Guest Post: 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published

Chuck Sambuchino_3covers

I’m delighted to welcome Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books to the blog today. September 2015 saw the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. Chuck has generously offered to do a giveaway. In two weeks, he’ll pick a commenter from this thread at random, and the winner will receive their choice of any of his books. Must live within the US/Canada to receive a print book; those residing elsewhere will receive a PDF e-book. Beware clowns. 

GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED! The winner, as chosen through, is Jayne, who posted October 7th. Jayne, please watch your email for a note from Chuck Sambuchino with information on receiving your book. Congratulations! Thanks so much to everyone who commented, and to Chuck for his great guest post and generous giveaway.

Without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Chuck.

I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, such as the new 2016 edition. These interviews are very helpful to aspiring writers, because the authors come clean about what they believe they did right, what the wish they would have done different, and other advice for writers.

So I went back to 25 debut author interviews of the past few years and focused on one single important question I asked them:

“Now that you’re done explaining your own journey to publication, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with writers?”

The results are inspiring and fascinating. See below, and learn from 25 writers who have come before you and succeeded.


“Never give up. Keep writing through the rejections, the revisions, the never-ending explanations to your friends about why you aren’t published yet. Keep writing when you hear that other people have gotten agents and book deals. Keep writing, even if it takes you years to finally accomplish your goal.”

          ~Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes

“To paraphrase Jay Asher [author of 13 Reasons Why]: ‘Don’t give up because that NY Times bestseller could be right around the corner!’”

~Constance Lombardo, author of Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

“Don’t send out your novel before it’s ready. Take your time. If it’s as good as you think it is, everything will work out.”

~Lisa Freeman, author of Honey Girl

“I would say to do more thinking than writing. It’s really easy to get mired in language and sentence structure and sort of lose the forest for the trees. It’s important to really think about your idea inside and out and up and down and all around before penning a word so that you really know what you’re getting at and how you want to get at it.”

~Dev Petty, author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog

“ ’Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.”

~Jeff Anderson, author of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth

“Find a trusted critique partner to give you honest feedback, and be sure to return the favor in critiquing their work. There is a lot to be learned about the art of writing from editing other people’s work.”

~Aisha Saeed, author of Written in the Stars

“Tenacity is everything. Don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t make money as a writer. They’re well meaning, but they lack imagination.”

~Max Wirestone, author of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss

“Write the book you want to read.”

~Amanda Linsmeier, author of Ditch Flowers

“Be stubborn. I tried 90 different agents before I landed one.”

~Adam Plantinga, author of 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman

“You can turn rejection and disappointment into a serious motivator if you’re determined enough to be published. But you must also understand why the work is not accepted. Have the discipline and subjectivity to look at your work and say, ‘Yeah, that’s not good enough,’ and then sit down and make it better. ”

~Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil

“Work hard, be patient, and become part of a writing community. Get involved in the industry in some capacity—even as a volunteer—to gain a better understanding as to how it all works.”

~Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found

“‘Never give up; never surrender.’ Or, the longer version: Write. Edit. Polish. Find a competent critique group or writing partner and learn to take honest criticism. If your novel still doesn’t sell, write another one. And another. Write as many as it takes. And don’t be discouraged by other authors’ success—instead, let it encourage you to work harder, write better, and hang in there. Your turn will come.”

~Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery

“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: if you know someone who has successfully written a proposal, ask him or her if you could take a look at it; if you know someone who knows an agent, ditto.”

~Asher Price, author of Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity

“Always use active verbs. Avoid passive voice if you can.”

~Thomas Lee, author of Rebuilding Empires: How Best Buy and Other Retailers are Transforming and Competing in the Digital Age of Retailing

“Choose enthusiasm. If you are lucky enough to have more than one agent or editor interested in your work, don’t automatically choose the bigger name or even the most money. Go with the person who loves your book and is dying to work with you.”

~Eliza Kennedy, author of I Take You: A Novel

“Write a great book. The publishing world may be hard to break in to, but if you have a great book, they’ll have no choice but to notice you. And on that note, edit. Edit like your life depends on it.”

~Lindsey Cummings, author of The Murder Complex

“Don’t send your work out until it’s as good as your favorite book. Also, there is no one way to write. Many authors are long-winded and later have to chop a lot of words. I write sparingly from beginning to end and then go back and plump up all the chapters. Do what works for you.”

~Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy

“Read widely in the genre you’re writing in. And go easy on yourself. Everyone has their own pace. Persistence is as important as productivity.”

~Nancy Grossman, author of A World Away

“Do not give up. If you believe in your work, find ways to work around those impenetrable doors. There isn’t only one way to break in, so explore all avenues. And be kind to everyone.”

~Karolina Waclawiak, author of How to Get Into the Twin Palms

“Wait until there’s something you really want to say.”

~Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending

“It’s cliché, but read. A lot. Anything, but especially current stuff in the genre you write. Find out what’s selling—and why kids like it. Figure out what you like and why you like it. Then write something new.”

~W.H. Beck, author of Malcolm at Midnight

“Do your research. Knowing what kinds of books specific agents and editors like is incredibly helpful. Stay informed. Know what books everyone is talking about. Know what books you yourself love. And, just like any industry, being kind and pleasant to work with, and respectful takes you far. And in publishing, it’s not hard to be kind.”

~Cirey Ann Haydu, author of OCD Love Story

“Read, write, and stay informed. The only thing you can control is how hard you’re willing to work at becoming a better writer.”

~Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your writing out there. Take colossal risks. The publishing world rewards bravery.”

~Brandy Vallence, author of The Covered Deep

“Finish. Don’t keep tinkering with the same book for years. Put it aside and start another one. You won’t improve as a writer by writing the same book over and over.”

~Melissa Lenhardt, author of Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery

Thanks again to Chuck for sharing so much great advice. Don’t forget to leave a comment in order to enter the giveaway. A winner will be chosen in two weeks, and will get their choice of any of Chuck’s books. Must live in the US/Canada for a print edition; those residing elsewhere are eligible for a PDF e-book edition. Good luck to all!

79 thoughts on “Guest Post: 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published

  1. I love the sentiment of not sending your work out until it’s as good as your favorite book expressed by Marcia Strykowski…after all you wouldn’t serve a meal you didn’t like right?

  2. This is great and I’m thrilled to be listed as one of the authors. The link for Call Me Amy goes to an outside Amazon vendor with steep prices and no reviews–I hope curious clickers will find the correct listing instead. 🙂 Thanks so much!
    Wow, three more books, Chuck, that’s awesome—congratulations!

    1. Hi Marcia,

      Chuck provided links and I suspect the prices vary depending when you visit the site. I’ve updated to a more general link that includes reviews. Thanks so much for pointing this out!


  3. I like that a main theme that runs throughout is this: Don’t give up. Frustration is easy; sticking with it is hard. It’s the hard stuff that creates the biggest rewards, right?

  4. Thank you, Chuck. These are great! If I can just offer something from my own experience. I was a member of a writing group, and there was one guy there who styled himself as an expert editor. A lot of what he said helped me get a lot better in my writing. But a lot of what he said was simply nonsense (as I found out after I started reading good style manuals). So always beware of the curmudgeon who criticizes for the sake of criticism.

  5. Thanks for this advice / inspiration. I’d like to add to it by saying: I believe a writer must passionately believe in their writing purpose; whether it is to entertain, educate or as in my case: To change the world, I think the writer must write with fervent passion and constantly learn more about the writing craft to effectively deliver their passion to the reader. Read & write on!

  6. “Edit like your life depends on it” – this is my mantra, so maybe Lindsey Cummings is my soul mate!

    Whenever I feel like giving up, I ask myself: If you got hit by a bus tomorrow and they found this manuscript, would you want them to think this is the best you could do? I’m not done unless I can say yes.

  7. So many inspiring tips and it’s great to know that others have experienced similar frustrations and the need to for tenacity in this journey. A couple of key points really stand out for me. The advice abbout taking the time to think and think hard about where it is you may want to take a story is important and I’ve found that helpful at the early stage of planning some kind of structure and scenes, some which may change bu are important to outline. But I do think that still needs to be balanced with the process of doing he writing, yes, the ‘ass’ on the seat a computer or for me at the moment, the notebook where I can have to experience of pen in hand to paper and lots of scribbling, side notes and thoughts in between (then later computer edit – no mentions of this which surprised me a bit). All of this with wide reading in the genre, taking notes, seeing what works, what doesn’t what grabs us, questioning why we aredrawn to some writing and not others. I’m discovering all the time that there seems to be a reader for every kind of writing. Something I love is something my best friend may read and hate. So, perhaps a reminder that there’s an agent and a publisher for every writer, including me, I hope.

  8. All so good. Necessary to hear over and over again. Can we make these words of advice into a broken record and give that away. So need it right now.

  9. This very morning I asked myself if I should write the book I am thinking of. Why not? Everyone states you should write what you know, why not write what you want too? I have a story in my head that is not very exciting, so for…no murders, not rapes, no, well, you know what I mean. It’s sort of boring. But, it is what’s on my mind. Why shouldn’t I write it? I’ve tried to think of a good reason, but I can’t. So I’m going to write about an every day guy who writes for a living, has made a lot of money at it, and now wants to buy a newspaper…yes, a whole building. One that used to be. Why not start it over again? You can do it, write what you want too, then, after you are finished with it, ask someone if they want to read it. You just might be surprised.

  10. My favorite advice from above: “ ’Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.” ~Jeff Anderson

    For many years all I did was talk talk talk about writing and did very little actual writing. During last April’s A-to-Z challenge, I wrote my first, from beginning to end, novelette (around 45,000 words) and I can tell you, it was the most exhilarating achievement of my life. This November, I hope to further that achievement by writing a sequel of sorts to that novella by doing the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word challenge. I plan to create a banner of Jeff’s advice above and place it on the wall above my workstation as a reminder and mantra for November. Thanks, Chuck, for compiling all of these wonderful words of advice!

  11. Wow! This is tremendous! I’d love to learn about all the insight that’s packed in these books! All the testimonials are quite moving, and they definitely add to the growing anticipation about reading these works for both the volume and the value of seasoned advice and information here. Thanks for the opportunity! Crossing my fingers for a win on so many levels 🙂

  12. I’ve been pushing back on the idea of writing & critique groups….it seems I should find time to find and join one. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I love your post, Chuck. My favorite is the same as Lori’s. Ass in chair, though in some company I would say ‘Butt or seat in chair.’ There’s no other way that I know to write, except to . . write! And then edit thoroughly by yourself and with others’ help. Reading aloud helps one find errors and get a good flow.

  14. Thanks for advice that a mom should give, but she’d love you too much to tell you.

  15. I like the reminder to read. The publishing world keeps changing, and it is good to keep up with what is out there in your genre. Not so you can copy, but just to know. Thank you all for your thoughts, and your reminders that hard work does pay off.

  16. Whilst agreeing with all the ideas, because I’ ve tried them and they work, I like the last comment best. Apply them all, but then read your work aloud, several times. It will help you find your own voice. That will make your work distinctive. And use beta readers their input can be invaluable when editing.

  17. “Write the book you would want to read,” is one that spoke to me because there is a specific genre I am obsessed about. I love to read so looking for my niche in what I do not see in the author’s I read is the ticket.

  18. Two comments are especially applicable to me:

    “Work hard, be patient, and become part of a writing community. Get involved in the industry in some capacity—even as a volunteer—to gain a better understanding as to how it all works.”

    ~Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found; and

    “Read, write, and stay informed. The only thing you can control is how hard you’re willing to work at becoming a better writer.”

    ~Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater

    I joined a writing group that meets twice a month. At the beginning of each session, our exalted leader reviews online articles from the many blogs and writers’ websites she peruses. These sessions have encouraged and inspired me to go back to writing “my book,” 20 years in the making, now. (OK, so it’s more like 30.) THIS time, it WILL get finished! I’m having a ball working on it.

  19. “Work hard, be patient, and become part of a writing community. Get involved in the industry in some capacity—even as a volunteer—to gain a better understanding as to how it all works.”

    The advice from Brooke Davis really struck me as important. Since becoming more involved in the writing community my writing has improved so much. I’m definitely working hard but working on the patience part. As for involving yourself in the industry even if only as a volunteer is brilliant! What a great way to learn it all.

  20. It’s great to hear advice from people who have walked this trail. I have put several quotes on my inspiration board. Thanks!

  21. It’s funny how you’ll read something and something pertinent will just jump out at you. For me it’s Melissa Lenhardt’s quote- “Finish. Don’t keep tinkering with the same book for years. Put it aside and start another one. You won’t improve as a writer by writing the same book over and over.”
    I’m going to do Nanowrimo (again) this November and have been wondering whether I should continue working on the (unfinished) novel I’ve been writing through Nano for the past few years, or whether I should choose an entirely different idea. Hmmm, still thinking.
    I have a similar quote from a former writing teacher, Australian fantasy author Kim Wilkins, stuck up beside my desk. “You can’t edit nothing.” In other words (as we Aussies say) “bum in chair ….”

  22. I like the keep on writing advice. As long as there are rejection letters this advice will always be in demand.

  23. I love the advice! It definitely resonated and re-sparked my resolve to finish and keep writing! I was thrilled to see that I have a similar idea in regards to reading other works in the same genres.
    Great compilation…Thank you for sharing their uplifting words.

  24. I’m printing this post out as I write! And I’ll be pinning it to the wall by my writing desk. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” book and the message in it is the same as here: don’t give up because if you love writing the keep doing it. And that’s so true. I love it, I love being part of a community of writers who write just because they love it, too.

  25. Writing is one of those crafts that can do a number on you if you get rejected too many times. When one wants to sit down to write a book, it’s a dream that wants to come true. So, I like the positive message that every author gives: “don’t give up.” It’s serendipitous how I find this article today when I have been writing in the train what could be a book I really want to write. My favorite message was write a book you really want to read. I am in the beginning stages of taking writing seriously again and I asked myself “what should I write about?” And the answer my head gave me “something you want to read.” I will print out this article and keep it over my desk. I mean, back in the days I had not even a clue about literary agents or what I could do to write more and better. Wish I had this article back in 2010.

  26. Susan Spann, Max Wirestone and Brooke Davis gave advice that really resonated with me. Thank you to all 25 authors who gave encouraging words of wisdom.

  27. I wrote a (very real) memoir and knew it would be difficult for a “NO NAME” debut writer like myself to find an interested agent and/or publisher to work with me. Many of the comments above apply to me, but I’m seriously thinking I should try marketing my book as fiction. I’m passionate about my message and theme and believe my story (whether sold as real or not) will inspire many people to hang in there when life hands them — or bombards them with — lemons.

    1. Have you thought of publishing it yourself, Linda? There’s a wealth of good memoir writing out there. There are also a few specialist memoir publishers who will look at your work if it is good enough It took me ten years to find a publisher and over fifty rejections before I found one. Now I have six African memoirs in print / e-book. I would be pleased to hear from you by e-mail and my address is n my website.
      Don’t give up!

  28. You could take all of this advice and apply it to any endeavor: Get started and keep going, no matter what. Get your work done and make it right. Seek help from others. And never, ever give up.

  29. These are great, inspirational, and challenging! The encouragement to keep writing and keep learning is soothing balm for sagging spirits! Thank you, every one of you.

  30. “ ’Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.”

    ~Jeff Anderson~

    This is the perfect quote that sparks that fire under my ass. I guess Talk is cheap – Words pay the bills!

  31. Awesome post,as I am getting to start submitting to agents I wanted to know if you had any advice in regards from telling a good agent from a bad one?

    1. Hi Steven,

      Great question. It’s always important to do your research, since you want to submit to “good” agents, but also agents who are looking to represent the type of book you write. Writer’s Digest has a number of books on literary agents, and is also a good source. An agent should never charge you to read your submission or to take you on; they make their money as a percentage of your advance/royalties once they’ve sold your project. Check agents’ websites to see what sorts of books they’ve already sold, and talk to writers for recommendations. Hope this gives you a good place to start!


      1. That is some awesome advice, do you think it is a better to try to query new agents since they might not be as overwhelmed with submissions or would it be worth it to try to go for a more established one since it is likely they will be in the business in the long run?

        1. That’s really not something I can decide for you. Plenty of new agents are great, and plenty of more established agents have time to take on new clients. Again, do your research and figure out who sounds like a good fit for you. Good luck!

  32. All these comments they authors made are encourging and uplifting and even inspiring to keep going not just for authors who are looking to get published but in life as well. The advice is well worth taking to heart.

  33. I found something positive and helpful in every bit of advice listed here. It becomes too easy to be downtrodden when getting into the writing industry. Thanks for sharing this!

  34. There’s a lot of wisdom here, and I especially appreciate Eliza Kennedy’s advice to go with the agent or publisher who is most enthusiastic about your work. I probably wouldn’t have thought of that! Thanks, Eliza!

  35. My newcomer advice is really just a suggestion: Don’t be afraid to change your mind; however, if your gut has your mind made up, don’t be afraid to follow it.

  36. “ ’Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.” This advice is the best. Short and to the point.
    Henry Tobias author of Just for Fun, an eclectic anthology of short stories and essays.

  37. All twenty five are very good comments. The last has been said so many times at so many conferences, but I hate to give up on my protagonists. To put them aside. Its as if I am letting them die.

  38. good info and advice; some I was already aware of but the rest helpful and informative.

  39. I like the idea how you got all these new writers to give advice. It really helps to know that so many people have managed to make it in this world and inspires me to work more on my first book that I am writing now.

  40. Hey, thanks, this is awesome. I love the encouragement, like having a team cheering me on as I go for the win.

  41. Great post! Very helpful. Have already downloaded Adam Plantanga’s book!

    One quote that struck a chord with me was Dev Petty’s, where she refers to getting lost in the language rather than the story. Even though it wasn’t really her specific point, I think it is easy to get “blindered” in on one paragraph and cross the line from writing to make it perfect to writing to procrastinate. Kind of a “Let’s see how many grammatically correct ways I can write this same sentence even though I’m not improving it!” mentality.

    I also really appreciated Marcia Strykowski’s comment that there is no one way to write. In one of the writing conferences I went to and in some of the books I’ve read on writing, I felt like I was being bullied into writing a certain way. For the past year or so, I’ve been doing an informal survey about how people write long fiction, and every answer is different. I write much more like Marcia does – more structurally and sparingly and then fill things in. It would be a horrible form of torture for someone to tell me I had to write 3/4 of a novel before I would know how it ended! I’d have a nervous breakdown, but many of the writers I’ve spoken to write exactly that way. NO ONE should tell you how you have to write. That is a very personal process. Finally, OHMYGOD, I just realized after typing that last thought that in my job as an English teacher I’ve been making kids do exactly that for 13 years! I think I need to go breathe into a paper bag.

  42. Writing courses too, with other writers! And retreats – getting away. I spent a month in The Atlanta Hotel in Bangkok doing 9 to 5 scribbling while everyone else was scuba diving and partying. What funny creatures we are, us writers! I just quit my job to focus on getting 3 novels published. One of the authors mentioned not working on the same book over and over again… I haven’t sent any off yet, but I’ve been working on them for nearly a decade. Time to send my children off to war 🙂

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