Top Three Tips for Getting Published

Today we welcome our guest, friend and TKZ emeritus, Michelle Gagnon filling in for Jordan Dane.


By Michelle Gagnon

On the road to publication, I was fortunate to receive many tips and pointers along the way. Today I wanted to offer the three pieces of advice that had the biggest impact.

high res Michelle_Gagnon color Perseverance

Getting published was an extremely long and tortuous process for me.

More than a decade ago, I started compiling a series of short stories into a novel. Like many debut novels, it didn’t have much of a story arc, and was largely autobiographical (sounds great, right? J). Convinced that it would be an instant bestseller, I immediately send it off to dozens of literary agents.

Then the rejections started rolling in. I seriously must have set some sort of record; by the end, more than 50 agents had passed on it.

A few wrote lovely letters, encouraging me to try again. But frankly, I was heartbroken. By that point, the book represented years of my life; time I would never get back.

So I stopped writing for a few months. Then by chance, I attended an author event. Lee Child spoke about how it usually took a decade to become an “overnight success story.” And he explained that in his opinion, the authors who succeeded were the ones who didn’t give up.

I’d come close to doing just that. But the next day, I started writing another book. That book became THE TUNNELS; the first literary agent I sent it to offered to represent me (and mind you, this was an agent who had rejected my first novel).

So tip #1: never give up

Don’t pick up that red pencil until you’ve reached the end

I meet a lot of writers who have written 50, or 100 pages of a book. And that’s precisely when a lot of them give up. Listening to them, I’ve figured out why: when they got to that point, they went back and started editing their work.

Granted, everyone has a different process, but here’s my advice: don’t start editing AT ALL until the bones of the story are in place. I’m currently finishing the rough draft of my 12th novel; and when I say rough, believe me, it’s no exaggeration. The manuscript is riddled with typos, overwrought metaphors, and clunky dialogue. I accept that much of the time, I’m going to despise what’s appearing on the page. But I grit my teeth and keep going, because the rough draft is called that for a reason. It’s all about getting the bones of the story in place. Later, I’ll end up reworking it chapter-by-chapter, scene by scene; I usually make between 15-20 passes on every book I write. So there’s plenty of time to fine tune it later.

The problem with editing as you go is that it’s a much slower process. I usually write 10 pages a day; during the editing process, I’m lucky to get through 3. So when a first time writer finally gets back to page 50, after perfecting those opening chapters, it’s daunting; like looking up at Everest, and realizing that you’ve barely reached base camp. Many, many people give up at that point. Avoid that by not stopping until you reach the end.

You don’t have to write every day

Stephen King famously claims to write 4 hours a day, and read 4 hours a day. Every time I hear that, all I can think is that he probably never has a day that starts with driving carpool, followed by a PTA meeting, then returning home to discover that the water heater burst and somehow he has to get that fixed and clean all the water up off the floor.

Or maybe he does, I don’t honestly know. But the truth is, we’re not just writers, we’re people too; with families and pets and homes to maintain. We need to go grocery shopping and pay the bills. We need to take care of the people in our lives, and sometimes that doesn’t leave a lot of extra time to work on our manuscripts.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because here’s the thing: even if you only write one page a day, by the end of a year, you’ll have a book. And if you manage to write five pages one day, and nothing for the next four days: same result.

I write when I can, for as long as I can. And there are days—heck, weeks—when I don’t write at all. I don’t bring a laptop on vacation; I don’t take it with me for family visits. It’s not always easy to get back into the groove of a story after a long absence, but it’s manageable. And preferable to not writing at all. So don’t buy into the myth that a “real” writer spends every spare minute slaving away at their keyboard, because by and large, that’s not the case.

I hope these three tips are helpful; I honestly wished that I’d known them when I was starting out. So persevere, plow through your rough draft, and know that skipping a few days doesn’t make you any less of a writer.

We all take different paths to publication; the important thing is that we all end up at the same place.

Michelle Gagnon

Michelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and Dont Let Go_jkt_des6.inddadults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Bourne Identity,” her YA PERSEF0NE trilogy was nominated for a Thriller Award by the International Thriller Writer’s Association, and was selected as books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The final installment, DON’T LET GO, was just released. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

31 thoughts on “Top Three Tips for Getting Published

  1. Great advice. The most important three things to remember; persevere, get’er done, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two.

    But, if it’s more than a week, get back at it…so easy to let the days slip by until you’ve forgotten what the book was about and who is who. You get out of the routine and putting aside two hours a day, or five hours a week, should be doable. If you find yourself slipping away from the book, you’re not that into it.

  2. You don’t have to write everyday! I actually wrote my first novel by writing one page a day for a year. It’s a great way to write when life smacks you upside the head. Nice post, Michelle.

  3. Three of the best “must-knows” about this business, Michelle. And we could add one more: If you get knocked down, get back up. Because getting there is hard but staying there is even harder.

    (Am reading Bone Yard now and loving it!)

  4. I thoroughly agree with numbers one and two. Persevere: It was my seventh book that sold. Don’t pick up that red pen: I agree. I’ll write a first draft straight through then do revisions. As for number three, that one is hard for me. When I’m in a writing phase, I set daily and weekly goals. I have to be more structured. But if I meet those goals, then I can have time off. For me the greater issue is: You don’t have to post, tweet, or blog every day. Easy to say, almost impossible to do.

  5. Welcome back, Michelle! Your tip about not picking up the red pencil until the end applies particularly to me. I am in the habit of getting myself stuck in the first few chapters, rewriting them endlessly. Oftentimes this approach has led to becoming bogged down and discouraged. I hereby resolve to silence my inner editor, thanks!

  6. Excellent advice. I disagree slightly with the editing thing though. I typically read through the last twenty pages or so of my novel before I get back into writing it, and sometimes I’ll edit along the way. Usually though, it’s small edits. Fixing a typo, punching up dialogue, that sort of thing.

    I like the final one best. You DO NOT have to write every day. Sometimes I just burn out with writing and then I produce bad work that I don’t like and that tears down my ego. Sometimes you just need a break.

    • In terms of the editing process, you absolutely have to find the way that’s right for you. I mainly offer this advice to people who seem to get mired in the first 50 pages, but it might not apply to everyone, so stick with what works!

    • Ha ha, I see what you mean. I will admit, before I got to this draft, I was absolutely frozen by the opening of my book. I probably rewrote it fifteen times before I finally just said “screw it” and NaNoWriMo’d my first complete draft. It helped get out of the paralyzing editing cycle.

  7. Michelle! Ma Belle! Bon retour à la zone de morte!

    Good to hear your lovely voice again, with such wisdom it sinks even deeper into the soul. I follow mostly the same pattern, get that whole nasty illiterate never show this to anybody ever story down, then go back and rearrange the pieces until they’re all moderately literate for the average first grader, then keep building grade by grade until I’ve reached the level where a high school kid will say, “Dang! Cool!” and hopefully my agent will say, “Here’s a check.”

    By the way, Leonard sends greetings from 1217 AD where his time machine is temporarily stalled somewhere on the Mongolian Steppe. The temporal-fax-machine still works though… mostly. Like the message he sent this morning actually said: “Taellll perpter Michalbre aaa ssserd Hiiyerr iiii…fffff… ewe cee hererer … yoob kerNOow … thethethethe … balleterbretinhniar. Oh craaaaaap….Ghengisnininingaaaa’s hoses!”

    Anyway, Hi from Leonard. And me and rest of the gang too.

  8. Great advice, Michelle. I already happen to follow all 3 rules. I’m not sure if it just came naturally or you told me all 3 before but thank you for reiterating them. Good luck with our new book.

  9. Michelle, glad to see you back here, if only for a guest spot. Good advice. Not everything mentioned will work for everyone– like R.A. it works best for me to go back and read the prior scene or two, maybe with some light editing–but generally I agree with the concept of first get it down, then get it right. And thanks for the reminder that, if we produce an acceptable amount of material, it can be spread over several days without feeling guilty.

  10. Great advice as always, Michelle. I have a friend who has just got an agent and I told her publishing can feel like a war of attrition. She loves this image- says it keeps her going as she is determined (as she says it) not to ‘attrit’!

  11. I try to manage my daily goal of 5K words, but on the days when I just can’t do it always remind myself that writing is fun. If I persevere in writing just for the sake of it, pretty soon it won’t be fun – so I stop.

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