How to Get Published: Advice From the Other Side

quotescover-JPG-25Since I began admitting that little ol’ me was writing a book, a funny thing happened. Other people started telling me that they wanted to write books too. I quickly realized what I was getting myself into. EVERYBODY wants to write a book. Only a fraction of those people get around to finishing their masterpiece (because writing is actually kinda hard), and only a fraction of that fraction get published.

Recently, Greg Bardsley, an author friend of mine (whether he agrees to it or not), took time out of his busy schedule to help me with a few questions I had about attracting agents/publishers, as I creep ever closer to writing my new two favorite words in the entire history of the world, THE END.

finalcover_withps_shadowIn July, 2011, Greg received the news from his agent that ALL aspiring novelists want to hear. He was going to get published. And not by just anyone, but by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins. Since then his book Cash Out has garnered countless rave reviews from everywhere including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His writing style is fresh, twisted, and funny as hell. It’s easy to see how he got to where he is today, and it’s fair to say I’m pretty stoked for the release of his second book, next year.

BUT, Greg didn’t get to where he is today by sitting on his ass waiting for a published to fall out of the sky and onto his book:

He has worked as a Silicon Valley speechwriter, a newspaper reporter and a global communications leader. His ghostwriting for high-profile business executives has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, and the Financial Times. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His debut novel, Cash Out, was listed by The New York Times as one of five notable novels written about Silicon Valley.

A lot of rumors circulate writing communities about just what it takes to get published. Hopeful novelists will chuck around advice ranging from “Create a buzz,” to “Get your name out there,” to “Dance around a wishing well in the rain on the third Wednesday after the Winter Solstice.”

Sorting through some of the vague and downright counterproductive tips can be tough, which is why I flagged Greg down to cut through some of the bullshit and into the proverbial publishing meat. His answers were incredibly eye-opening, which is why I figured some of YOU might want to get in on the goods too.  cropped-newbanner2014bSo, with no further ado, meet Greg Bardsley, author of Cash Out, the upcoming novel, The Bob Watson.

Welcome to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, Greg!

Thanks, Jenny. … By the way, that Winter Solstice dance doesn’t work (I learned that the hard way).

We met through a mutual friend, Mark Richardson, author of Hunt for the Troll. You both live in California, right? How do you two know each other?

gregYeah, I live near San Francisco. I met Mark a long time ago. We were both on the communications team at a large technology company in Silicon Valley, and we started up a defacto writers’ support group with another writer there, Al Riske. The three of us spent a lot of lunch hours talking about writing fiction, and helping each other with our stories and manuscripts. We’re still great friends—and each of us has since become a published author. Seeing our books in print has been satisfying. But really, the best part was growing with Mark and Al, and having so much fun along the way, and just the friendship.

One thing I’ve noticed about the writing community since I stepped out of my comfort zone is how eager writers seem to be to help each other out. Why do you think forming an alliance is a good idea?

I think that, as writers, we’re already putting ourselves out there, so we know how great it feels to have a little support along the way.

The crime and noir community is super supportive. I hear from friends who veer more into literary and general fiction genres, and it seems like those areas can be a lot more distant and indifferent, and very clubby. I am not sure why the crime/mystery/pulp writing scene is more inclusive, but it seems to be just that, which is really cool. Even though my books fall more into the satire and general-fiction category, I still get a ton of support from many of these good souls.

quotescover-JPG-77I didn’t plan it this way—it just happened. I would place a short story with a zine or a journal, and then I’d really get a kick out of the other stories. We all reached out to each other, and some really strong friendships (and writing partnerships) were borne. We are all still pretty tight. In hindsight, I realize now that these bonds enriched the whole experience (not to mention my writing), and opened the door to finding the right agent and even my publisher.

So I often say the same thing established authors told me back in the day: Get involved, be real, do selfless things for your writing buds (without expecting reciprocation), have a blast, learn from each other, and create a new group of “up and comers.” Read each other’s unpublished manuscripts; get your stories into the same journals and zines, if you can, and maybe even produce an anthology or yearly zine with them. If you all produce some good work, have fun and support each other, one side effect might be that there’ll be a “buzz” around your work. Astute agents (and even some publishers) will notice. Even if the buzz doesn’t happen, you’ve had a lot of fun, you’ve grown and you’ve made life-long friendships.

If you all come up together as writers, you’ll do anything for each other.

I’ve heard that terminology before: create a buzz. How exactly could a buzz translate into a book deal?

I am not sure if it does. But it can help. I know if you really do have a buzz (you’re getting anthologized, you’re getting recognized for your shorts, maybe you’re winning a few awards, or have lots of readers on your blog), you can use that as a selling point to agents, and they can do the same to publishers.

For me, it was the short stories. You could take chances with shorts, and you could get reactions from readers much sooner than with a book—and I met all these great people.

untitled2One such person was Anthony Neil Smith, the editor of Plots with Guns. He was a big supporter and eventual mentor, and PwG had a passionate following. Long story short, over the course of years, one of Neil’s good friends introduced me to his agent, who later would represent my third try at a novel, Cash Out. Neil also told me about Cal Morgan at Harper Perennial, who also had a short story zine called 52 Stories. Neil suggested I submit some stories to Cal; and that’s how I got my writing in front of Cal (he didn’t accept any of my stories, but he liked them). A few years later, when Cash Out was ready for submission, my agent David Hale Smith came up with a great list of editors, but he still asked me if there were any other editors we should pitch to. I thought of Cal—DHS happened to know Cal and included him in the initial pitch to six editors. Out of those first six submissions, we had two takers—Penguin and Harper. We went with Cal and Harper. Anyways, none of this (getting DHS, landing with Harper) would have happened, had it not been for my amazing group of friends and mentors.

The one thing I notice is that sometimes people fail to understand is how long it can take (if it ever happens). People want the book deal to happen now. But in reality, it almost never happens on your timeline. People get super bummed out. They are devastated. Hell, it’s a fucking jungle. Tough sledding. Whatever euphemism you want to use. That’s why I advise people to diversify their emotional investments in terms of writing—do shorts, create a zine, be sure you grow as a writer, be sure you’re having fun. quotescover-JPG-34 Try not to think about book deals. In most cases, it’s really premature. Focus on the craft—the writing, the stories, the growth. Keep working. It will take years and years and years—and then more years. And statistically, the odds are still against all of us. So, be sure that you’ll be okay if you never get a book deal. Be sure that you’ve had an amazing adventure regardless of what happens.

And at the end of the day, the thing that will get you a deal is writing a great book.

Is having a buzz around your work what worked for you?

“Buzz” did not land me a deal. But it might have encouraged people to read the first few pages of my manuscript. After that, the only thing that was going to get me a deal was an editor “falling in love with the book.”

After more than 15 years and three manuscripts, I finally made it work. That’s the part (decades of trying, several failed books that will never be published) that makes some aspiring writers go pale. The reality is, very few published novelists get their first manuscript published.

But like so many others, I just have to write fiction. It’s just too much fun.

Greg gave us a rare glimpse to the other side of writing. Yes, many people want to write a book. It’s a saturated market. BUT, even though it might be difficult, getting that elusive deal is possible. Stick with it. Enter short story contests with clout. Get published in literary magazines. And, even though the words might be a bit cliché, they mean something . . .  so, stir up a buzz, dammit.



Two Success Stories for Creative People

Howard Schultz hounded 242 banks before acquiring funding for Starbucks. Walt Disney’s theme park was turned down 302 times. J. K. Rowling applied to publishers for years before Harry Potter was given a green light.


There’s a reason people love success stories. They want to see that light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I believe novelists might enjoy a good success story more than anyone, because our tunnel can often seem so . . . so . . . LONG. Writing a book is daunting. Often, it means thousands upon thousands of hours worth of work without a waiting promise that anyone will be interested in the finished product.

My own first book is coming along, slowly. Along with my work, family life, and the upcoming holidays, I still manage to pick away at it day by day even though I haven’t had much luck accomplishing anything else. To be honest, sometimes it seems like I will never reach my goal of typing “The End” so I can finally begin querying agents (Hey, I’ve got my eye on YOU, Eric Simonoff).

But then I step back and try to remember what it’s all for. I write in all of my free time because one day I want to earn enough money from my book that writing can be my “real job.”

Is it possible to succeed when publishers turn down hundreds of prospective authors every day?


I’m not sure anymore how I first came in contact with David J Rogers. There’s something so inspiring about the way he writes that makes it easy to see why his books have done so well. Every time I read his blog, I feel a little rush. Success is possible. “The End” is near.

And now, I am very excited to share his success story with you. Stay in it to win it.


Two Success Stories for Creative People

Why are so many writers and artists so scared? This morning I started reading the Weekly Digests of some of the blogs I subscribe to and decided this post I’m about to laptop-820274_640write needed to be written–and fast– because so many writers and artists seem to be living in fear and intimidation, and they needn’t. There is no reason that the processes that come after the exhilarating execution of the work—dealing with “gatekeepers”– agents and publishers, clients and galleries—need be dreadful.

The gist of many of the posts written by the more experienced writers in particular to less experienced writers is: “Here’s how to get your book published. I will be your wise guide.” I will not give you any advice like that today, but only tell you about my experiences and that of a friend in breaking into “big time” publishing. My experiences were quite different from what you find described in many intimidating blogs. I hope my experiences make you confident and sure of yourself, less fearful, and less intimidated. And bolder.

I’ll be talking about writing professionally in this post because writing professionally is what I’ve been doing—and thinking about– for the last few decades. But I’m sure there are painters, sculptors, actors, dancers—artists generally—who could tell the same story of how breaking into their field wasn’t as awful as they were told it would be, and in fact found it painless, exciting fun.

I had an idea for what I thought could be a really successful nonfiction book, just as you think your idea would make a successful book. Nothing like my book had ever been written before and it had potential, so I was confident that I had something. But I knew nothing about publishing. Oh, of course I’d heard the horror stories about the tremendous odds against getting any book published. Everybody on earth knows that—especially a first book, odds of five thousand to one and so forth.

But my exact thinking went like this: “Thousands of books are being published every year and I’m betting I’m more books-535352_640skilled than most authors of them (after all, in college a famous creative writing teacher had said teachers like her wait their “entire career for someone who can write like you.” And hadn’t I had a story published in a prestigious literary journal while just a student?) So why shouldn’t my book be published?”

Then I learned that you had to write a persuasive book proposal and get an agent who would contact editors on your behalf. I had written many, many proposals in business and so I wrote a six page double-spaced book proposal—a short proposal, not a long one, a plain, simple one, not a complex, elaborate, fancy one: short and I hoped, sweet.

I hadn’t written a sample of my writing other than the proposal itself and a cover letter that talked about my unique qualifications to write the book or a refined table of contents because I hadn’t completely fleshed out the book in my mind. (In fact, I wouldn’t know what I was really trying to write until I had been working on the book for 1300 hours. Then it hit me!) I just had this good idea for what I thought would be an exciting, profitable book someone would want to publish.

Now I needed an agent to send the proposal to. I looked at a directory of agents and sent the proposal to the first name on the agent’s list. Then if he didn’t pan out I would send the proposal to the second name on the list and work my way down. I wasn’t experienced enough to know then that some writers send their proposals out in batches to twenty or thirty agents at a time. I would send off my stuff to one agent at a time and wait to see what happened. I had no idea then that the agent I sent my little proposal to was one of the most highly regarded agents in the literary world—serendipity at work. (A reminder that a good amount of luck is involved in a writer’s life and you don’t want just any agent working for you, but a good one with a reputation above reproach whose tastes and judgment of talent editors respect very highly.)

Within three days he called me on the phone to tell me he would like to handle the book—he thought it was incredibly timely and he liked the way I wrote. And he liked short, sweet proposals. So now I had an agent. He pitched the book right away (a man of action; my kind of guy) to an editor he thought could very well be interested. And in a week and a half I had a publisher who was eager to put out the book—a top quality publisher. The advance I received was a good one, much better than I’d expected. I wrote the book in twelve grueling months as I was contracted for (be sure to establish a reputation for never exceeding a deadline) and then months passed while the book was being edited and published.

The pub date came and the book was given a promotional budget but not a big one—I was “unproven.” I appeared on a newspapers-33946_640few radio and TV shows, and then two important things happened: a freelance journalist fell in love with the book—Fighting to Win— and wrote a superb and flattering full page, multi-column piece on it in The Washington Post that drew a lot of attention, and the publisher’s sales rep in Chicago fell in love with it too and promoted it with book stores in Chicago’s large, good book-buying market and with the publisher’s other sales people working in other cities and marketing staff decision-makers. And the book became a best seller in Chicago and Washington. Then in San Francisco and Las Angeles and other cities.

Other syndicated journalists liked the book and started writing about it—articles appeared everywhere. It began popping up on college reading lists, and now there were foreign editions that were doing very well. There was a buzz about the book and I was sent off to other major cities for more interviews on bigger shows. I got to enjoying publicizing the book so much that I decided I would rather promote books than write them. In fact, the publisher asked me jokingly if I would go on shows and promote other of their books too.

I had a hit that went through ten printings. With each new printing the book’s cover price rose one dollar, so my royalties were climbing. Now I was no longer unproven and had a track record, and my proposal for my next book consisted of a total of four sentences spoken over coffee to the publisher. The advance for it was substantial. When that book was published the publisher said they would like another book from me. I asked what they wanted me to write about and they said, “Whatever you want.”

I know a man who wrote a book he thought had the potential to be published and be popular. His expectations high, he contacted a great number of agents and no one was interested in handling his book, telling him that in their judgment unfortunately it would be impossible for it to find a public. The agents’ tastes ran in other directions and based on their professional experiences over many years with many books they felt that this one just didn’t have that—that whatever it takes for people to want to buy a book.

He didn’t give up after he had exhausted his long list of agents, but contacted publisher after publisher himself, writing them, sending his manuscript, calling them up, making appointments, pitching the book on the phone and in their Being courageousoffices, expecting all the time that eventually he would succeed. He met nothing but failure—no one thought anything of the book—but he still believed in it and in himself. He still expected the book to be published and be successful. He had faith that one day he would see it in book store display windows.

Then an editor of a small specialty publisher he had contacted called him to come down and talk. When my friend entered the office his manuscript was spread out on the editor’s desk and the editor was bent over it, reading. The editor looked up and said, “Oh, good, you’re here” and with a smile on his face added, “I think your book will be the number one best seller in the country.”

That book became a publishing phenomenon—a cultural phenomenon–and sold an astonishing 25,000,000 copies in paperback alone. It became America’s—and the world’s–number one best seller. Within two months the author was famous and pretty soon he was rich. The book was When Bad Things Happen to Good People and the author was Harold Kushner.

Writers and artists who harbor deep and prolonged doubts about their capabilities are easily set back by obstacles and failures. But when confident self-directed  writers and artists encounter daunting obstacles, disappointments, and failures, they show courage, rally, and make a comeback, intensifying their efforts and persisting until they succeed.

So I’m saying what all my blogs say—be supremely confident, be non-attached and fearless. Don’t be scared. Persevere. Be indefatigable. Be committed to your work every moment of the day. Never let discouragement and negativity penetrate to your depths. No matter what happens, good fortune, bad fortune, keep your spirit light as a feather. Develop your skills to the highest possible level and become what I admire most—not just a writer, but a REAL writer; not just an artist, but a REAL artist.


© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Source: Two Success Stories for Creative People

Now I know

There’s a reason people tell you the first draft shouldn’t take any longer than three months. quotescover-JPG-12

All right, all right, calm down–they’re not saying it should be good. Everyone who’s written anything knows the first draft is always garbage. (In my case, the quality of the second and most of the third draft are also highly questionable.) But, it turns out there’s a reason for most advice “they” give about writing.

I’m talking about the standard advice for fledgling authors: Start with short stories and work your way up. Accept that your writing will be crap at first. Finish your first draft in three months.

And, here are the problems with that advice, according to me, six years ago:

I came up with a great idea for a BOOK. Not a short story, not a novella, but a furREAKing book, okay?  Sure, the last thing I wrote successfully was a grocery list, which I may or may not have left on the counter when I went to the store. But, why dabble in the little leagues when the WORLD SERIES is within your grasp? I thought I could teach myself to write in the time it took me to finish the my book, and when it was complete, I would be Anne Rice. If not Anne Rice exactly, a blonde version, without vampires.

quotescover-JPG-49Aside from that, I couldn’t just accept that my writing would be crap at first. I had a computer. I knew how to make words. Anyone with a half a brain can type out a story, right?

I told myself that writing a first draft in three months would be impossible for someone like me. At that point I had two mini-hellions wreaking havoc in my house, work, AND a dayhome where I took in other people’s hellions. Besides, who gave out this advice anyway? The people trying to publish their first book generally need to have other “real” jobs, where they get paid, to do things like eat and stay alive. They probably had laundry to fold, groceries to buy, lawns to mow and *shudder* driveways to shovel, just like me. How could anyone, anywhere, possibly be expected to write the first draft of their epic premiere novel in three months??

Six years ago, tossing all of that advice out the window seemed like a great idea. I was going to make my OWN road, forge my own path, and use all of the other clichés I didn’t know I should probably exclude from my prose. When people asked me one day how I managed to write the greatest book since the Epic of Gilgamesh so easily, I would tell them it was just *sigh* a gift from heaven, brought down by angels, and sprinkled with fairy dust. I, was a natural talent.quotescover-JPG-35

Six years LATER, book still unpublished, I believe that maybe the advice was pretty good. Now I know.

Short stories are a great learning tool to sharpen your craft. Once you feel confident enough, show that story off in critique groups. Take the plunge and try to get it published in a literary magazine. Accept help from authors you TRUST. Reading about writing will only take you so far. quotescover-JPG-26My book shelves are heaving with textbooks and style guides, but I never learned as quickly as I did once I found the right critique group. A lot of learning how to write involves trial and error, writing and re-writing. Learning how to work within the confines of a short story will teach you how to say so much more using less words. You will be able to focus on theme and pace, and keeping the reader’s attention. And, when you’ve published a collection of short stories, a publisher will be that much more likely to accept your manuscript when your BOOK is finally ready.

No matter if you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, the first draft of your novel will be awful. And, that’s okay. Don’t spend your time revising it. When a writer sits down to begin their work, it helps to think of it as a chuck of marble. With each new word, you’re chipping away the rock which isn’t meant to be in your story. The first draft is just about taking shape. Finding form. Most of the words you type aren’t going to make it into the final copy, but they will be placeholders for the ones that will. You’ll get to know your characters in an intimate way that an outline, no matter how detailed, won’t facilitate. Worry about the details after.

Taking longer than three months to write that first draft is DANGEROUS. Imma tell you why. quotescover-JPG-16I’m fighting my way through the aftermath of an INCREDIBLY long slog at a novel right now. My first draft took me years, not months. The second draft took almost as long, and this third draft will turn one in March. Because writing this behemoth has taken so long, the second draft hardly looks anything like the first at all. The third draft might be a cousin, at best. All that added time gave me a lot of leeway to veer off track of what I originally wanted my book to be. In that accumulation of weeks and months, the theme has changed countless times. I’ve lost track of subplots, plots, character development and motivations. I’ve axed some players completely, changed names, added new ones, and sometimes forgotten who made the cut and who didn’t. Right now, I’m trying to work my way through the last four chapters, but I find that I’m untangling some pieces of the story I set into motion ages ago.

What I have learned over the years adds up to this: Start with short stories and work your way up. Accept that your writing will be crap at first. Finish your first draft in three months.

Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way.