Frequently Asked Questions

...about how to get your work published.

Some commentary first:

Millions of people want to be writers -- though I sometimes wonder why, as it isn't a very lucrative profession, and it's damned hard. Far too many of these would-be writers think the way to learn the job is to ask established writers a lot of annoying questions, in hopes we'll reveal The Secret.

There is no secret.

There are entire books about how to get published. There are extensive websites about it. I am not going to try to show you how to get published here; I am only going to answer specific questions that I get asked fairly often. I've provided a big chunk of writing advice elsewhere, but that's not what this page is for. This is just, well, frequently-asked questions.

Some of these questions are stupid and annoying. Others are thoughtful and reasonable. And some look straightforward, but are built on such massive ignorance, or such complex misconceptions, that a complete answer would take thousands of words. Some of my answers may therefore seem unsatisfactory.

That's just tough.

Teaching you to sell your writing isn't my job, and I'm not volunteering. I'm providing this page so that you won't bother asking me these questions, because after a quarter-century of talking to would-be writers I'm sick of hearing them. I'm not doing this to help you; I'm doing it to make you leave me alone. If it's helpful, that's great, but it's not why I'm here.

And I get so many questions about agents -- what they're for, whether writers need them, etc. -- that I'm also providing a separate Frequently Asked Questions About Agents page.

I'll include a few relevant links at the bottom of this page, as well. You should check them out. Really. That's where you'll find the genuinely useful advice.

With that understood, here we go:

Will you read my story and tell me what I'm doing wrong?


How did you get started as a writer?

I wrote a story and sent it to an editor. That's all. No tricks, no secrets.

I was wondering, what steps did you take to publish your first novel? Did you use an agent or did you decide to do all of the work yourself?

I just packed it up and sent it to editors until one bought it; I'd published four novels before I signed on with an agent.

This is harder to do nowadays -- fewer publishers will read unsolicited submissions, and those that do take longer to reply -- but if you can manage it, I think it's still probably the best route.

But don't wait as long as I did to find an agent; once you've got your first novel acceptance is the time to look.

Do I need an agent to get a novel published today?

I honestly don't know. I certainly didn't in 1979, but I'm told it's gotten much harder. I don't think you need an agent, even now. See the Frequently Asked Questions About Agents page for a much more detailed discussion.

Who's your agent?

Russell Galen, of the Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. But he's not looking for new clients and I won't refer you.

Will you please read my story and tell me what I'm doing wrong?

I told you, no. I don't have time.

How do I find an agent?

I don't know. I found Russ through a personal recommendation from a fellow author back in 1982. I have no idea how most people go about it.

Do you provide your cover art? I can't paint -- do I need to hire an artist?

No. All the author provides is the words inside. The publisher is responsible for the cover, the packaging, all that other stuff. A few small presses have recently started asking authors to provide cover art, but this is a sleazy abomination and not to be tolerated.

I have this cool idea -- if I tell it to you, will you write it, and we'll split the money 50/50?

No. Ideas are cheap. I have far more than I can use; there are literally hundreds in my files that I haven't used yet.

Oh, come on, we're pals -- won't you read my story and tell me how I can sell it?

No. Really. We're not that close. I'm at the point now where I'll only even consider it for blood relatives, and I'm not sure about some of them.

Where do you get your ideas?

I steal them. Still want me to read your story?

More seriously, I get them from all over the place -- news stories, history books, other people's stories, real life incidents. Usually it's a matter of saying, "But what if it had happened this other way, instead?" I've written an entire article on the subject, if you want more details.

Is it true you need to know someone at the publisher to get your manuscript taken seriously?

No. I had never met anyone in the publishing business when I sold my first novel in 1979; I sent it in "over the transom," without any sort of previous contact.

What's the proper format for a manuscript?

Whatever the editor asks for. This is usually close to the standard format recommended in various books on writing, but if the editor's guidelines say to use the Max Circus font in purple on orange paper, that's what you should submit.

Do you pay for editing, or any other expenses the publisher incurs?

No. Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer.

Any publisher or agent who wants the writer to pay for anything up front, anything at all except the postage to mail the manuscript, is a scam artist and a thief and should be avoided.

Legitimate publishers do not expect the author to pay for editing, copyright registration, cover art, typesetting, design work, or anything else; they make their money by selling books, not by charging authors.

Legitimate agents do not charge reading fees of any kind, under any name; they take their percentage from the money the publisher pays, not from the author's own funds.

I cannot emphasize this too strongly -- they pay you. Always. Never ever ever ever believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Oh, please, please, please read my story?

Oh, go away.

Useful Links You Should Check Out:

Got a question I should add? E-mail me!


That's it; here's your list of handy exits:

The Misenchanted Page
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