STEP ONE: WRITE YOUR BOOK
It all starts with a story. But once you’ve found the creative courage to put that story onto the page, you’ll realize that writing also requires a specific skillset. While you don’t need an MFA to become a published author, it is a good idea to study the craft of writing in order to develop a structurally sound narrative with a strong plot, well-formed characters, appropriate pacing, etc.
You can learn this information from books, online, in classes, or at writing conferences, but we’ve narrowed the list to help point you in the right direction.
Books on the Craft of Writing:
- The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell
- Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell
- Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, by Nancy Kress
- Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy, by Barbara Kyle
- Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
- Write-a-Thon, by Rochelle Melander
- Fiction First Aid, by Raymond Obstfeld
- Write Naked, by Jennifer Probst
- Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
- Outlining Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
Writing Courses and Online Learning:
- Barbara Kyle offers courses and mentorship, taking a writer-to-writer approach as she teaches the techniques needed to compete in today’s publishing market. Her video course “Your Path to Writing a Page-Turner” is a Udemy bestseller. Barbara's seven-book Thornleigh Saga series, set in 16th-century England, has sold more than half a million copies worldwide.
- The Drexel Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing is an MFA for aspiring writers. This creative writing program lets you develop your manuscript through workshops, residencies, and literary courses. Feedback and insights from peers and professors help you move toward creating a publishable product. Program Director Nomi Eve is a Tall Poppy Writer.
- The Fifth Semester offers online courses that cover plotting, story development, and narrative structure. Created by Tall Poppy Writer Erin Celello.
- The Humber School for Writers is known for bringing distinguished authors to their faculty. This is a project-based program in which you meet specific learning outcomes by working through your own manuscript.
- The Writers Studio at Simon Fraser University streams students into genre-specific groups: fiction, narrative non-fiction, poetry, speculative fiction. Classes feature a variety of guest speakers and instructors. This is an extremely practical 10-month program with lots of mentoring and workshops. It covers everything from the craft of writing to the business of writing. They also offer an online version of this program.
No matter where you are in your writing journey, conferences offer something for everyone. With tiered classes on every topic imaginable, these events teach you how to improve in the craft of writing, share new insights on the business of publishing, offer networking opportunities with others in the industry, and introduce you to services that help you achieve your goals. These conferences often give you opportunities to sit down with a published author who reads and critiques a few pages of your writing. Others may give you the chance to pitch literary agents.
A quick search online for ‘writing conferences’ will turn up local and national options. The Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences and Writing Workshops also keeps an updated online guide to writing conferences.
Some of Our Favorite Conferences Include:
- The Dallas-Forth Worth Writers Conference (DFWCon) was chosen by The Writer magazine as the best writing conference in Texas. Known for being especially good for the Young Adult market (YA).
- The Muse & the Marketplace. This has been rated one of the best conferences in the country, with an extremely diverse and prestigious list of presenters. Added attractions include a “concrete and candid assessment” of your manuscript at their Manuscript Mart with an established literary agent, an acquiring editor at a publishing house, and/or a literary journal editor. Good for non-fiction and literary fiction.
- San Francisco Writers Conference states its goal as helping writers become published by helping them get better at the craft and business of writing. They host a wildly popular speed dating event, during which writers get the chance to pitch to more than 20 agents in an hour.
- Surrey International Writers’ Conference is near Vancouver, BC. Writers come from as far away as Alberta, Washington State, and Oregon for this superbly organized conference. It’s a real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of event. It also helps that superstars such as Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, and Jack Whyte are regular presenters.
- UnConference from the popular Writer Unboxed website takes a different approach, offering guided discussions instead of workshops and classrooms. Here, the entire writing community is encouraged to share knowledge.
- Boucheron World Mystery Convention brings together readers, writers, publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, and other lovers of crime fiction for a 4-day weekend of education, entertainment, and fun!
- Historical Novel Society of North America puts on a conference every other year. If you’re a history geek, this is the one to attend. Along with sessions on writing, marketing, and other good stuff, there’s a costume party (dress as your favourite historical character) and, more seriously, a rundown of market trends from a panel of agents, editors, and publishers.
- Killer Nashville International Writers' Conference. As the name implies, this is for mystery, crime and thriller writers. Industry professionals include agents, editors, and forensics experts.
STEP TWO: EDIT AND REVISE
Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s time to dive deep into the revision stage of the writing process. Professional freelance editors are your best bet in preparing your story for an agent’s desk. These experts identify strengths and weaknesses in your manuscript while providing constructive and actionable feedback to make your story the best it can be.
Start your search for resources online and bear in mind what former Writer’s Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino says about hiring a freelance editor: “The best way—and the only way that I recommend—is to get a referral. Meet other writers through good sites and find out who they used. Research these editors. Usually, editors will critique a few pages for free so you can see their style; utilize this service.”
Helpful Sites to Begin Your Search for an Editor:
- Editors Canada is the national association of professional editors. Search for editors by skills, genre, subject.
- ACES: The Society for Editing is the leading US organization of editing professionals, educators, and students; they have a database of editors for hire.
- The Creative Penn provides a list of professional editors. Joanna Penn is well-known in writing circles as a author of ‘how to’ books on writing, publishing, and marketing.
- Jane Friedman has put together a stellar page of resources that includes editors, as well as every other kind of professional you might need along the way. Jane is considered one of the most trusted and reliable voices in publishing today.
Freelance Editors Who Come Highly Recommended:
- Julie Perkins Cantrell is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author who runs Blue Spark Editorial and previously served as the editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review. She offers a full range of writing, coaching, and editing services. Julie is a Tall Poppy Writer.
- Kathryn Craft is a critically-acclaimed author who has served for more than a decade in a variety of positions on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers' Conference. She was named the 2020 Guiding Scribe for the Women's Fiction Writers Association. Kathryn also hosts writing retreats for women. Kathryn is a Tall Poppy Writer
- Genni Gunn is an author, musician, and translator who provides manuscript evaluation services. She has published eleven books. One of her novels was nominated for the Giller Prize, another was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her novel Racing Iris was made into a film (The Riverbank).
- Shaena Lambert is an author, writing mentor and coach. Writers Shaena has mentored have gone on to publication and critical acclaim in Canada and internationally, and won or been nominated for major literary awards including the Governor General’s Award, the BC Book Prize, the George Ryga Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and Best Canadian Stories.
- Claire Mulligan provides manuscript evaluations. Her novels have been nominated for the Giller Prize and the BC Book Prize, while her short stories have won multiple awards. Her screenplay, The Still Life of Annika Myers, has been made into a short film and won the Audience Favourite Award at the 2019 Ottawa Film Festival.
- Jennifer Pooley is a former acquisitions editor who is now an independent book editor. She spent twelve years with HarperCollins Publishers in New York City as a senior editor for William Morrow and Harper Perennial.
- Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D., is a bestselling author, speaker, and law professor. She is a writing and publishing coach and also offers manuscript evaluations. Her non-fiction book Even If You’re Broken: Essays on Sexual Assault and #MeToo (2019) won a 2020 Gold IPPY award. She has taught narrative-writing workshops through the Duke Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and served multiple times as an AWP Mentor in the Writer-to-Writer program. Katie Rose is a Tall Poppy Writer.
- Heather Webb is a bestselling and award-winning author. She is a freelance editor with nine years of editing experience and has helped many clients sign with literary agents, several of whom have gone on to sell to Big Five publishers and to become bestsellers. Heather is a Tall Poppy Writer.
STEP THREE: RESEARCH AND QUERY AGENTS
Once you’ve revised and polished your manuscript, it’s time to query literary agents. It’s important to perfect your pitch, query letter, and proposal in order to make a strong impression. We also recommend doing extensive research on the front end so you’ll target the agents who represent stories similar to yours.
- Kelly Simmons no longer helps authors write query letters to agents. Not directly anyway. Get her book How to Write a Great Freaking Query Letter: Proven Techniques to Break Through a Literary Agent's In-box for the same valuable advice she’s given to hundreds of writers through her workshops and conferences. Kelly is a Tall Poppy Writer.
- We like literary agent Rachelle Gardner. Her blog, written from the point of view of an agent, is filled with solid, down-to-earth, compassionate advice on how to navigate the world of publishing no matter what genre you work in. She’s consolidated all her ‘how to get published’ blogs, including advice about dealing with agents, into a step-by-step guide: Your Path to Publishing
- Publishers Marketplace gives you a lot of bang for your buck by charging a cheap price for a gold mine of useful information. You can sign up for a free, daily email to receive news about the publishing industry. Or, you can pay $25/month (US Dollars) with no long-term commitment. This monthly subscription allows you to search an extensive agent database and identify who they represent, what books they’ve sold, and to which publishers. You also can search by author to discover who represents a particular writer whose books are similar to yours.
- Writer’s Digest is another great resource for authors. Start by typing ‘how to write a query’ or ‘how to find an agent’ into their Search and you’ll have enough reading material to keep you busy for hours.
- Jane Friedman is my number one go-to source when it comes to the business of publishing. She's been in the industry a long time and I trust her information: the articles she and guest authors write, the books she has written, and her newsletters. Search 'finding an agent' on her website and you'll get tons of good information.
Of course these recommendations are just a small sampling of what's available to you. There are lots of others, for example, this list of resources from CouponFollow's Money-Saving Guide for Authors and Writers. Many thanks for this to Anna, a young writer who attends writing workshops at Booklicious.
We hope you’ll find your publishing journey to be an incredibly positive and rewarding experience, and we look forward to celebrating with you as you make your dreams come true!