishers, including university presses, are also well represented.

Walking amongst the booths is electrifying. Large placards promoting books by the famous and not so famous drape booth walls. Long lines snake around corners as fans line up to meet, greet, and obtain the autographs of famous authors.

Publishing company representatives mingle with retailers, their authors, poets, the media, and distributors from around the world. An event or one-day admission price permits writers to frolic with those who are the publishing industry. During the event at Chicago’s McCormick Place, several social events were held to permit those who love books to chat with those who love books. A local book fair was featured so book enthusiasts could locate a rare copy of Steinbeck for a buck-and-a-half.

BookExpo America presents the perfect arena for aspiring authors and poets to meet independent booksellers from around the world. Even though chain stores rule the industry, there are superb independent outlets. Knowing the owners and their sales force can prove invaluable, since independents champion first-time authors and poets.

Each BookExpo America registrant is provided a convention guide that is a great resource for any aspiring author or poet. Included are the listings of the exhibitors. Inspect it, discover who is appearing and where, and then visit exhibits, meet people, and note what books are being promoted. Display posters highlight major marketing campaigns being planned.

Most BookExpo America publishing company booths are piled high with catalogs focusing on future releases. Galleys (review copies of soon-to-be-released books) are sometimes available although many publishers attempt to limit these “freebees” to retailers. Studying various writing styles and storytelling variations for future books can be most helpful.

The point of attending BookExpo America is to meet and greet while exchanging business cards. Networking with agents, publishing executives and others immersed in the industry is essential. After the convention, add the names of those met to ever-growing lists compiled in anticipation of submitting material to the marketplace.

If attending BookExpo America is impossible, consider visiting an American Bookseller (sponsor of BookExpo) regional book show. These are great venues to meet smaller and regional publishers.

For those interested in the potential to meet industry professionals at consumer book shows, research such venues as LA Book Fest, NY is Book Country, and the Miami Book Fest. All provide opportunities to soak up the atmosphere of the book business.

The Internet

To supplement knowledge you gained through bookstores, publications, and BookExpo, check the Internet web sites where books are marketed and sold. Look at Amazon.com and Barnes&noble.com in particular. This is another source of bestseller information as well as information regarding how books are being promoted online. It is also a good way to search for other published books that may compete with the book being contemplated.

An excellent source of publishing industry news is the Internet publication, Publishers Lunch. Its free daily dose of news regarding “who is buying what from whom” is valuable. Publishers Lunch is free of charge at www.publisherslunch.com.

Education is Power

Knowledge regarding the business end of the publishing industry is power for those who dream of writing professionally. Instead of pursuing the dream half-cocked, those who investigate the publishing world can make their dream come true. They bear allegiance to Mark’s Step #1—Analyze The Publishing Industry to Gain Confidence.

With this understanding, and an understanding of the writing process, it is logical for you to ask, “How can I become published?”

There are several alternatives, but the path to becoming published by a traditional publisher is quite logical. In its simplest form, a writer first generates an idea for a book. Based on an outline, at least a partial manuscript developing the idea is created.

Using this material, a Query Letter and Book Proposal are completed. Either through their own efforts or those of a literary agent or entertainment attorney, the Query Letter and/or Book Proposal is submitted to one or more publishers. If a publisher says the magic word, “Yes,” a deal is negotiated.

The author then revises the book in tandem with an editor at the publishing company. A release date is set, usually months or even a year ahead to provide time for editing, book layout, and a marketing and promotion campaign. The completed book is then published amidst a grand celebration.

Getting from point A (idea) to point Z (publication) is a magical mystery tour filled with adventure. Regardless of whether you choose fiction or non-fiction, the journey begins with a search for what literary material is marketable in the publishing world.

Step #1 Summary

Visit chain bookstores or independent outlets to research the book industry.

Check book covers, inside jackets, and Acknowledgments for publisher, author, agent, and editor information.

Compile lists of agents, editors, and publishers that may be interested in your book genre.

Review publishing industry reference publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, New York Times, Writer’s Digest, Book, etc.

Read the Internet publication Publishersmarketplace every day.

What is a book? Everything or nothing.

The eye that sees it is all.



Step #2

Write A Story You Are Passionate About—

But One that is Marketable

Short Stories, Magazine Articles, Essays

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” is one way to begin the writing process. But just as a baseball player with dreams of playing in the major leagues begins his quest in the minors, a bit of seasoning is warranted before you plunge into the world of writing for publication.

This seasoning involves writing short stories, essays, magazine or newspaper articles, or poetry for mainstream publications. Doing so teaches the discipline of writing with space and word constraint to produce good beginnings, middles, and ends to stories. For poets, it is the opportunity to test their mettle in a single poem or two.

Another benefit of writing short-form material is the ability to test linguistic skills and begin developing a personal writing style. The process may also help you decide whether to write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

Most important, publication of short stories, essays, newspaper articles or poetry provides a showcase for your talent while earning you a publishing credit. The latter will prove helpful when you seek publication for long-form fiction or non-fiction material.

Many celebrated authors began by writing magazine and newspaper articles, and short stories. Among them was Ernest Hemingway. His talent was recognized while he wrote for publications such as Atlantic Monthly and The Toronto Star.

Several modern-day magazines, including Esquire, GQ, Harper’s, Jane, Playboy, Seventeen, and Zoetrope, print short works of fiction. Publications like Vanity Fair, Atlantic Monthly, and Ladies Home Journal, among others, will consider short works of non-fiction.

One author who gained exposure by writing short stories is Terry McMillan, best selling African-American author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. She began reading literary works by African-American writers while shelving books at a Port Huron, Michigan library at age sixteen. While majoring in journalism at UC Berkeley, she wrote The End, her first short story. When it was published, it provided a springboard for her long-form efforts.

Mary Higgins Clark, author of several best selling mysteries, jump-started her career by writing short stories. The first sold for $100 to Extension Magazine after six years and more than forty rejection slips. This modest success stimulated Clark, who wrote Aspire To The Heavens, a novel about the life of George Washington. It was a dismal failure, but her second effort, Where Are The Children, proved successful. This book paved the way for such bestsellers as Before I Say Goodbye, Deck The Halls, and The Street Where You Live.

J. K. Rowling, famous for the Harry Potter series, began her career by writing short stories. While attempting to complete two novels, she conceived a “what-if” idea. It focused on a young boy who didn’t realize he was a wizard. The skills she had honed writing short stories enabled her to complete Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was published a year later to wide acclaim, catapulting Rowling to international fame.

Charles Dickens garnered experience as a newspaper reporter before turning to long-form writing. He then wrote short texts to accompany a series of humorous sport illustrations. Next came The Pickwick Papers. It led to Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, the first of Dickens’ successful Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield.

Poets gain credentials through publication of their poetry in reputable magazines and journals. Publishers scan these publications searching for new talent.

For me, seasoning occurred when I wrote several columns for USA Today during the Mike Tyson trial. The credit led to a publishing commitment for Down For The Count. To those who scanned my manuscript, I wasn’t a novice writer with little credibility, but one who had been published in a national newspaper.

If you decide to write short stories, educate yourself about this form of writing. The easiest way is to return to the bookstores and focus on the classics. Look for anthologies of short stories by a variety of famed authors. These will expose you to several examples of good writing. Pay attention to how the authors formulated the beginning, middle, and end of their stories.

Celebrated author Elmore Leonard stated “Read and study what the writer is doing. Find a writer you have a rapport with and study the paragraphing, study the punctuation, study everything.” William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, echoes Leonard’s comments. He wrote, “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”

Resource Material For Short Stories, Magazine Articles,

and Poetry

Marketplace information for short stories or magazine articles is easily obtainable. Several books listing publications accepting unsolicited submissions are released each year, but Writer’s Market is the most inclusive. The cover of one edition promised, “75 Literary Agents, 1000+ All New Publishing Opportunities, 1400 Consumer Magazines, 450+ Trade Magazines, 1100 Book Publishers.” There is also Writer’s Market—Online, Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Christian Writer’s Market Guide, and The Writer’s Handbook.

Submitting written work to the outlets in the proper form is critical. Writer’s Market provides battle-tested suggestions. Following the guidelines suggested is key, since editors seek professionals who know the rules.

Once you’ve conceived a short story or magazine article, compile a list of publications most likely to accept it. There are several with outstanding reputations, including The Paris Review, Rosebud, The Magazine For People Who Enjoy Good Writing, Poets and Writers Magazine, Ploughshares, Stone Soup, The American Scholar, and The New Yorker. Being published by them is an honor. A former editor at Simon and Schuster ordered his underlings to scour such publications scouting for potential writers.

Depending on your area of interest, read the above-mentioned magazines as well as Vanity Fair, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Omni, Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Reader’s Digest, PC Computing, Esquire, Gentleman’s Quarterly, Cigar, Ms., O, Ladies Home Journal, Washingtonian, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Reading good writing helps you develop good writing skills, and ideas for books abound in the pages of top magazines. From an article in Vanity Fair, I developed an idea for a book about a teenage computer wizard employed by the government to slay cyberspace terrorists.

For those interested in poetry, publications of note include Poets and Writers, Poetry Magazine, the Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Atlantic Monthly, and the Atlanta Review. Libraries are good sources for these publications.

Be selective when choosing publications for submission of material. It is unprofessional to submit an article to a magazine that does not publish that genre of material. Sending an article on raising Argentine llamas to Architectural Digest is embarrassing and signals to the publisher that you have not done your homework.

Newspaper Experience

Writing newspaper articles or columns provides another source of education and exposure for aspiring authors. Writing with word-count restrictions forces one to be brief and to the point. Journalists face deadlines, providing a helpful discipline when publishers demand revisions within a certain time frame.

The journalist hones editorial skills and investigative methods that prove worthy when writing long-form. Becoming a competent reporter, columnist, or freelance writer provides credentials that impress publishers, since the successful journalist has name recognition, a proven track record, and a readership that may purchase books.

To gain notice for your writings, consider an op-ed column, letters to the editor, or other means to gain publication. Every time your words reach a readership, you add to your writing credential.

One misconception in literary circles is that writing short stories or articles is inferior to writing long-form. There is an expertise to both, but being restricted by a word count may prove more challenging than writing a book the length of Gone With The Wind.

Fiction Or Non-Fiction

Whether to write fiction or non-fiction is an important decision for the author with publishing aspirations. If you have inclinations toward both, try both. Write a few chapters, a short story, or an article portraying a true-life event. Then let your imagination flow. Decide which provides more satisfaction, since writing with passion is essential to future success.

The decision to write fiction or non-fiction should not be made without considering an important question: Is it easier to become a published author by writing in one genre or the other?

There is no clear consensus as to whether fiction or non-fiction provides a better stepping-stone to a career as an author, but far more works of fiction are presented to literary agents and publishers than non-fiction. With so much competition, the odds of success for a first-time author of fiction are diminished. This is because publishers realize it is normally the author who is the star since readers return to purchase books by authors whom they have enjoyed before.

Non-fiction may provide more opportunity. First-time authors with a “platform” (expertise in a particular subject) abound, since generally the subject matter is as important as the name of the author on the book cover. Publishers recognized that the true story focusing on discharge of chemical waste by a large corporation portrayed in A Civil Action was the star, not the unknown author, Jonathan Harr. A similar situation occurred following the terrorist attacks on the United States when several books by unknown authors about the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan, and chemical warfare became bestsellers.

As with all rules of thumb, there are exceptions. Non-fiction is a broad genre including how-to and instructional books, biography, inspirational books, humor, and what is known as “narrative non-fiction”—true stories unfolding in much the same storytelling pattern as fiction. Authors of narrative non-fiction can also become superstars with a dedicated readership, as did Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Into The Wild, or Stephen Ambrose, author of Undaunted Courage. Editors reviewing narrative non-fiction submissions look for many of the same qualities they seek with fiction—a compelling story with unforgettable characters written in page-turning style.

An exception to the author being the star of fiction may occur when the subject matter of the novel focuses on a headline-making topic. During the period following the Washington D.C. area sniper attacks, novels featuring themes about serial killers were popular.

Marie Butler-Knight, former publisher of Alpha Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, believes the genre of non-fiction can make all the difference regarding publishing potential. “Generalizations can be dangerous because there are different types of non-fiction,” she says. “How-to/informational books are easier to break in with if you have subject matter expertise. If you’re a generalist author, you’d better have a subject matter expert as a co-author or you’ll have a hard time convincing a publisher to publish you.”

Regarding biographies and narrative non-fiction, Butler-Knight disagrees with those who believe the genres are totally story-driven. “In order to succeed, these types of books need to tell compelling stories,” she states. “They require the same sort of writing skills as fiction. To a publisher, this sort of work is totally author-driven and every bit as risky as publishing fiction.”

The publishing world’s view toward fiction and non-fiction is symbolized through the comments of Jane von Mehren, former executive editor of Penguin Books. She told Writer’s Digest, “Non-fiction has become a strong, sophisticated area . . . In many ways, non-fiction is easier to publish than fiction because it targets a very definable audience, and it’s easier to package books and target them to specific readers.” She added, “It’s a booming area. In non-fiction, we look for books that will have a long shelf life, offering solid information and advice useful for years to come. It really helps when a non-fiction author is already an expert in his or her field, and the book builds on an existing platform.”

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