Pub Rants

6 Writing Tips From My 6 Years in Publishing

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I’ve worked for Nelson Literary Agency for the past 6 years, all stemming from my certain declaration that I wanted to own a publishing company. I knew nothing of what the process entailed, but I knew I loved books and wanted to be a part of putting more out into the world. I’ve thankfully had the most encouraging and admirable mentors to teach me the ins and outs. Though queries have not been my main job, I have accumulated these few writing tips up my sleeve. 

Consume what you create. “Write what you know” absolutely applies to fiction. Consuming the genre that you write in aids in your understanding of your manuscript and how to pitch it. A fast way to tell an agent you don’t understand your own manuscript is to pitch it as the wrong genre. Utilize the existing books in your writing genre.

Publishing means new coworkers. Preparing yourself to work with others and consider their constructive criticism needs to be part of your transition to being query ready. Know that every published author you know has a rough draft that needed work. 

Rejection doesn’t define you or your work. Be careful how you react in moments of rejection as it may impact your potential for moments of success. Don’t silence your story because you haven’t found the team fit for you. 

Find your identifier. Agents read an impressive number of manuscripts in a very short span of time. To maintain order in their brain, they’ll often rely on an identifier. This identifier can be as simple as “that middle grade with a diary structure” or “the thriller with the unsettlingly charming voice.” This identifier may also be recognized and utilized by your consumers, so you’ll want to know what it is.

Advice for your manuscript is not always advice for your query. Advice for writing craft can be applied in three ways: relevant for your manuscript, relevant for your query, and relevant for both. Relevant for both can be seen in the advice “show, don’t tell.” For example, in your query, you’ll want to show, but not tell the voice of your story. If your manuscript is humorous, show that humor in your query. 

Your reputation proceeds you. The publishing world has many moving parts to produce a book and then get that book to its audience. These moving parts are made up of many hardworking people who cross paths more often than you think. You gain your credentials through more than just writing.

Photo by Natasha on Unsplash

6 Responses

  1. Alice Fleury said:

    Find my identifier. Wow. Never thought of that. Think I’ll have to mull about that one. Thanks for the list.

  2. C. R. Mitchell said:

    I always learn something from this newsletter.

    The concept of “show v. tell” is different for “book v. query” is eye-opening. I second Alice’s comment about “Find my identifier.” Wisdom from someone else’s perspective is always enlightening. Thank you for sharing!


    1. Eric Silverman said:

      Thanks for an informative column. I think a follow up might include an actual example of a query showing show versus tell

  3. Aaron Wyckoff said:

    I like to rephrase “write what you know” as “don’t write what you don’t know.” Obviously, people write about things they’ve never actually experienced all the time, but there is still essential research that has to be done. Knowing your genre through extensive reading before you start to write is definitely a major part of that.