Cheryl St.John Reveals The Secret to Getting Published

How Can I Get Published?

make a listAs authors, one of the questions we hear most frequently is, “How can I get published?” The answer is as simple or as complex as the author has time to share. Basically, write the best possible book you can and submit it to the perfect editor. Is it as easy as it sounds? Definitely not. Writing a book is hard work and getting it published is no guarantee.

If you’re inexperienced and thinking you can write better than the author who wrote the last book you read—so you’re going to be published tomorrow, think again. If you’ve never written before, I’m pretty sure that you don’t write as well as the author whose book you just finished. I wrote several books over several years before I learned how to write to sell and finally sold one.

Some people think their book deserves to get published because they had such a wonderful idea or because their mother loves the story. And gee, they spent a whole two months working on the manuscript. I’ve actually had people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write a book, so I’m going to do it when I get a few free weekends.” That’s like saying, “I’ve always wanted to play pro football, so I’m going to scrimmage with Tom Brady on my next summer vacation.”

retreatWriting is an art. Art takes training, sacrifice and dedication. Of course writing involves talent, but much of writing is learnable, and the learnable parts require study and self-evaluation. To write well enough to sell in today’s tough market, you must learn the craft and come up with a product an editor won’t be able to refuse.

There are a million books out there to help you learn to write, so how do you choose? The books that writers find valuable are as varied as the writers themselves, but start with the basics: Characterization, conflict, plot, grammar, self-editing. If writing is going to be more than a hobby, you’ll need to learn the business. If you want your work published, you must commit to both the craft and to learning about publishing.

First you need to figure out what genre you’re writing in. Genre is a marketing tool used to distinguish types of stories. Go to a bookstore and compare which books are the most like yours to figure out where your books will be shelved. There’s so much to learn. How do you get help deciphering all this stuff?

Find a national support organization for your genre. Browse their websites. There are national groups such as Science Fiction Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime.  You might find a local statewide writers’ organization.

WritingYou are not looking for a writing group. You are looking for an organization designed for advocacy and information. Most have membership fees on national or local levels, and you must consider this an investment in your career. Dues are tax deductible. Membership provides you with market updates, editor and agent information, submission guidelines, online mailing lists, conference information, writers groups and critique groups, just to name a few benefits.

Here are reasons to join a local chapter:

* Market updates

* Contests

* Local writing retreats

* Monthly support meetings

* Critique groups

* Online support and brainstorming

* Instructional programs by professional writers

* Research help and tips

* Yearly goal setting program

* Conference information and conferences

* Editor and agent tips

* Submission guidelines

* Recognition for writing achievements

* Other people who have as many characters in their heads as you and therefore don’t find you a bit odd

How To Books:

* Techniques of The Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain

University of Oklahoma Press: Norman  ISBN # 0-8061-1191-7

* Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass, Writer’s Digest, ISBN # 0-89879-995-3

* The Complete Writer’s Guide to heroes & Heroines, Tami Cowden, ISBN #1-58065-024-4

* Building Believable Characters, Marc McCutcheon, Writer’s Digest ISBN # 0-89879-683-0

* Creating Characters, How To Build Story People, Dwight V. Swain, Writer’s Digest

ISBN #0-89879-417-X


* Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

* Random House Dictionary of the English Language, unabridged edition

* Roget’s International Thesaurus


* Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, Henriette Anne Klauser

ISBN # 0-06-254490-X

I wouldn’t have been published when I was if I hadn’t found Heartland Writers Group, joined Romance Writers of America, and learned the techniques of writing with the support and encouragement of fellow writers. I’ve been a member since 1988 and still attend monthly meetings and am involved in a weekly critique group.

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24 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John Reveals The Secret to Getting Published”

  1. Hi Cher, great post and full of wonderful reminders. I just want to smack people who offhandedly say Oh I could do that, when I mention I write romance novels. Yeah? Then just do it!

    I learned so much about grammar and good writing by teaching Freshmen English. But even then, I knew almost nothing LOL. Joining RWA local chapters was the best move I ever made. And made good friends, too. oxoxoxoxoxox

  2. Great info Cheryl, thanks so much. Joining a local chapter of any writing group is out where I live,
    so I guess I will have to just continue onward.

    And no, sitting down and writing is not easy! My hat goes off to you ladies!

  3. Here, here, Cheryl! You’ve summed it up beautifully. And I’ll raise my hand, too, that joining my local RWA chapter is one big reason that I’m published.

  4. Cher,

    I am so glad that you done this post. Alot of people do not understand how hard it is to get published but perservance is the key.

    I want to say thank you for helping me so much. You are a wealth of knowledge. I took your advice and I am now a member of Romance Writers of America.

    Thank you my dear friend,

    Walk in harmony,

  5. Mastering the writing craft is as difficult as mastering any other craft. It takes passion, dedication, and good old fashioned hard work. And even after you get a good handle on it, you still have to learn how to position yourself in the publishing world. No easy task. Thanks, Cheryl for sharing your thoughts on this.

    And for the readers who don’t have a local chapter near them, don’t dispair. Many national organizations have wonderful online support with e-mail loops, writing courses, and online critique groups. Almost all of my support comes from online sources. My critique group is online and my professional relationships nearly all started with e-mail conversations.

    And don’t forget the value of conferences. Nothing helps you get past the slush pile more readily than meeting with an agent or editor face-to-face at a professional conference. This is exactly what kick-started my career.

  6. Great post, Cheryl, one every hopeful writer should read. I sold my first book, a huge historical saga, way back when those were selling. Then I had to pretty much restart my career when the “hot”romances took over. Every word of your blog is hard-won truth!
    May I add a book to your list? Sol Stein’s STEIN ON WRITING is the best book on style and voice I’ve ever read.

  7. Bravo, Cheryl! Inspiration is a gift. Discipline is a choice. But technique has to be learned.

    My favorite craft books are by Jack Bickham. Without his work, I’d have never gotten past Chapter Three of Book #1. I sold before I joined RWA, but I’ll be forever grateful for the wisdom that came at that time. I couldn’t have written Book #2 without support from fellow authors.

    Have a great day!

  8. Cheryl, this is a goldmine of information. I wish I’d have known some of this when I was trying to write and sell. Hopefully, your blog will help a struggling writer.

    Good job!

  9. Hi Cher- WELL SAID! You’ve done a great job explaining the basics of writing a novel. And I have to say I feel lucky because of Margaret Brownley (Margaret- are you out there?) that I learned much about RWA and the basics of writing early on. It was a bit overwhelming and for those who think they can easily do it, I say give it a try and then get back to me in oh, say five years.

  10. LOL, Tanya, on wanting to smack those who speak so
    readily of writing when they don’t know what actually goes into being an author! I once upon a
    time thought I might dabble in writing, but was I
    ever clueless! I was truly a “babe in the woods”
    who was educated through the blogsites and websites of authors like yourselves. I know now that it is not something you can pick up and “Voila!” you are an author. I stand in awe of all of you!! Thanks, Cheryl, for the outstanding information!!

    Pat Cochran

  11. I actually credit (in part) Cheryl St. John with me being published today.
    And it’s all part of the step-by-step learning process.
    I saw her in the newspaper mentioning a local writers group.
    I didn’t know there were WRITER’S GROUPS!

    This was before Google, you know?

    So, somehow I phoned her. Did you put your number in the newspaper, Cheryl? And was that wise? Anyway, however I found her, she told me about the group and I went. I’d never heard of NUTHIN’. I was writing, alone, tossed about on the shores of defeat, waiting to sink like Leo DiCaprio, when I found her, then this group, then Romance Writer’s of America, then American Christian Fiction Writers. Step by step I learned the things I needed to know, made the connections I needed to make, earned the writing credits I needed to have, to be a published author.

    I will admit here that I think I did everything in the slowest, most diffcult way possible.

    I found writer’s contests, online classes, critique groups.

    And it all started with Cheryl. Who is, no doubt, kicking herself for answering the phone. 🙂

  12. I am not a writer and though I’d like to be one, it isn’t going to happen. That being said, you have given some excellent advice. I have a few friends that have written “The Great Book” and are very put out that that one submission was rejected. Reminding them that now famous authors took years to get published doesn’t seem to make a difference. They are still upset and angry that publishers can’t see their genius.
    The definitely need to read you post. Also if anyone is interested, Emily Bryan has had several good posts on finding an agent and publisher, editing, and the most recent was on writing a query letter. Her RED PENCIL THURSDAYS, today is the second one, are great for seeing how to critic and edit.
    She doesn’t do Westerns, but the ideas and suggestions work no matter what genre you are writing in.

  13. Thanks to my Filly sisters for stoppin in today!

    Mary, I was probably listed as the contact person fo the chapter at that time. Remember when not everyone had email? I really age myself when I mention things like that. There was no internet when I joined RWA. I located people via their addresses and phone numbers and only met other authors at national conference.

    I don’t think you can credit me for you getting published though. You were the one with eighteen finished manuscripts in a drawer–and not a bad one in the bunch.

    I checked out Emily’s blog, Patricia. Looks really good! Thanks.

  14. Really good post. The first book I wrote was rejected by seven publishers, then I met an editor at a RWA chapter conference and she bought it the next week. Obviously I’m a big fan of RWA and its chapters. I think one of the first lessons every writer has to learn is that not everyone is going to think your baby is beautiful. Maybe because your child has red hair, and she/he likes dark hair. Everyone has different tastes, and that includes editors. Some like Alpha heroes, some Beta, which is why it is really not good to give up after one try.

  15. You can never, ever underestimate the importance of a great mentor! Can’t thank you enough, Cheryl. Wonderful blog and great advice, as always 🙂

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