how to get published

December 10, 2010

This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get.  One of these days when I get a little time, I want to do up a whole Publishing FAQ page on my website that I can just point people to.  The page will mostly be links, because lots and lots of other people have written eloquently on the topic.  In fact, I’ve seen two good blog posts this week alone.

How to Get Published, on Making Light

Everything you Need to Know to Be a Fiction Writer, by Jeff VanderMeer

I agree with both of them.

And if all this sounds like a helluva lot of work…you’d be right.  Here’s the thing, though — most writers I know don’t do the work because they want to be writers.  They do the work because they love the work. If you don’t love books and have stacks of them around your house, if you don’t love stories of all kinds, if you don’t love the very words they’re written with and pick them apart to see what makes them tick, if you aren’t fascinated by the way all these things work, if the thought of writing a second book before the first sells fills you with dread instead of a sense of excitement — then you probably aren’t cut out to be a writer.


UPDATE:  BOOM! It’s here. REFUGE OF DRAGONS is a book. Sorry it took so long!

It’s awfully gratifying that I’ve already had a bunch of people ask me this.  It means I must have done something right with the book.  (“They like me, they really like me!”)

The answer, as usual, is complicated.  I have the sequel lodged firmly in mind.  But it isn’t written yet. (Because I wrote my YA pirate book, Steel, first.  Because that’s the one my brain wanted to write.  So I did.)  I have another Kitty book to write before I’ll have a chance to get to the Voices of Dragons sequel.  But I am thinking of it.  I just don’t know when I’ll get to it.

It’s kind of a nice problem, having too many books I want to write.

I just signed a contract for four more Kitty books.  Those will be novels # 8, 9 and 10 in the series, and the long-discussed Kitty short story collection (including the Cormac and Ben story “Looking After Family,” and the Cormac novella that shows what’s been happening to him over the last few books).

Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure how many books there will be.  When I started the series, I thought I’d write five books, tops.  But I keep getting ideas that don’t fit in the book I’m writing, so I put them off for the next book.  So far, I’ve been reliably developing ideas for two or more books past the one I’m currently working on.  As long as that keeps happening, I’ll keep writing the series.

However, I do have an end point in mind.  I know what the last book in the series looks like, and I really want to write that one some day, a) because it’s so cool, I’ve got some awesome stuff lined up, really; and b) I think most series really do have natural lifespans and I want the series to end while it’s still fun to write — and read.

In the meantime, though, I’m wrapping up the first draft of the eighth book this week.  I’ll be ready to start outlining the ninth book shortly after that, and I’ve started the “crock pot” on book 10 bubbling.  After that, we’ll have to see what I can come up with.



I’ve been waiting a long time to tell folks about this.  I decided I’d announce it when I had a cover to show off.  And, well, here it is.  Meet Voices of Dragons, my first young adult novel, previously discussed as the rock climbing jet fighters alternate history dragon book.  Pretty cool, huh?  I didn’t think I was going to write a YA book.  I tried writing it as an adult book, but it wasn’t working.  Then I made the main character a teenager, and the plot fell together due to various reasons I don’t want to go into because they’re spoilers.  Ta da, a YA novel.  Then Harper wanted to publish it.  How cool is that?

To answer the question a little more generally, I have lots of other books I’ve written/am writing.  Now that I’ve been writing Kitty books for about 6 years (I wrote Midnight Hour early in 2003), I’m finding that if I can skip around, and write something else after writing a Kitty book, I can go back to the Kitty books with fresh eyes and keep them from getting stale.  I think that’s important.

I have a couple of other novels that I wrote after Midnight Hour and Kitty Goes to Washington, while I waited to find out if I was going to be writing more Kitty books.  These are a superhero novel and a near-future end of the world with Greek mythology chucked in novel, and I’m hoping they’ll see the light of day at some point.  I’m also working on the second YA novel, which has time travel and pirates.  I’m cooking a fantasy novel, but I don’t know if anything will come of it.  Right now, after the pirate book and the next couple of Kitty books, I have no idea what I’ll be working on.  But something will come up.  Something always does.

The release date for Voices of Dragons is March 2010.

I’m amazed at how often I get asked this question.  Recently, people have been trying to shake things up by asking things like, What’s sexier, incubus or zombies?  I’m like, Dude, do you even need to ask?  Incubus:  designed for hot sexy sex.  Zombie:  dead and rotting.  Geez!

Basically, what the vampire/werewolf question is really asking is, Necrophilia or bestiality?  Even though not very much shapeshifter fiction actually crosses that line.  Also, fictional vampires very rarely seem all that dead.  They all seem to breathe, bleed, and get it up like normal alive people, so it’s pretty easy to ignore that whole dead thing .

Has anyone noticed yet that the vampires in my books and stories don’t actually have sex?  Not that I’ve dealt with it all that much.  But it’s in the background.

So to answer the question seriously, I have to go with werewolves because they’re alive.  I also, as you might imagine, find them much more interesting than vampires.

I’ve been getting this one a lot lately, which amuses me.  People seem to think this is an obvious move, because of the trauma it would cause, and novels are all about trauma, right?

But since when have I ever done the obvious in my books?

So no, I have no plans to kill off Ben.  Because I think it’s MUCH more interesting to keep him around, causing trouble.


I broke into publishing the old-fashioned way. Which is to say, exactly how all the “How to get published” books tell you how to get published. I wrote for a long time. I wrote badly for a long time. When I was 16 I started sending stories to magazines like Analog and Asimov’s (because this was back when I thought I was going to be a Big Idea hard SF writer. Dr. Schmidt and Mr. Dozois, at this time I would like to formally apologize for sending you my really bad “big game hunters from Alpha Centauri killed off the dinosaurs and environmentalists from Alpha Centauri are getting ready to reintroduce them into their natural habitat” stories). I kept writing. I kept sending out stories. I had a few successes in college with the literary magazine and contests. I kept writing. I wrote my first novel in 1995-6. I liked it. I still do. I sent it to publishers. It didn’t sell. I kept writing. I wrote two more novels that will never see the light of day. In 1998 I went to Odyssey, a 6 week long summer writing workshop. I had a chance to do nothing but write for a good stretch of time, and I learned a lot. I learned how to revise, which turned out to be the big hurdle I’d been trying to get over. I write crappy first drafts. I’d been sending out my first drafts all this time. I write much better second drafts. I sold a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthology in 1999.


I sold some more short stories. I didn’t sell a lot of short stories. I wrote two more novels, both fantasy. I sent them out. They didn’t sell. Then I wrote Kitty and The Midnight Hour. I got an agent, via someone I know. I left the agent. I got another agent, via a one-page query letter. This was now 2004, about 15 years after I made my first short story submissions. In August 2004, my agent sold Kitty to Warner Books. In 2006, I finally sold a story to Asimov’s.


From what I can gather, my numbers are about normal. Ten years to sell a short story, four tries to sell a novel. Maybe a little more than some, but I think that was a function of starting very young and being quite naïve and stupid about it all for a longer than average stretch of time. But that shows you how I did it. BTW, I advocate starting young and stupid because by the time you figure out how hard this gig really is, the actions — writing every day, sending stuff out — have become habit and you’re less likely to talk yourself out of it like you might if you’re old and wise.


I’m going to be catty for just a minute: I have gotten a few questions along the lines of “What’s the secret handshake so I can get my book published too?” There is no secret handshake. There are guidelines such as never give money to anyone up front (see Yog’s Law). But what it all comes down to is hard work and sticking with it. Write better.

Write better — this is one thing I don’t think people say enough. Being persistent isn’t enough. You have to be constantly working at your writing, challenging yourself, getting better. If you persist in writing the same drecky Mary Sue fantasy novel over and over again, or your short stories all show the same problems with plotting and point of view, you’re probably not going to break in no matter how long you try. One great way to improve is by reading other people’s work, and analyzing the hell out of it. What did you like? What didn’t you like? You hated that novel so much you couldn’t finish it — why? Were the characters wooden? The plot unbelievable? Why? You can apply that to your own writing. This is why my Masters is in English lit rather than creative writing. Analyzing works of literature makes me a better writer.


One of these days I’m going to post that big game hunters from Alpha Centauri story so you can see that it is possible to become a better writer than the one you start out as.


I have some good news and some bad news.

There’s been some confusion because the back of “Silver Bullet” says one thing and I’ve been saying something else. The deal is this: my editor and I came up with this hoopy plan to release #5 and #6 back to back, as a sort of two-parter. This required moving the schedule around a bit, to give me a couple of extra months to get #6 ready in time.

So the bad news is, Kitty #5 (which still doesn’t have a title, darn it) is currently scheduled for February 2009, not fall 2008.

The good news is, Kitty #6 is currently scheduled for March 2009. Shortest wait ever.

In the meantime, I have two Kitty related short stories due out in anthologies in 2008.

“Life is the Teacher” is about Emma, who at the end of “Washington” was turned into a vampire against her will. It will appear in “Hotter Than Hell,” edited by Kim Harrison and due out in June.

“Il Est Ne” is about Kitty, and another rogue werewolf she meets on her travels. It’ll be in an anthology of werewolf Christmas stories, “Wolfsbane and Mistletoe” edited by Charlaine Harris and due out in October.



Maybe…someday… I don’t really get to make that decision, ultimately, unless I win the lottery and can form my own production company. Hollywood is a weird duck.


Oh, and please support the WGA strike. Thanks.







Lots of books start with the premise of “what if vampires and werewolves existed in the real world?” The stories tend to get soap-opera-ish and angst ridden. I decided these folks needed their own call-in advice show because Dr. Laura just couldn’t handle their problems.

I wrote the first short story initially because I figured an idea that silly couldn’t possibly last for more than a short story. It turns out the radio show was the perfect format in which to discuss just about every aspect of the supernatural, paranormal, and all its attendant literatures and stereotypes I could possibly put my mind to. So, five short stories, a couple of spin-off short stories, and four novels later, I’m still writing about Kitty and her world.


A side note about Dr. Laura: I was working in a bookstore at the time (mid-90s) and her book, Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, was hitting best seller lists. I despise that book. No, I haven’t read it. But 1.) the title is so condescending it makes my blood boil, and 2.) a great number of the people who bought the book were middle aged and elderly men who said they were buying it to give to their daughters and granddaughters.


Oh. My. God. It was all I could do not to yank the book out of their hands and bitch slap them with it. Is it any wonder girls have low self esteem when the father figures in their lives are basically telling them, “I’m expecting you to mess up your life.”


By the way, it’s not usually a good idea to give a self help book, any self help book, as a gift to anyone. Even if you mean well. Especially if you mean well.