How Can I Get Published? by Cheryl St.John

Yesterday I received my Harlequin Worldbeat Author Newsletter. Each addition includes kudos for milestones. Here are a few impressive stats:

95th Book

110th Book

160th Book

205th Book


Impressed much?


That got me to thinking about how many of us are not living up to our potential.

As authors, one of the questions we hear most frequently is, “How can I get published?” You know those mega writers hear it all the time. 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 traditionally 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 a book before, I’m pretty sure 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. 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 Darren McFadden on my next summer vacation.”


Writing 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 and readers to come back for more, you must commit to both the craft and to learning about publishing.


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

* Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell ISBN #1-58297-294-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

* On Writing, Stephen King


First you need to figure out which 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, America Christian Fiction Writers. You might find a local statewide writers’ organization.


You 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


Local writing retreats

Monthly support meetings

Critique groups

Online support and brainstorming

Teaching programs by professional writers

Research help and tips

Yearly goal setting program

Conference information

Editor and agent tips

Submission guidelines

Recognition for writing achievements


Others have as many characters in their heads as you & therefore don’t consider you a lunatic


Be a learner. If you ever think you know it all, there’s a problem. Be willing to take instruction. If you’re saving or printing how-to articles and pouring over them, you’re on the right track. Take every class available. In social situations with authors, be a good listener. You will often learn as much at lunch as you will in a workshop.


Be willing to write badly.  Be willing to make mistakes.  Even the NYT best sellers started at the same point you’re at. Get the words on the page and then fix them–or do it better the next time.


Be a friend and an encouragement to others. I’m a firm believer that what goes around comes around. Choose your friends and critique partners wisely. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people who lift you up.


Set goals and mark them out in your datebook. Share them and ask a friend to hold you accountable.


Believe in yourself. People might tell you your goal is impossible to achieve. Others might criticize your genre or your dogged determination. Someone along the way will likely hurt your feelings. So believe in yourself, even if you’re the only one who does.


How many of you have a book inside, but have never taken the first steps?


How many are just learning the ropes?


Anyone have sound advice to add?