Advice for Publication

IMG_1239During our meeting this evening, I shared advice about how to get published. Here are my notes; I cite my sources at the bottom, so thanks to the websites that helped me to shape this presentation.

Ekphrasis Publication Workshop

Rule Number One: NEVER, ever, ever, ever pay anybody anything up front, or ever.

  1. Write at least a complete first draft of the book.
  1. Revise, revise, revise, revise. Get beta-readers, then revise with their suggestions. Do a reading, then revise with those suggestions. It should be finished and polished before you query.
  1. Find an agent.
  • Look up the agents of successful authors whose books are like yours
  • Network, network, network; do you know anybody who can introduce you to an agent? Go to conferences, readings, etc. get your stories published in journals, become involved with writers’ blogs and online writer’s communities.
  • Real agents don’t advertise.
  • Real agents don’t charge upfront fees.
  • Real agents list books they’ve agented on their websites, and you’ll recognize the names of the publishers that bought the books.
  • Being a member of AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) is a positive sign for an agency.
  • Real agents don’t insist on all client interactions being electronic.
  • Real agents don’t offer to edit for a fee.
  • Real agents don’t sell adjunct services to their clients (websites, illustrations, business cards, flyers, brochures, photos, marketing plans, etc.)
  • Real agents don’t submit books to vanity or non-advance paying publishers.
  • Look at their submission guidelines and follow them precisely.
  1. Send the agent your stuff!
  • Write a query letter. You are trying to accomplish two important tasks with the query:
    1) You are trying to make the plot/subject of your book sound awesome
    2) You are trying to show the agent that you write well
  • 1st paragraph: Start with a catching hook. Include the book’s title and genre. Give the length and state that it is complete. One-line “elevator pitch.”
  • 2nd paragraph: 25-100 word “verbal snapshot.” Vivid, memorable.
  • 3rd paragraph: What’s unique about this book. Also why this particular agent would be interested in it; compare to other successful books they have represented. Include a personalized tidbit about the agent in the query to show you did your research.
  • 4th paragraph: your credentials. writing credentials, life experiences if relevant, academic degrees if relevant.
  • 5th paragraph: polite, business-like sign-off, with contact info and list of materials included or attached.
  • Most common mistakes:

1) Too long. (250 words to one page)
2) Trying to include a synopsis of the book instead of a “sound bite.”
3) Telling too much about yourself and your life.
4) Telling the agent how much friends and family loved the book.
5) Telling the agent what to think.
6) Making your writing experiences look like credentials when they aren’t. What if you have none? Don’t mention credentials at all.
7) Writers who inform the agent that the book they’re submitting is the first book in a 12 book series they’ve spent the last ten years writing.

  • Include a resume of relevant experience only if requested.
  • Write a SYNOPSIS. Write in the present tense. Names of characters in caps. Give spoilers. “Long synopsis” or “outline” means about a paragraph per chapter, so it will be long (7-10 pages). A “short synopsis” means 1-2 pages.
  • Include whatever they request: first ten pages? First chapter? First five chapters? Whole book? Make sure to format it carefully and submit it as a .pdf. “Send the agent exactly what he or she asks to see. No more, no less.”
  • Simultaneous queries OK. (talk about requests for exclusives)
  • Remember Rule Number One: NEVER, ever, ever, ever pay anybody anything up front, or ever.
  1. Send it out, send it out, send it out!! Receive rejections, revise, and do it over and over.
  2. Rule Number One: NEVER, ever, ever, ever pay anybody anything up front, or ever.
  3. Talk about self publishing and vanity presses.


“How to find a (Real!” Literary Agent” by A.C. Crispin

“How To Find A Literary Agent” by Nathan Bransford

Writer’s Market.

Other random books nearby on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.


About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a PhD student in English and Presidential Scholar at Baylor University. She also serves as Chair of the Language and Literature Department at Signum University, online. Her latest publication is an academic essay collection on "The Inklings and King Arthur" (Apocryphile Press, December 2017). Her interests include British Modernism, the Inklings, Arthuriana, theatre, and magic. She holds an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Sørina blogs about British poet Charles Williams at The Oddest Inkling, wrote the introduction to a new edition of Williams’s "Taliessin through Logres" (Apocryphile, 2016), and edited Williams’s "The Chapel of the Thorn" (Apocryphile, 2014). As a creative writer, Sørina has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" (2007) and "Caduceus" (2012).

8 thoughts on “Advice for Publication

  1. Sharon says:

    Thank you so much for putting in the time to do this. It definitely was helpful even though it was intimidating!

  2. Betsy says:

    This was very exciting to walk through…thank you for the time and effort you put into it! I look forward (with slight trepidation), to going through this process.

  3. Sharon says:

    Question: What if I found an Agent I think is a possibility who only accepts e-mail but his company accepts both digital and snail mail? Doable? Or should I avoid him?

    And can you query multiple agents within an agency?

    • Excellent questions. I think the scenario you described is all right. Want to send me the agent’s website and I’ll check it out?

      You should not query multiple agents within the same agency simultaneously. If one sends you a rejection, you may then approach another.

  4. Calvin Hobbes says:

    Are Ekphrasis members actually submitting short stories to journals? My (admittedly limited) perspective of members is that they’re heavily loaded on the front end with new ideas, writing first drafts, and often even stumbling into a set of revisions, but then most projects get left there. Have members actually sent out short stories to date? If they have, does anyone mind sharing which journals they sent work to and their responses?

    Hopefully I’m not coming across as critical; I just get the sense that most members are moving slowly toward publication at a certain pace, and then there are outliers who are moving at a different pace and encountering different experiences.

    I feel like Ekphrasis is best at supporting/encouraging people who are in the early stages of their efforts, but then the road gets dark and lonely for people actually going through the submission process and trying to make the step from writing as a hobby to becoming a published author (traditionally published author, not self-published). Obviously there’s a transition going on where members are now beginning to move toward seeking out agents and submitting works to journals, but I’m trying to get a sense if anyone has been there before and had a piece accepted somewhere or received personal feedback from an editor/reviewer at a journal. I feel like hearing the perspective of people who have gone before would be both encouraging and helpful.

    • Thank you for asking. We are at various stages. I have had two books of poetry published and have two volumes of academic writing appearing soon, so I have been through several stages of submission, rejection, acceptance, working with editors, etc. I’ve also had lots of poems published in journals. I’ve submitted short stories and have not yet had success.

      Members of the group are at various stages. Some members have had things published in school journals. One has self-published several novels. A member who used to attend regularly but hasn’t come in a while has published a few poetry collections. At this moment, yes, most members are just finishing complete manuscripts and will be sending them out soon. I would think that 4, 5, or 6 of us would have things sent out by Christmas and be receiving replies early next year.

      The group goes through seasons; a couple of years ago, everyone was writing plays, which are more likely to get produced than published. Before that it was poetry, music, and visual art. Right now we’re all finishing novels. I don’t think the group is bad at supporting long-term projects, just that this is our first season of having novels (and possibly two short story collections) to support. So we’ll see how well we do that! I’ve been through the long and lonely several times myself, so I’m here for you. Let’s talk.

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