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Publish a Book? Here are the Rules you Must Follow

Updated on March 19, 2015
Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr. Billy Kidd was a psychotherapist and researcher for 20 years. He has also studied history, religion, and has been active in politics.

So many people are writing today that agents and publishers have become extremely selective about what material they will review. They absolutely refuse to deal with unprepared authors who do not understand these rules:

1. Publishing is a business. It is about publishers making money, mostly by entertaining people.

2. A new author’s material must be as good as what’s already on the stands in order to capture an agent’s attention.

3. Literary agents are mostly interested in new writers who have already reached celebrity status or have a following on the internet or elsewhere. They call that your platform. The exception is that if you have a pretty awesome hook that grabs people’s attentions or discusses your subject in a very new way.

4. To get reviewed, you must have studied the current best sellers in your field. That way you will know what your audience expects from someone writing in your area. You’ll also have a clear ideas about how others do their set ups, action scenes, or simply lay out the facts in nonfiction works.

5. To get noticed, you must have written enough to develop your own unique style or opinions. That way an agent can see how to compare and contrast your material with other published works.

6. Don’t try telling the Truth to the world. Most publishers do not much care about truth, just sales. Lying is hardly an issue. The point is to wow a particular audience and sell them books.

7. Your first book, if it is a novel, might be a glorified version of your life. So you might not listen to what editors have to say concerning its faults. If you have such a book, it’s probably a good time to set it aside and get started on something new that is not about you.

8. It helps to be crazy if you write certain categories of fiction. Horror and mystery encourage crazy authors to make a brain dump on the page to keep from going all the way insane. If you are proud of your sanity, you won’t have much luck with these genres. Extremely sane and rational people tend to read and write non-fiction.

9. Even if you have a PhD, it may not qualify you to be published in the fields of self-help or advice. These areas are mostly dominated by celebrities, who sometimes add next to nothing to the discussion. But they make the publishers big bucks.

10. Every unpublished writer needs an honest and knowledgeable editor. He or she can show you how to keep your writing within the boundaries of your particular discipline. A good editor will also tell you when your work is so boring or off key that it is not worth developing.

11. When a good editor tells you to stop what you’re doing and start over, do it, using the lessons he or she is trying to teach you.

12. Three-quarters of the author’s job is self-editing and rewriting. Rewriting and editing use a different part of the brain than creative writing. Keep in mind that Hemingway found it to be such a sobering experience that he would stop drinking in order to do his rewrites.

13. You must cut to the chase in the first couple pages of your novel, not dally around for three chapters introducing it. This is why it is an art to know when to jump into the characters’ lives and start writing about it in the first chapter.

14. Good book writers’ associations help beginners to get published. They help authors refine their works and get them in front of interested agents.

15. Great writers are driven by an inner need to endlessly express themselves. And when they start out they generally have two or three books available to show an agent. Today, agents and publishers favor package deals. That way the first book can be offered as a teaser for free in electronic form in order to establish a new author’s audience.

16. Agents are not interested in suffering saints and misunderstood idealists who ignore what they say. You must be willing to immediately internalize at least 50% of what a professional in the publishing business tells you. That way you can keep the conversation going.

18. Agent and publisher submission guidelines must be obeyed in all circumstances. Do whatever you’re told to do if you want your work to be reviewed.

19. If you have self-published a book, do not reference yourself as a published writer—unless the book sold 10,000 copies.

20. Good writers are persistent and crazy about writing. Agents and publishers are looking for writers who are almost willing to die for their works.

21. You might have read this article and think I’m joking. But listen—

For a lot of people, this is very painful stuff to hear. That’s because you lay your ego on the line when you write, and rejection never comes easy. Don’t let that discourage you. Internalize the rules of the profession and just keep writing.

On the road to becoming a published writer, you will learn to “let go” of your works. That means cutting the umbilical cord from you, the author, to the book that others actually see and evaluate. That’s when writing becomes a fun job. You’ll always be obsessing on new material, so you have lots of stuff to pick from. I truly hope you are persistent, driven, or half-crazed so that you get there.


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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      multiculturalsoul, yes, the anti-romance novel is a good hook. I see that "Paint" is doing pretty good. I know you're not crazy but it seem like it's time to maybe do something like take the horror edge a little further. But then, you know your audience better than me.

      Alan, I don't know how to draw in an audience for your work. I do know that a paid publicist would have a dozen ideas. The non-fiction stuff you write is so amazing that is almost sounds like it comes out of a historical romance novel!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I have two books out, if you look on my 'RAVENFEAST' page. They just need readers buying them. They're both on Kindle as well as paperpack.

    • multiculturalsoul profile image

      JJ Murray 5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      I actually wrote my first romance as an anti-romance novel. My heroine was cynical and satirical and hated the very idea of romance and being in love. Her character resonated with my agent, who has an extremely sardonic wit, and he sold it. My editor, naturally, had to soften some of my heroine's cynicism and other rough edges so the book would sell ... Since then I do some softening before the editor sees it. I kind of like to stay published.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      multiculturalsoul, thanks for the feedback. You found your breakout idea, interacial romance, and stuck with it. It's true. If you've built an audience for it, they're probably not going to follow you if you suddenly write, say, horror.

      Finding that breakout idea is tough. I recall Chuck Palahniuk saying he was so angry with his agent that he decided to throw a bunch of crap at him! And so, "Fight Club" began as a fit of rage.

    • multiculturalsoul profile image

      JJ Murray 5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      By way of confirmation, Dr. Kidd, you hit the nail on the head, especially on number 3. My agent took a chance on me because I was "new" and different, writing in a niche (interracial romance) few people even knew about. Had my niche not been unique, he wouldn't have blinked at my work. Yes, I foolishly tried to break out of that niche on several occasions over the years, and my publisher rejected every one of those attempts. Stick to the niche that gave you your start. Unless you're James Patterson and can write thrillers, romance, and YA lit, that is.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Alan, your writing is really good. Now, I guess you gotta come out with something before the other bloke does it (like the agent said)! The deal with everybody, including us here, is capturing an audience. I figure if Honey Boo Boo can do it, the rest of us can too!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Well Doc, I'm willing to cut the umbilical if someone asks for the film rights. One day, maybe...

      I could change my name to Michael Palin and write lots of travelogues! How about that for a gold-leaf idea?

      Seriously though, I lost count of the rejection slips from agencies after fifty! I'm still on a learning curve. The first 'auto-publisher' didn't seem to know what they were doing, over-pricing my first book. Changing my publisher could be the first right step on the way to success (here's to it)!

      One of the agents who wrote back said I was just too late, as someone else had come along with the same idea. Timing's got something to do with it as well, I suppose.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      What a helpful hub! Thanks for sharing.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Kimberly. I've seen people make it using this info.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 5 years ago from Midwest

      This is a really interesting hub! I always assumed it was hard to get published but I never gave any thought to the strategy that goes into getting published for the first time. Great hub!