Thursday, December 27, 2007

Q&A: What to do after the book is written

Our next question came from Ron Simpson. He wants to know how in the world do you GET published after you've written a dang ole book. Now, this is a very common question that does not have an easy answer. I'll do my best.

The first thing you do is go buy the book Writer's Market. It's found in the "Reference" section of any bookstore, and they do a new edition every year. You can also find it at your library. This book lists every legit publisher, and many agents, and tells you everything you need to know on how to contact them, what to send them, whom to address, what etiquette to follow, etc. (Did I use "whom" correctly there? I hate that word, I really do.)

Now, the first thing you do before that other first thing you do is make sure your book is the best it can be. None of this "my mama liked the first draft" nonsense. Rewrite and revise until it's very good. Have lots of people read through it and give you honest feedback. Make it the best it can be. And don't have typos. Please, in the name of all that is good and green on this Earth, do not have typos. ESPECIALLY in your query letter!

Speaking of query letters, this is where it becomes difficult. I've been immersed in the writing world so long now, I forget what is common knowledge and what is not. Ron, don't take this wrong, but I'm going to assume you're the dumbest person on the planet and tell you all the basics. :-)

You do not print out your manuscript and start mailing it to people. You follow some very strict etiquette rules or you'll never be taken seriously. Be extremely professional. I can't stress that enough. Publishers don't really want glitter and red stationery.

Anyway, first thing, buy that book. Figure out 10-20 publishers and agents who match your profile. You do this by looking in the index at the genre categories and going down the list. For example, I write children's literature. I go to that section and pick 20 of the listed publishers or agents, then find their respective page numbers.

There, it will tell me the editor I should address, what they want (most want a query letter, some want 3 chapters and a synopsis, very few want the whole manuscript up front), the address to mail it to, etc. Each publisher/agent may vary.

Notice I keep saying publisher/agent. You can shoot for both. Submitting to both is almost the exact same process. Yeah, it's great to have an agent, but plenty of publishers accept submissions directly from the author. My advice is always to send your queries to both. If you do land one or the other, the path becomes much easier from there.

A query is a simple one page letter that basically does this: tells them briefly about your story, states any prior experience, and begs them to let you send a few chapters for them to read. At the risk of embarrassing myself greatly, I will post the very query letter I sent out that landed me an agent. Granted, it didn't hurt that I had some sales numbers in there already for my previously published books by the small publisher. (see my "How I got published" links on the right hand side of the blog.)

Here it is:

Jennie Dunham
Dunham Literacy, Inc.
156 Fifth Ave., Suite 625
New York, NY 10010-7002

RE: Query for review of manuscript; The Maze Runner; fiction; young adult

Dear Ms. Dunham,

I have completed a 70,000 word novel for young adults entitled The Maze Runner. It tells the story of a group of boys who have been ripped from their homes and families to live inside a massive stone maze where the walls move and hideous creatures lurk. The Maze has many secrets, and its creators did not expect the boys to ever figure them out—but one of the greatest and cruelest experiments in history is about to come to a most unexpected conclusion.

My novel should appeal to fans of such books as Holes by Louis Sachar and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It combines elements of suspense, fantasy, humor, and despair; in the end, it’s a story about the strengths and weaknesses of each character, and how they react to a problem that has no solution.

I’ve had four books published by Bonneville Books, a specialty press based in Utah. Despite the limited marketing and distribution power of my publisher, my books have sold 20,000 copies and continue to grow in popularity. I work hard to promote my work, having done many book-signings and speaking engagements at schools. For more information on my current books, which were recently re-released with new covers, please visit my website,

May I send you a copy of The Maze Runner for your review? I have included an SASE for your response.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

James Dashner

That's a real agent by the way. I think she rejected me. :-)

Notice the word SASE. That stands for Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. You must send that with your query letter or the agent/publisher may not respond. You can imagine if they had to fork out the dough for the thousands of stamps for their rejections.

From that point on, not a lot you can do. The agent/publisher will respond in a few weeks or months, either saying no thanks or asking you for a partial. I strongly recommend you track your queries and their responses, dates, follow ups, etc. If someone asks you for something, send it to them, maintaining your professionalism. And don't plan on sleeping at night until you hear back.

My last piece of big advice would be this: go to writer's conferences. Network. Make contacts. Many if not most authors got their break through some kind of connection, often one they created themselves.

If you get rejected, please don't despair. There are more billionaires in the state of North Dakota than there are successful authors who didn't get rejected initially. It's part of the game. It's just part of the game, and there are a million reasons why people turn things down. Granted, one of those might be that you suck, but I doubt it.

Someone said this: There's a word for a persistent author. Published.

Best of luck. I know I didn't cover everything, so if anyone has follow up questions, please post it in the comments.
Now go, write, and submit. You can do it.


Alysa Stewart said...

Pretty sure you used whom correctly. Good job. :)

Ron Simpson said...

Thanks. That was a great post. I am looking forward to more nuggets of wisdom.
Here is another question.
I have about a dozen story ideas kicking around my head. One is definately a young adult type story. How do you approach the writing process of a young adult novel vs. an adult novel? I have written several short stories and am working on a novel that has gotten a bit big (looks like a duology now) but they are complex. I need to figure out how to write for the young adult audience.

BTW: I am giving my wife your ARC of The 13th Reality to read.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

That was brilliant, James. Thank you so much. I'll have to refer back to this after I'm past the first draft stage.

Tristi Pinkston said...


I just finished the ARC. No, I'm not that slow of a reader -- I've just had to read other stuff first. You rock, you really do.

So, when does the second one come out? Hmmmmmmm?

James Dashner said...

Ron, great question, but not sure I know the answer. I've never written anything but children's literature, so I only know that approach. But I don't think it would be very different. A young adult novel should be just as structured, well plotted, well written, well everything as an adult novel. Interesting food for thought.

Kimberly, you better get that first draft done! Pronto!

Tristi, Book 2? Girl, I can hardly stand waiting for Book 1 to come out.

I'm at 58,000 words on Book 2. I'm assuming it will come out in March of 2009. If the first one doesn't bomb.

Luisa Perkins said...

This is so awesome, I can barely stand it.

Here's a question: what advice do you offer to those seeking to balance writing time with the rest of their lives?

James Dashner said...

Thanks, Luisa. Great question. I'll save that one for its own post. It's not easy, and stresses me out quite a bit. Which is why I desperately hope to go full time toward the end of next year.

Shanna Blythe said...

You can also get an online subscription to the Writer's Market and access all the information online. I haven't done it, Karen has, but I think it also might have more recent information on it.

Shanna Blythe said...

I have a question!! Where do you draw the line between revisions and submissions? How do you know when enough is enough as far as revisions go and how do you know when you should start submitting?

LaFemmeSimple said...


It looks AWESOME Jamestown! Puts my piddly little one to SHAME. WOW! Hubba Hubba! You're SO going to be rich and famous dude, seriously!

It loads a little slow though, but they may be working on it. I was going to call you but uh, it's almost 11 your time.


Autumn Ables said...

I'm so stoked that you have your website up! This is AWESOME, Dashner. :)

As for sharing your thoughts on how you got published and your 'to dos' and 'not to dos'- I really appreciate you taking the time to post this. It wasn't Ron who was the dumbest person in the world you were talking was ME! And I'm so grateful! {I'm pretty much clueless on such topics.}

MichRoman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MichRoman said...

Wow, was this is really a big help! After reading this, I thought to myself, "this is that little push I needed."
I've been working on my novel for almost 5 years and it has seen many changes in drastic ways. And now, I'm finally near the end and reading this totally gave me that final bump I needed to work my butt off to see my book on the shelves of a store or in someones' hands. That would be the greatest gift of all time and wouldn't even care about the money. You're really an inspiration and I'm extremely glad I read all your books. Thank you, James!

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