People have been asking me for advice about book publishing

I’ve been receiving a number of emails from readers who have asked for advice about how to write a book, or if they’ve written one already, how to get their book published. So I decided to write a blog post to sum up my general thoughts on writing and book publishing.

1. The first book I tried to write (note tried), I mistakenly thought was ready to show other human beings. It wasn’t. I have since learned that one should edit a manuscript many times before you let other people read it–or at least people who are neither friends nor family nor your writing group. If you want to write a book, and are very serious about it, I suggest taking what you’ve written and looking at it as if you were a critic and then editing and editing and editing it again. I like to rewrite and edit my work heavily before I let anyone else have a look. This means many late nights and lots of work. As another writer once told me, there’s no rush! It’s best to slow down and make something beautiful.

2. Unless you are driven to write a book about your story, without any guarantees of it ever being published (unless, of course, you decide to self-publish), you should first pitch your idea to an agent or publisher. This is a Herculanean task in itself and there is tons of advice online about how to accomplish this. Here’s The Paris Review on a week in the life of a literary agent. If you aren’t a working writer or journalist, you are going to need a portfolio of your writing (and likely a good chunk of manuscript if not a completed draft) to prove that you can write. In this age of social media, I hear it is good to be able to show that you have “a platform” from which you can reach an audience. Others are better able to advise on this topic. Also, I recommend looking to see if someone has already written what you’re hoping to write and think about what the market is for your idea. Book publishers are in the business of making money and you need to be able to prove that you can deliver what you promise and that people will want to buy it.

3. Another question people ask me is, what does a book proposal look like? A book proposal needs to succinctly summarize your book (think book jacket style of description), explain who you are and why you are the best person to write this book, as well as address the book market–what other books exist that are similar (or not), who is your market, etc.

4. But my most sincere piece of advice is to write a book that you love–and only a book that you love. Writing a book is so much work. So. Much. Work. Really. It’s really a lot of work. And if you don’t love what you are doing, then I would imagine it would be very hard to finish, let alone a pretty miserable way to spend your time when your friends and family are out riding their bikes in the spring sun or renovating their kitchens or reading good books or seeing good movies or going out for tasty meals.