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21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors

A lot of people think they can write or paint or draw or sing or make movies or what-have-you, but having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell fifty million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Wayearned him a sprawling rejection letter regarding the reasons he should simply give up writing all together. Tim Burton’s first illustrated book, The Giant Zlig, got the thumbs down from Walt Disney Productions, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial On the Road received a particularly blunt rejection letter that simply read, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

So even if you’re an utterly fantastic writer who will be remembered for decades forthcoming, you’ll still most likely receive a large dollop of criticism, rejection, and perhaps even mockery before you get there. Having been through it all these great writers offer some writing tips without pulling punches. After all, if a publishing house is going to tear into your manuscript you might as well be prepared.

1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy
3. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker
4. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux
5. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee
6. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London
7. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell
8. There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
9. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King
10. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman
11. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright
12. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser
13. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut
14. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway
15. Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway
16. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk
17. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
18. Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman
19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde
20. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury
21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman
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The Importance of a Private Writing Habit

Writing has become very public these days. We write on Twitter and Facebook, on blogs and in emails. We work hard to write well, be clever, capture attention, and because we’re good at writing, we’re often successful.

It feels like writing, doesn’t it? That series of events,  write-post-garner attention-repeat, feels just like the experience of writing some other piece of writing and getting it out in the world and capturing attention.

The problem is that offering every thought up for public consumption often drains them all of depth. Another problem is that those polished jewels you’ve tossed out to Twitter/etc have used up a bunch of creative energy you might have spent on your actual writing.

Obviously, none of us are going to give up public writing. It has become part of our lives. Here I am, writing a blog (and enjoying it, just so you know).  This morning, I wrote a bunch of Facebook posts, and I’ll avidly check back to see if anyone has responded.  That’s what we do now.  That’s what I do.

If writing is important to you—and you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t—you should have a private writing practice as well as all that public work. Call it a journal. Call it a writer’s notebook. A diary. Lots of people are keeping bullet journals these days, and writing in them with their juicy fountain pens and special ink (my current favorite is Walden ink, with a Noodler’s Ahab Flex), which I think is a big plus—writing by hand is a way to access different pathways in the brain. Writing by hand is very personal, intimate, and creates a compelling emotional record over time.

The idea of a writer’s notebook has been with us for a long time. Mark Twain kept a notebook for most of his life, starting when he was twenty-one and couldn’t remember the instructions at a job.  He eventually filled over 40 pocket notebooks,

“with observations of people he met, thoughts on religion and politics, drawings and sketches of what he saw on his travels, potential plots for books, and even ideas for inventions (he filed 3 patents during his lifetime). Many of his entries consist of the short, witty, pithy sentences he is famous for. He felt that if he did not write such things down as they came to his mind he would quickly forget them. He would also record little snippets in his notebooks of what had happened that day, such as what he had eaten and who he had seen. And finally, he wrote dirty jokes in the back of them.” (from The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

On LitHub, Dustin Illlingsworth said of writer’s notebooks:

“…what we find within their pages are wild, shapeless, violent things; elegant confessions and intricate codes; portraits of anguish; topographies of mind. Prayers, experiments, lists, rivalries, and rages are all at home here, interbred, inextricable from one another. A piece of petty gossip sits astride a transcendent realization. A proclamation of self-loathing becomes a paean to literary art. News of publication shares the page with the most banal errands imaginable.”  

Just like life.

A writer’s notebook is meant to be everything, anything. A place to meander, to think, to wail and gnash teeth, to experiment and play. It’s a private log of your own life, whatever bits of it you want to set down. It’s meant to be about you.

In perhaps the best exploration of the subject, “On Keeping a Notebook,” from Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion writes,

      “We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing…Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout.

       “And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.’”

(I love that she lived in my town once upon a time, that she went to my same school for second grade. We washed our hands at the same restroom sinks, many decades apart, but it links us. Maybe some of her writing magic lingered and soaked into my skin through some creative alchemy.)

That viewpoint of ourselves, looking at the world through our own eyes and recording whatever we see, whatever we feel, leads to voice, the one and only thing that belongs to one and only us.

In a world increasingly public, that feels urgently important. If you’re always posing for the world, polishing clever sound bites, taking the elegant selfie, how can you know what you feel, or where you feel it, or how it burns, if you are not perfect? How can you experience your own rabid jealousy or howling broken-heartedness or sour pettiness?

If you don’t know it, feel it, see it and taste it, how will you write it into a character?

I challenge you to start a writing practice, or get back to one if you’ve drifted away. Get yourself a notebook—it doesn’t matter what kind. I like Moleskines because they’re flexible and come in many sizes and they have ruled pages that are just right for my handwriting. You might like a dot grid or blank.  One of my sons carries around tiny Field Books and writes in teeny handwriting in them. It doesn’t matter, but there can be some pleasure in finding something you like. Probably better if it isn’t fancy, because then you’ll want your thoughts to be all shiny and precise and that’s not what this is about. You want to give yourself permission to be messy or mean or petty if the day requires it. Also find a pen. This does matter a bit—if it feels good to write your words, you’ll do more of it.  Gel pens are often really easy to write with and cheap.

Start carrying around that notebook and that pen and when you have coffee, write for awhile instead of checking email or obsessively scrolling through Twitter on your phone. Then, take five minutes at the end of the day to write down what it was like to live this day.  What did you do in the morning, and the afternoon, and the evening?  What did you learn?  A sentence will do.

Do it every day. Find a way to keep that notebook at the ready, so that you can see what you see when you look into the world— if you and I sat side by side at a coffeeshop and wrote about the scene in front of us, we would seize upon different details. I’ll find the turquoise blouse. You’ll go for the smell of the coffee and how it reminds you of waking up in the morning for school when you were a child and breakfast was served on a red formica table.  Go with it, wherever it goes.   

In the moment… I am watching my dogs tear up another quilt I brought home from Goodwill. I should stop buying them, but I hate it when they have to sleep on the plain floor.

If it feels intimidating, try using prompts, such as those found in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, a wonderful book about the writer’s notebook.  Poke around online and read what other writers have written into their notebooks and journals.

Do you keep a notebook? Have you done so in the past?  What are your favorite writer’s notebooks? 


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Nothing is more oppressive than the blank white screen of a Microsoft Word document. If you preach regularly, you know the feeling already. Your deadline (the weekend service) is coming, and you’re trying to craft a message that will capture the truth of God’s word, and yet so far all you are looking at is a blank screen and a blinking cursor. Here’s the bad news first: The oppressive white Word screen is even worse when writing a book. Where sermons have a hard deadline that passes and then you move on, books—especially when self-published—have deadlines that stretch on forever, and you can always wonder whether what you’ve written is any good.

The good news (sort of): Writing a book is hard for everyone, even that bestselling novelist you love. The more you do it, though, the more you learn to embrace the creative tension, knowing this is the path toward writing something good. So if you’re thinking about writing a book, or are currently banging your head against your MacBook in despair, here are seven quick thoughts on how to make the writing process flow as smoothly as possible.


To quickly state the obvious: Your book’s kingdom value is directly connected to how in tune with the presence of God you are. Before you start your writing project, spend significant time asking God to birth a vision in you of what He’d want you to say.


Be able to state in one sentence (no run-ons!) what your book is about—you’ve probably heard that before; but then write another short sentence explaining why your book matters. Why is this important enough for you to spend hours working on it? What is—as Bill Hybels once said—your “holy discontent”?


Who are you writing for? Do these people know you? Are they strangers? Are they committed followers of Christ, casual church attenders or spiritual seekers? What age are they? Get an image of two to three people you know who are your ideal audience, and as you write, write to them.


Remember in middle school when you had to turn in an outline for your research paper? Turns out that was good training. In the same way you (hopefully!) wouldn’t get up and wing a 40-minute sermon, don’t sit down and write blind. Start by outlining your chapters, and then outline a broad path you’d like to see each chapter take.


If you’re writing a fiction book, or the history of the Peloponnesian War, ignore this; however, if you’re writing a book designed to unpack a theological concept for the purpose of life change, then structure your book the way you would a sermon series. Give each chapter a beginning, middle and end. With each chapter, create a tension up front, show what God’s word says about it, then walk people through the ramifications of that.

Each chapter should be unified by a common theme, just like in a sermon series. Even better is if each chapter builds on the one before. Maybe think of it like an episode of a really great TV show. Each episode has its own plot that you’re riveted by, but these episodes slowly advance the bigger, season-wide story.

Sometimes it’s easy to be discouraged when you write something, read it and immediately know it’s terrible. Many people will wait to write until they have a burst of inspiration. It’s easy to think that the great writers just sit down and brilliance spills out of their first drafts, but this is never true.

Every great writer will tell you their works don’t take shape until the second or third draft. What this means for you is: 1) write regularly, preferably every day if possible, and 2) edit, edit and re-edit. Frequent writing will help you improve your skill, and frequent editing will help you get a sense of what is working, what isn’t and what you are really wanting to say.


When you’re finished with your book—or even just a chapter—find people you trust, have them read it and listen to their feedback. Encourage them to tell you what parts they loved, but also ask them if there were any spots where they felt lost or got distracted.

What you’ll usually find is while people’s suggestions on how to improve may differ (and sometimes be unhelpful), they usually will agree on what to improve. If two to three people all mention a specific section as an area of improvement, a place they were confused or a time they got distracted, then know something needs to change with that section.

These are just a few quick tips on how to navigate writing your book. It’s hard work, but it’s also worth it. If God has given you a burden, then write with authority, believing He’ll use your work to make a difference. Get started today by downloading the Free Self-Publishing Guide.

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Should Pastors Sell & Promote Their Books?

Pastors who sell their books are only in it for the money,” said one disgruntled blogger. He added, “Why do they always have to mention their ‘new’ book?”

Whether it’s a marketing agency that pushes a book to the top, or blogs rebuking slick marketing campaigns designed to create urgency—the question, “Should pastors sell and promote their books?” comes up often.

An email from a large publisher prompted the completion of my last book, Desperate for More of God. Their interest motivated me to finish the manuscript. For that, I am forever thankful. But as the process of publication moved on, they decided to drop the project. Their email read, “Let me start with the bottom line. I don’t think I can move this proposal forward to committee at this time.”

While he liked “Desperate” as an angle, he didn’t think that the book was marketable, or that it addressed a “felt” need. While the word “desperate” draws attention, sadly, “more of God” is not what many are desperate for, according to this publisher.

Why am I sharing this you? To illustrate the fact that we can sometimes be more concerned about marketing than about helping people. As an author, my job is to give the reader what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. If our focus is on marketing instead of people, it will tip the scale in the wrong direction.

Before asking if a book “pops” or if its “marketable,” I ask, “Will it truly help people in their walk with God?” And what is affordable and what is extravagant.

How can we promote books and resources, while at the same time, honor God? Here is a helpful checklist to keep integrity at the forefront:

  1. Is there accountability in place from those who are not “yes” men? Seek godly counsel on a regular basis from mature believers who can help direct your steps. All that we do and say should reflect the integrity and seriousness of our message (cf. Titus 2:7).
  2. Is this something Jesus would endorse? Before asking if a book is marketable and relevant, we should ask, “Does it glorify Christ? Is it consistent with Christian character? Will it send the right message? Will it cause others to stumble or think less of the gospel?”
  3. Is your goal name recognition or to honor God?
  4. How can we bless the less fortunate … those who may not be able to afford copies? My policy has been to try and give away more than I sell, and to sell them at a fair price. When Desperate for More of God was posted on Kindle, many well meaning people told me that the price was too low, but it has helped many people. I’d rather reach more people and make less money than visa versa. Granted, no one in perfect in this area — all of us fight against the pull of the flesh.
  5. Make sure, without a shadow of doubt, that God is leading you. Many books are written for name recognition and financial gain, but many are not. Use wisdom, examine motives, and ask, “Is God truly directing me? Are my actions consistent with Scripture?”
  6. Look to the Word first and foremost for direction, wisdom, and discernment. Many questions about integrity, marketability, and stewardship would be answered if we simply looked to God’s Word instead of the world for the answers.
  7. If in doubt, footnote.

In general, our culture is looking for authenticity — even they understand that a compromised life sends a compromised message.

A.W. Tozer noted, “Where does Christianity destroy itself in a given generation? It destroys itself by not living in the light, by professing a truth it does not obey.”

What an insightful perspective, especially for us today.

We shouldn’t immediately assume that most authors are in it for the money. Scripture encourages us to err on the side of grace, not judgment. If an author writes something noteworthy that will benefit readers, God may want to promote it. Christian authors rarely make a living selling books. Most simply want to help people, but someone has to cover the shipping, printing, and production cost of the book.

In Matthew 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and “drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” These money changers were taking advantage of the people; they were using God’s house to manipulate. This is not a proof text against offering helpful resources to those in need. If an author offers a good book for a good price the choice is left up to the consumer to purchase it or not. This is a much different setting than the setting and context of Matthew 21:12.

The Bible is our guide and should be read more than any other book, but people like the Puritans, A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, D. Lloyd-Jones, E.M. Bounds, and so on offer wonderful insight … their resources have helped countless people. Surely we wouldn’t neglect godly counsel in person, why neglect it in book form. Granted, there are “Christian” authors who take advantage of people and whose books should be avoided, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Pastors are not CEOs or business executives; we are called to lead people in complete surrender to Christ. Jesus must increase as we decrease. Many are missing the mark in this area and do need to be challenged from time to time. But let’s remove the spirit of judgmentalism that immediately assumes that an author is “in it for the money” because they write a book.

Christians are fallible and make mistakes. We should consider the total portrait of one’s life, character, and ministry and evaluate on that basis. A few poor choices over the course of many years shouldn’t define a person. One’s life and character speak volumes as to the sincerity of his or her ministry. We should extend to others the same grace that we desire.

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10 Reasons Christians Should Affirm Women as Pastors & Preachers

I’ve heard a lot of arguments as to why women are prohibited from teaching and preaching.

Just kidding.

There aren’t a lot of arguments– there’s just a lot of people quoting a couple of passages from Paul’s epistles in a way they believe “proves” that ministry positions which involve leading men, or teaching or preaching to men, is a boys-only job.

Here’s 10 reasons why I think today’s Christians should be affirming and supporting women serving in church leadership, whether it’s leading, teaching, or preaching the Gospel:

10.  The testimony of Scripture bears witness to female leadership in both the Old Testament and the early Church.

The Bible, as a whole, was written over a considerable span of time and from within various ancient cultures– most of which were patriarchal and viewed women as radically inferior at best. And while the Bible has plenty of traces of those ancient mindsets about women, it is also true that we see God raise up strong female leaders both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament church.

If women are forbidden from teaching or leading men, God really messed up by letting those parts get included.

9. Jesus trained female disciples– and they were the most loyal ones.

The men?

They fell asleep when he begged them to keep him company. One betrayed him. His right-hand-man publicly denied him three times. The rest abandoned him in his most critical moment. In fact, one of them even ran away naked (Mark 14:51-52).

But his female disciples?

The last people at the cross? Women.

First people at the tomb? The women.

8. God chose two women to become the first evangelists who proclaimed the Gospel– and they proclaimed it to men.

The Gospel, by definition, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the “Good News” we are called to preach to the ends of the earth.

And who were the first ones to preach it? You guessed it– the female disciples were the very first to proclaim the Good News, and they proclaimed it to the men.

7. Paul was not writing a manifesto to every church in every time, but wrote to specific churches facing specific issues that are not completely known to us.

The argument against women teaching, preaching, or leading in church, is often centered around a few passages from Paul. But here’s the problem: Paul wasn’t writing a general manifesto on how all churches should be run in all times and all cultures, and I think he’d be aghast that we often treat it that way.

“Epistles” mean “letters”. Paul was writing specific letters to specific people and specific house churches. He addressed their specific questions and their specific challenges– and we don’t always know for sure what those were, or what situations he intended specific advice/instructions to be applied in. Since we are not the people Paul was writing to, and our church context is not the same as theirs, it would be dangerous at best to approach his letters as being blanket prescriptions for all times and circumstances.

6. If Paul was issuing a decree for all churches in all times, he completely contradicts himself in the same letter and elsewhere.

Paul says that women should be “silent” in church, you say? Well, in his letters he references female church leaders and references women prophesying in church. If his other statements were intended to be blanket prescriptions for all circumstances, even hemissed the memo.

5. The cultural context of Paul’s letters must be considered—some instructions were clearly meant to be applied within a specific cultural context.

Try this: the next time some guy says that women can’t preach and “God’s word never changes” and that we’re supposed to just “read and obey what’s written”, ask him if he kisses other men when he says hello to them at church– because Paul says to do that in 2 Corinthians 12:12.

You’ll demonstrate the point on how we all– even fundamentalists– seem to innately realize that the context of a passage matters.

4. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is free to go where it wills.

Teaching is a gift that is ultimately given to believers by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus describes the Spirit as one who is free to go where the spirit goes (John 3:8). Who are we to limit the authority of the Holy Spirit by claiming that the Spirit is only allowed to gift men to preach and lead the Church?

3. The Bible never commands us to abandon evidence and reason, but commands us to consider them.

On my own journey out of fundamentalist Christianity, it was being confronted with the clear and undeniable evidence that women can be equally gifted as men to teach and preach the Gospel that became the sticking point I couldn’t ignore. Seriously, listen to a few sermons by Brenda Salter McNeil and tell me women can’t preach.

The Bible invites us to reason. It commands us to test everything and then look at the evidence. One cannot survey the evidence honestly and walk away with any conclusion other than women– especially Brenda Salter McNeil– have *clearly* been gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach to the body of believers.

2. God gives people gifts with the intent they be used– not squelched. 

What would be the point of God gifting and equipping someone with a clear gift, and then prohibit them from using it? (Oh, and don’t tell me they can be gifted but can only preach at women’s conferences). The entire point of a gift is to remove it from the bushel that we or others use to obscure and hide it, and to then use that gift to grow God’s kingdom as far and as wide as we can.

1. Our mission is far too critical to exclude gifted teachers and leaders.

As Christians, we need to ask ourselves an honest question: Do we believe our mission to the world is urgent and critical, or not?

Do we really believe all that jazz when we talk about making Christ known among the nations, and when we say there’s no time to waste?

If we do– if we *really* believe in the calling to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if we *really* believe our mission is critical and time sensitive, why in the world would we want (or think God wants) to silence half of the people who are best gifted and equipped to actually do it?

Dr. Benjamin L. Corey
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17 Reasons Pastors Should Write a Book

Pastor, you shepherd a church looking to you for leadership and spiritual guidance. Your days are packed with innumerable opportunities to influence and communicate God’s Truth.

So why, with your busy job and maxed-out social calendar, would you ever want to take the time to write a book? Glad you asked!

Here are 17 reasons every pastor should consider writing a book:

#1. Writing a book can increase the audience your message can reach

#2. Your message isn’t “cut-short” or minimized by a preaching clock

#3. A book is another way to pastor your church … not everyone is an auditory learner

#4. You will leave a legacy beyond your years

#5. A writing project can deeply motivate and get you up in the morning

#6. Writing will significantly expand your sermon repertoire

#7. You join a massive and historic church tradition dating back centuries

#8. Writing a book will increase clarity of thought and teach you to zero-in on your point

#9. Working on a book will give you daily inspiration to share with your congregation

#10. A book has great power to change minds, relationships, lives, and eternal destinations

#11. You will learn to study better, research harder, and become more studious

#12. Publishing a book will increase your credibility as a pastor and leader

#13. You will inspire young pastors both in your community as well as globally

#14. Publishing a book is more clear and less expensive than ever

#15. Launching a book can unite your church community as they join your call

#16. God’s work in your life and community will be preserved well beyond your church name

#17. God’s message has never been easy to communicate, but that doesn’t make it any less important to do your best to reach the most people

Now you know why pastors write, but do you know how to get started?

Equip Press was created to come alongside pastors and church leaders to help with everything from writing ideas to distribution and marketing. Get started today and download the free Self-Publishing Guide.


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10 Steps To Getting A Literary Agent

Last time, we covered 10 Steps to Writing a Novel. This time, it’s 10 Steps to getting a literary agent, though I have to warn you, the most important steps are the novel-writing ones.

1. Finish the book

You will annoy everybody you query if your novel isn’t finished. You want to be in the position where you can press ‘send’ as soon as an agent requests the full. If a waitress in a restaurant reads you the specials and you ordered one, then she returned to your table to tell you it would be four weeks, how would you feel? Quite annoyed. I had full requests within hours of emailing. Be prepared!

2. But don’t never finish the book

You’ll reach a stage where you are just tinkering. You take a comma out, you put it back. You can always better your prose – I just got the second round of edits from my publisher and still changed a couple of sentences that there was nothing truly wrong with – but you need to get to the point where you say ‘enough’s enough’, query, and leave well alone.

3. Research your agents

A good author friend of mine recommends batches of five. This way, you always have a few irons in the fire but you’re not spamming every agent in London, and, if you get a handful of rejections, you have some more agents you can query when you’ve maybe done some editing. So choose five agents who:

a. represent your genre – preferably they will explicitly state this on their submission guidelines, Twitter, or their manuscript wish lists.

b. you think would like your book. Thanks to the internet, there are myriad ways to ascertain this. My agent is on Goodreads, for example, and it’s pretty easy for me to see we have very similar tastes.

c. have a track record. They don’t have to have sold a novel to a publishing house personally (we all start somewhere… I think as long as an agent is supported by a reputable agency it doesn’t matter that they’re just starting out. They will have the agency’s name attached to their submissions and being junior may mean they have more time for you) but I looked for agents from a reputable agency who had great sales track records.

Agents often are quite public about looking for very specific things, so I followed a lot of them on social media when I was writing and took note of any who were looking for books that sounded like mine (and then when I was querying I stalked them and interpreted tweets like ‘having a great day!’ to mean ‘I love your submission, Gilly!’)

4. Write a synopsis

Oh, doom, I know. A synopsis is a horrible thing. I keep mine factual and I do spoil the ending in it. It’s a statement, really, of what actually happens in your book. You can include a note at the end stating that it includes themes of motherhood, or whatever, but what I think the synopsis should actually do is chart your main plot arc. Whether or not I include sub plots depends on how big a role they play in the main plot. If it’s just a best friend with her own small story arc I leave it out. If it’s that the heroine’s father dies which had a huge impact on a relationship story line, I include it.

A synopsis should be about a page. It shouldn’t take long. Many agents say that they look at the query letter, and then the chapters, and the synopsis is only there for reassurance that your contemporary romance isn’t going to have vampires appearing halfway through, so don’t worry.

5. Write a query letter

I found the internet kind of overwhelming when it came to querying. There was so much information out there that it made the task seem somehow more important than it really was. The aim of this is to write a professional letter that conceptualises what your book is about. That’s all. It should be personalised (Dear Joe Bloggs) and signed off formally (Kind regards, or some such). I used this format:

a. A paragraph about why I wanted to work with that agent. I made it very specific, because (see point 3), I had chosen these agents specifically. Maybe you love a book by one of their clients or they wrote a brilliant article in the bookseller or they’re great at Twitter or they’ve said they’re looking for crime thrillers…

b. My elevator pitch/blurb. I kept this pretty short. This is the hook of your book. If this was Harry Potter, it would be: Harry receives a letter inviting him to go to a witchcraft school, where the magical community is at war with an evil wizard. For The Girl On The Train, this would be: Rachel is on the train to work one morning, looking in at the houses along her commute, when she sees something suspicious. I then added a sentence which described where the book was going (he discovers that the wizard who killed his parents must be avenged by he alone/a woman is missing; does Rachel hold the key to discovering who is responsible?) and one more summing up what sort of book it was (it is middle-grade fiction/it is commercial women’s fiction) and the word count.

c. A very short sentence about me. I just said what I did for a living and where I lived. Do not include writing credits unless you have done something amazing.

6. Look at your first three chapters

If, at any point when you are writing your synopsis and query letter, you think ‘man, I wish I could send chapter 12, 14 and 29!’ then something has gone wrong. Your first three chapters should be sparkly, enticing and brilliant. They should begin with the call to action. They shouldn’t (in my opinion) really include any backstory at all, and it should be show show show, no telling. As a side note – and I know I’m not agent – I have discarded published books for these things:

a. dream sequences

b. chase scenes where the reader does not know or care who is being chased

c. swear words

d. alarm clocks/hero/heroine waking up/wondering where they are

e. huge amounts of exposition

f. a book that begins too early, working itself up to the action

g. phonetic spellings of sounds

7. Put it together and what have you got?

Send the synopsis, first three chapters, and query off to your five chosen agents. ADDRESS THEM ALL PERSONALLY AND DO NOT BLIND CARBON COPY THEM ALL IN. I pasted the body of my query letter in to an email, because attaching a Word document letter just felt too old school.

Keep a spreadsheet. The agent, the agency, the date you sent it, and their response times (usually listed on their websites). I then made an excel formula which told me on which date I could chase, because I am like this.

8. Be professional in all dealings

When you get a rejection, don’t argue. When you get a full request, just send the book with a normal email. (no OMG-ing)

9. When an agent wants to talk…

… They do not ALWAYS want to offer representation (take it from somebody who went to a meeting with somebody I thought would offer and then cried so much on the train journey home that a LONDONER asked me if I was okay). They sometimes want to see what sort of a person you are, or if you might be willing to do a big edit before signing, or anything, really. Stay professional. My agent offered at the end of our meeting. Once she had sussed me out. (I kept my craziness under wraps).

10. If they offer representation…

… Have a really big think. I cannot stress enough how important your agent will become to your writing career.

This is the person who will pitch your work to editors before going on submission, champion you at book fairs, call you with good news, bad news, sales figures, negotiate your royalty rates, weigh in on your idea for your next novel (and the one after that…), etc etc. It’s tempting – and exciting – to accept the first offer without thinking, but stop and ponder.

For further insight into the author/agent relationship, Gilly also took the time to interview her agent. Read her short interview with Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson here.

Gilly McAllister is an author with her debut novel to be published by Michael Joseph Penguin next year, lawyer and professional worrier. She is owned by a large ginger tom cat. She tweets from @Billygean

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Write Something That Will Change Your Life

It seems like a tall order, to write something that will change your life. And it is. But I think it’s still worth striving for.

By changing your life, I don’t necessarily mean that you have to write something that will earn you lots of money so you can buy an island or even enough money that you can quit your day job. Although, if becoming rich (or rich enough) is important to you, then that’s fine too.

And that’s the point, to write something that is important to you, something that comes from your heart, something that means a lot to you. As I said, money might be important to you, but it might be worth digging deeper to ask why money would be important.

If you want to use the money to buy a house for each of your kids, then it’s not the money that’s so important but your family’s long-term security. If it is an island you want, then maybe that’s because of your love for nature, quiet and rest.

It’s not always so easy to know what’s truly important to you, but there are—of course—some useful exercises to help determine your deeply held values.

1. Ambitions

We develop many of our most important values at an early age, and one way to find out what matters to you most is to go back and try to remember what your ambitions were as a child.

Think back to when you were young. What did you imagine your future would be like? Did you want a happy life with a family? Did you have a hero, someone you wanted to be like when you grew up? If so, what qualities did that person have that you admired?

Use these questions to write a few lines about your ambitions as a child. From your answers, you should already get a sense of what is most important to you. It could be that family, career, justice, or friendship is what matters most. Other values could be anything from adventure and assertiveness to sexuality and spirituality.

2. The interview

Even if you only write in those few spare moments you have in the week, it’s still useful to think of your work as an author as a career. What, for example, do you want to achieve with your writing? And what special skills do you have to make that happen?

Imagine you’re preparing for a job interview to be an author, your kind of author. Think about some of the following questions and even make short notes if you want.

  • What are your most important personal qualities for this job? As with a real interview, find specific examples of when you displayed these qualities in the past.
  • Why is writing important to you?
  • What would you like your readers to say about you?
  • What would you like other writers to say about you?
  • If you had to have a personal motto, what would it be?

3. The speech

It’s your 90th birthday, and you’re a successful author. The people close to you have organized a party. Imagine then that one of them, the person most important to you—either in your personal life or your writing career—gives a speech. What would they say about your life? What did you stand for? How did you make a difference?

You could write the whole speech or just answer those few questions.

These exercises will give you an indication of what’s most important in your life. Look for recurring themes from all these answers and identify the most important values to you. Examples of typical values not already mentioned are: fairness, responsibility, kindness, safety, romance, conformity, gratitude, and humor.

You can use these values to give your writing direction, to write about the things that matter to you, to make the kind of change—in your life and others—that you would like to see. These are the principles that guide you through your life and which can inspire your writing.

The recent increase in popularity of feelgood books in the so-called up-lit genre—Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Jamie Thurston’s Kindness, the Little Things that Matter—make use of qualities like kindness and gratitude.

So, if, for example, family is an important value for you, you could explore that in your writing, perhaps by having a main character who ignores her family only to finally have to turn to the unconditional support of her family. If fairness is an important value, you could test your hero’s commitment to always being fair, and show that it was the right way to go despite being confronted with many difficulties and dilemmas along the way.


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10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book

The hard part of writing a book isn’t getting published. It’s the actual writing. In this article, I offer 10 steps for writing a book along with 10 bonus steps. To download them all, click here.

As the bestselling author of five books, I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest part of a writer’s job is sitting down to do the work. Books don’t just write themselves, after all. You have to invest everything you are into creating an important piece of work.

For years, I dreamed of being a professional writer. I believed I had important things to say that the world needed to hear. But as I look back on what it really takes to become an author, I realize how different the process was from my expectations.

To begin with, you don’t just sit down to write a book. That’s not how writing works. You write a sentence, then a paragraph, then maybe if you’re lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in fits and starts, in bits and pieces. It’s a process.

The way you get the work done is not complicated. You take one step at a time, then another and another. As I look back on the books I’ve written, I can see how the way they were made was not as glamorous as I once thought.

How to really write a book

In this post, I’ll teach you the fundamental steps you need to write a book. I’ve worked hard to make this easy to digest and super practical, so you can start making progress.

And just a heads up: if you dream of authoring a bestselling book like I have and you’re looking for a structured plan to guide you through the writing process, I have a special opportunity for you at the end of this post where I break the process down.

But first, let’s look at the big picture. What does it take to write a book? It happens in three phases:

  • Beginning: You have to start writing. This sounds obvious, but it may be the most overlooked step in the process. You write a book by deciding first what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it.
  • Staying motivated: Once you start writing, you will face self-doubt and overwhelm and a hundred other adversaries. Planning ahead for those obstacles ensures you won’t quit when they come.
  • Finishing: Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote. We want to read the one you actually finished, which means no matter what, the thing that makes you a writer is your ability not to start a project, but to complete one.

Below are 10 ridiculously simple tips that fall under each of these three major phases plus an additional 10 bonus tips. I hope they help you tackle and finish the book you dream of writing.

To download a quick reference guide for all 20 writing tips click here to get them all for free.

Phase 1: Getting started

We all have to start somewhere. With writing a book, the first phase is made up of four parts:

1. Decide what the book is about

Good writing is always about something. Write the argument of your book in a sentence, then stretch that out to a paragraph, and then to a one-page outline. After that, write a table of contents to help guide you as you write, then break each chapter into a few sections. Think of your book in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Anything more complicated will get you lost.

2. Set a daily word count goal

John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer and new dad — in other words, he was really busy. Nonetheless, he got up an hour or two early every morning and wrote a page a day. After a couple of years, he had a novel. A page a day is only about 300 words. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum.

3. Set a time to work on your book every day

Consistency makes creativity easier. You need a daily deadline to do your work — that’s how you’ll finish writing a book. Feel free to take a day off, if you want, but schedule that ahead of time. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily. Setting a daily deadline and regular writing time will ensure that you don’t have to think about when you will write. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

4. Write in the same place every time

It doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be different from where you do other activities. Make your writing location a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish this book. Again, the goal here is to not think and just start writing.

Phase 2: Doing the work

Now, it’s time to get down to business. Here, we are going to focus on the next three tips to help you get the book done:

5. Set a total word count

Begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve started writing, you need a total word count for your book. Think in terms of 10-thousand work increments and break each chapter into roughly equal lengths. Here are some general guiding principles:

  • 10,000 words = a pamphlet or business white paper. Read time = 30-60 minutes.
  • 20,000 words = short eBook or manifesto. The Communist Manifesto is an example of this, at about 18,000 words. Read time = 1-2 hours.
  • 40,000–60,000 words = standard nonfiction book / novella. The Great Gatsby is an example of this. Read time = three to four hours.
  • 60,000–80,000 words = long nonfiction book / standard-length novel. Most Malcolm Gladwell books fit in this range. Read time = four to six hours.
  • 80,000 words–100,000 words = very long nonfiction book / long novel. The Four-Hour Work Week falls in this range.
  • 100,000+ words = epic-length novel / academic book / biography. Read time = six to eight hours. The Steve Jobs biography would fit this category.
6. Give yourself weekly deadlines

You need a weekly goal. Make it a word count to keep things objective. Celebrate the progress you’ve made while still being honest about how much work is left to do. You need to have something to aim for and a way to measure yourself. This is the only way I ever get any work done: with a deadline.

7. Get early feedback

Nothing stings worse than writing a book and then having to rewrite it, because you didn’t let anyone look at it. Have a few trusted advisers to help you discern what’s worth writing. These can be friends, editors, family. Just try to find someone who will give you honest feedback early on to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Phase 3: Finishing

How do you know when you’re done? Short answer: you don’t. Not really. So here’s what you do to end this book-writing process well:

8. Commit to shipping

No matter what, finish the book. Set a deadline or have one set for you. Then release it to the world. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it in front of people. Just don’t put it in your drawer. The worst thing would be for you to quit once this thing is written. That won’t make you do your best work and it won’t allow you to share your ideas with the world.

9. Embrace failure

As you approach the end of this project, know that this will be hard and you will most certainly mess up. Just be okay with failing, and give yourself grace. That’s what will sustain you — the determination to continue, not your elusive standards of perfection.

10. Write another book

Most authors are embarrassed by their first book. I certainly was. But without that first book, you will never learn the lessons you might otherwise miss out on. So, put your work out there, fail early, and try again. This is the only way you get better. You have to practice, which means you have to keep writing.

Every writer started somewhere, and most of them started by squeezing their writing into the cracks of their daily lives. That’s how I began, and it may be where you begin, as well. The ones who make it are the ones who show up day after day. You can do the same.

The reason most people never finish their books

Every year, millions of books go unfinished. Books that could have helped people, brought beauty or wisdom into the world. But they never came to be. And in one way or another, the reason is always the same: the author quit.

Maybe you’ve dealt with this. You started writing a book but never completed it. You got stuck and didn’t know how to finish. Or you completed your manuscript but didn’t know what to do after. Worse yet, you wrote a book, but nobody cared about it. Nobody bought or read it.

I’ve been there before.

In fact, the first couple books I wrote didn’t do that well at all — even with a traditional publisher. It took me years to learn this, but here’s what nobody ever told me:

Before you can launch a bestseller, first you have to write one.

What I mean by that is so many writers sit down to write their masterpiece, assuming that’s all there is to it. Just sit down and write. But as I’ve studied the world’s most gifted and successful authors, I’ve noticed this is not what the masters do. They are far more intentional than simply sitting and letting the words flow.

Every great writer needs a system they can trust. You and I are no different. But an author’s system for how they produce bestselling book after bestselling book is not always the easiest thing to access. So, as a matter of survival, I’ve had to figure it out for myself and create a clear book-writing framework that works. This is what I call the “Write a Bestseller Method” which helps me get a book written and ready to launch.

This is the part that I never learned in any English class. Producing work that sells is not just about writing what you think is good. It’s about finding an idea that will both excite you and excite an audience. It’s about being intentional and thinking through the whole process, while having proper accountability to keep you going.

In other words, the writing process matters. It matters a lot. You have to not only finish your book but write one worthy of being sold. And if you want to maximize your chances of finishing your book, you need a proven plan.

Writing books has changed my life. It helped me clarify my thinking, find my calling as an author, and has provided endless opportunities to make an impact on the world and a living for my family.

If you’re serious about doing the same, click here to learn more about the Write a Bestseller Program.

Bonus: 10 more writing tips!

If you need some help staying motivated, here are another 10 tips to help you keep going in the process:

11. Only write one chapter at a time

Write and publish a novel, one chapter at a time, using Amazon Kindle Singles, Wattpad, or sharing with your email list subscribers.

12. Write a shorter book

The idea of writing a 500-page masterpiece can be paralyzing. Instead, write a short book of poems or stories. Long projects are daunting. Start small.

13. Start a blog to get feedback early

Getting feedback early and often helps break up the overwhelm. Start a website on WordPress or Tumblr and use it to write your book a chapter or scene at a time. Then eventually publish all the posts in a hardcopy book. This is a little different than tradition blogging, but the same concepts apply. We created a free tool to help you know when your blog posts are ready to publish. Check out Don’t Hit Publish.

14. Keep an inspiration list

You need it in order to keep fresh ideas flowing. Read constantly, and use a system to capture, organize and find the content you’ve curated. I use Evernote, but use a system that works for you.

15. Keep a journal

Then, rewrite the entries in a much more polished book format, but use some photocopies or scans of the journal pages as illustrations in the book. You could even sell “deluxe” editions that come with photocopied versions of the journal.

16. Deliver consistently

Some days, it’s easy to write. Some days, it’s incredibly hard. The truth is: inspiration is merely a byproduct of your hard work. You can’t wait for inspiration. The Muse is really an out-of-work bum who won’t move until you do. Show her who’s boss and that you mean business.

17. Take frequent breaks

Niel Fiore, the author of The Now Habit, says, “There is one main reason why we procrastinate: It rewards us with temporary relief from stress.” If you’re constantly stressed about your unfinished book, you’ll end up breaking your schedule. Instead, plan for breaks ahead of time so you stay fresh: minute breaks, hour breaks, or even multiple day breaks.

18. Remove distractions

Try tools like Bear or Scrivener to let you write in a totally distraction free environment. That way, email, Facebook, and Twitter won’t interrupt your flow.

19. Write where others are writing (or working)

If you’re having trouble writing consistently by yourself, write where other people are also working. A coffee shop or library where people are actually working and not just socializing can help. If you’re in a place where other people are getting things done, then you’ll have no choice but to join them.

20. Don’t edit as you go

Instead, write without judgment first, then go back and edit later. You’ll keep a better flow and won’t be interrupted by constant criticism of your own work. And you’ll have a lot more writing to edit when it’s time to do so.

It’s not just about the writing

Most books go unfinished. That’s the reality. And those that do get finished quickly fade into anonymity amongst the hundreds of thousands of new books that are published every year.

If you want to be different, you’re going to need a plan. I’ve tried to share that with you in this post. But maybe you want to not only get your book done, but you want to make sure it’s something worth selling. You want a proven plan, something you can trust — checklist that ensures you will get the work done.

The Write a Bestseller program is just that.

Remember: Before you can launch a bestseller, you have to write one. Fortunately, I’ve broken down my process piece by piece — this is what I’ve learned from publishing five books and from talking to many of the world’s bestselling authors.

In this program, I share with you exactly what it takes to write a bestselling book and why this is something you need to be thinking about from Day 1. This quick but thorough online course will help you:

  • Figure out how to come up with a compelling idea for a book and turn it into something people will want to read
  • Finally finish that book manuscript you’ve been playing with for years
  • Follow a proven plan to write not only a good book but one that will continue to sell

To learn more about that and have me walk you through each step of writing a best-selling book, click here.

You can also download a quick reference guide for all of these writing tips here.

Written by Jeff Goins

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How to write an eBook in 2018 and make

How to make money writing and publishing eBooks Part 1. The first post in this series is on how The cash wrap is composed out of old hardcovers at The Last Boottkstore in Los Angeles. (While in LA I also learned about the Portland, OR, store tradition of handing you a beer while you browse records…I pedal over to Kensington just after dark. As I roll along the lane towards the railway underpass, a young Asian woman on her way home from the station walks out of the tunnel towards me. After she passes there’s a stillness, a moment of silent freshness that feels like spring.Helen Garner is one of Australia’s greatest writers. Her short non-fiction has enormous range. Spanning fifteen years of work, Everywhere I Look is a book full of unexpected moments, sudden shafts of light, piercing intuition. flashes of anger and incidental humour. It takes us from backstage at the ballet.

to the trial of a woman for the murder of her newborn baby. It moves effortlessly from the significance of moving. house to the pleasure of re-reading Pride and Prejudice.I pedal over to Kensington just after dark.As I roll along the lane towards the railway underpass, a young Asian woman on her way home from the station.

The sections of The Fighter that describe Melbourne’s postwar Jewish community are wonderfully evocative and vibrant. The reader feels transported back in time. What’s it like for you as a writer to go back and relive those times

I love writing about those times and places, partly because I knew them so well. I love writing about the physical neighbourhood, the textures, the changes of an inner suburban neighbourhood during the turning of the seasons. I love taking the reader both into the streets and into those small terraced houses, and out into the backyard boxing gym, and to introduce them to a range of characters across cultural boundaries—although of course, there are darker and disturbing elements to the times, and to the streets, which must be brought to light.

What books are you enjoying reading at the moment

Like many others I caught Ferrante fever, and have read all four of her Neapolitan novels. There are parallels between the streets of Naples, and the worlds she describes, with postwar inner Melbourne, but of course the enduring poverty and the violence it produces was, for historical reasons, more intense and disturbing, and the fight to get out of it all the more riveting. I love the visceral nature of Ferrante’s writing, and her exploration, especially of the women of the neighbourhood—the impact on the mothers, yet another parallel—her range of characters and depth of perception is astonishing, and her writing, at times so intense it become hallucinatory. She is a writer’s writer

and the power of her writing inspires writers. I am moving onto Atticus Lish, Preparation for the Next Life, and early indications are that here is also a powerful voice, documenting the gritty streets and working-class immigrant lives of the inner city.

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