The only publishing advice I ever give.


I get lots of requests for advice on how to get one’s book published. Thank you for asking. I’m happy to be in a position to give advice, and grateful you felt you could ask me. If I’ve sent you this link instead of writing out an answer, please don’t take it personally. It’s to save me having to write out the same thing over and over.

First of all: the publishing industry as a whole is still racist and sexist as fuck, and that may affect your experience. But there are also lots of really wonderful people in publishing who are awake, aware, and working to change the industry. The only way to change the system is to flood it. It’s already changing. We need more of us. Please, please, please do not let it deter you.

That said, here is the same publishing advice I give to everyone:

  1. Write a really good book. This is by far the most important step.
  2. Go the traditional route for now, not self-publishing.
  3. Write up a list of books you think are similar to yours.
  4. Find out what agents represent those books. Usually you can find this out through a bit of Googling, or looking in the Acknowledgments section of a book.
  5. Find out the agencies where those agents work. This is also easily searchable by Google.
  6. Write a really good query letter.
  7. Query the agent by email. Be sure to follow their guidelines.
  8. Query widely. I queried 49 agents in total for The Girl in the Road.
  9. Wait. Follow up politely if it’s been over three months (or the agency’s specified wait time).
  10. In the meantime, start another book.

That’s it. It’s what I did over a period of five years. It’s a ton of work, and there’s no silver bullet.

Corollary to this issue: I get lots of requests to “take a look at” work—novels, stories, plays, graduate school application essays. But unless I ask for it, I’m really sorry, I can’t, especially not for free. I make a living from writing. Giving feedback on another person’s writing is paid, professional work. Before I sold my novel, I was charging $50/hr. Now the rate would be significantly higher; but even so, I generally don’t have the time anymore. (John Scalzi elaborates more on the reasons for all this, so I’ll just link to him.)

Also, unless I ask, I’m really sorry, I can’t refer you to my agent or editor. I sometimes send them suggestions, but it’s only of my own volition.

Thank you for understanding. Keep writing. Good luck.


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11 Comments on “The only publishing advice I ever give.”

  1. Katherine Turner says:

    i know that a lot of professions can relate to this post. doctors (can you just take a quick look at this weird rash for a second?), lawyers (quick question – how legal it is to stalk your ex-wife if she isn’t quite your ex yet?), and, yeah, psychics.

    for many years i did psychic and intuitive work. you don’t know hassle till you have several hundred people who believe you are their on-call psychic, with no request too small! (i’m calling you from the grocery store and i can’t decide – do you think i should make tacos or fire up the grill tonight?) something that happened on a very regular basis – was a person – at a party or other gathering – who made a snarky comment about me/psychic ability, and then within the hour, cornered me to pump for info on money/love/work.

    i just think it’s less of a literary thing (or a musician thing or agent/actor/director thing) and more a thing where folks want THE MAGIC (fame, soul-mate, cash) and you have it and all they have to do is gather up the courage to ask. it doesn’t even occur to them what they are asking of you, what it costs you in terms of energy, resources, etc.

    i stopped doing professional psychic work several years ago and i still get emails asking me to just take a quick peek 🙂

  2. wow-thank you for this…

  3. jamjarhead says:

    Succinct and polite, Monica. I dispense similar advice to queries about how to get what I got. My free offering is this; learn your craft, work hard, don’t give up. No one knocks on your door and says, “I finally found you! You’re the next big thing! Here’s your money.”

  4. […] The only publishing advice I ever give.. […]

  5. […] Monica Byrne recently posted a succinct answer / explanation to this on her blog; click here to read it. I would only add a few […]

  6. Roslyn Reid says:

    it only took you 5 years, eh? good work!

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  8. I need to bookmark this post so I can just direct emerging and beginning writers here when they ask me the same question, because this is perfect advice.

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