Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I like your book …. Now help me get published

Every author with a real publisher has received an e-mail that reads something like this: ‘I’ve just finished reading your book and really loved it!!! By the way, I’ve written a similar book, except mine is set in the Bronx and my detective is a man undergoing a sex change who owns eight cats. Can you please advise me on how to get an agent???’

Many authors do not respond. We’re busy. Some of us work two full-time jobs – the day job and the successful author one that involves thinking, writing, proof reading and promotion. As much as we’re nice people who might like to help an aspiring author, we’re not here to help you get published.

Recently, I was on a book tour of North Carolina with fellow authors Vicki Delany and Mary Jane Maffini. The tour was directed and moderated by the wonderful media escort Molly Weston, who has very strict rules about what kinds of questions audience members can ask. At one event, when the how can I get published question reared its ugly head, Molly decapitated it.

So I created the following tip sheet which is now, in pdf format, my response to the how can I published question.

Elizabeth J Duncan’s tips for getting published

Like just about everything in life, publishing success depends on the right combination of luck, timing and talent.

1. Learn everything about the publishing business as it applies to your genre or sub genre.

2. Be careful why, how and when you approach published authors. Most writers are busy working day jobs, writing and taking care of their own publishing concerns. Be respectful and polite. Do not corner an author at an event and ask her how to get published. She is there to promote her own books and engage with readers. She is not there to help you get an agent.

3. If you seek advice from an influential person who may be in a position to help you, consider what she has to say very carefully. Refusing to follow the advice of a potential agent, for example, may suggest that you are inflexible and will be difficult to work with. Agents and publishers are looking for reasons to reject you, not accept you. Be open to suggestions and be prepared to make changes to your work. Do you want to be right or do you want to be published?

4. Be aware of trends. The book you are writing may have been popular last year, but will not sell next year. Publishing houses are looking for the next big thing, not something that was hot two years ago.

5. Join writers support groups.

6. Enter competitions for unpublished writers such as those offered by Malice Domestic, Crime Writers of Canada or the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Being recognized for writing better than anyone else opens doors.

7. Read books similar to yours. Often the author will acknowledge her agent. Send a well written query letter to this agent.

8. Get in with the people who are doing what you aspire to do. Go to conferences, book festivals, literary readings. Attend sessions and learn.

9. Attend a writing school like the Humber School for Writers. This may give you entrée to an agent, if your work is considered good enough. It will also help you improve your work, which must be the best it can be before you submit it to an agent. Rarely is there a second chance in publishing.

10. Attend a workshop like the Insiders’ Guide to Getting Published, offered by Humber College.

11. Keep going – but only if you are driven, committed, confident, prepared to face rejection, and can handle feedback or thinly disguised criticism. (Most feedback will be negative.)

Elizabeth Duncan is the award-winning author of The Cold Light of Mourning and A Brush with Death, published by St. Martin’s Press. Her third novel, A Killer’s Christmas in Wales, will be published in October, 2011.


  1. All very timely advice.

    In respect to #5, not even the most supportive writers group can open your mind and pour in the exact ingredients that are lacking in your personal recipe for publication. You have to listen to all of it and sort out the useful bits for yourself.