QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, November 23, 2009

7 Characteristics You Need To Get Published

In honor of our swiftly-approaching one-year mark, I'm pulling out one of the QueryTracker Blog Team's first posts.  Part of what's fun about the re-post is that I can link to many of the posts we've done over the past year!

Agents and editors deal with hundreds of queries, synopses, proposals, and chapters every month. Whether you realize it or not, your approach to the process has a lot to do with whether or not your work will ever reach publication. Here are the 7 characteristics necessary to achieving your dreams!

Characteristic 1: Commitment to Growth

The first thing every real writer needs is a willingness to learn and grow. All agents or editors—no matter how busy—are interested in quality work. The first step: write the best book you can. That means you’ll probably need to brush up on grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and plotting. Don’t give someone an excuse to reject your work because you’ve either never learned or forgotten how to write in an active voice.

Research local or online writing workshops and sign up for a writing conference or two to jump start your creative juices and brush up on what it takes to become a published author. Join a critique group to help yourself develop a critical eye for grammar, sentence structure and plot in the writing of others. Then apply what you learn to your own writing. When you view writing as a life-long learning experience, you've taken the first step to becoming published.

Characteristic 2: Humility

Completing a project is an accomplishment, and one you should be proud of—just not too proud to miss places you still might be able to improve. Chances are, you did forget a comma or semicolon somewhere. Or spelled a word wrong. Or didn't tie up that loose end. Or tried to cram in too many subplots. Or something. When you share your work with critique buddies, really listen to their feedback. If an agent is kind enough to offer advice, thank him or her and then consider making the changes to your manuscript.

Characteristic 3: Self-Confidence

On the flip-side of humility is self-confidence; you’ll need both in equal measure. Not to be confused with arrogance—there is a difference! Getting published is usually an uphill battle. Everyone along the way will have an opinion about your work, and not all of those opinions will be positive! Most agents reject between 95% and 99% of all queries they see, and editors are even harder to win over.

Even after you make it through the gauntlet of agents, editors, and other decision-makers, you’ll have to face book reviewers and bloggers. You must believe in yourself enough not only to go through the whole process, but also to endure the onslaught that follows. Once you've acquired the skills of a writer, a sense of self-confidence will help you recognize that your hours of research, learning, and growing are going to pay off.

Characteristic 4: Perseverance

Once you've produced the very best story you can, built your self-confidence, and balanced it with humility, it’s time to submit. Research agents and editors and only submit to those who are a good match for your project. And don't just submit to one agent or editor. Or two. Or even ten. Keep going until you find one who loves your work!

And don't stop writing while you submit. Maybe your first book won’t make as big of a splash as you’re hoping. Maybe your second—or your fifth—novel will be the one to land that dream agent and publishing contract. Author Dan Brown published three books before he scored a worldwide bestseller with The DaVinci Code.

Characteristic 5: Professionalism

Understand that publishing is a business, and that agents and editors are trying to find books publishers—and eventually readers—will want to spend their hard-earned money to buy. That means you need to conduct yourself like a professional. While this might seem obvious, you must treat everyone you deal with, from agents’ assistants all the way up to publishing heads, with courtesy. Even if you don’t like what they’re telling you.

Never send hate mail back to agents or editors. (You might be surprised how often publishing professionals have to deal with this.) Also realize that form responses are normal — if you had to read hundreds of queries every month, you’d send them too! Don't take rejection as a personal attack—it's just business.

Characteristic 6: Patience

It takes patience to see your dream of being published come true. Not only patience to write the book—which doesn't happen in a single sitting—but patience to wait for responses from beta readers, critique groups, and then agents, editors, and publishers. Some respond immediately. Some are a little slower, but will respond eventually. And some won’t respond at all. In each case, your patience will be tried.

Characteristic 7: Luck

Before you decide that you’re doomed because you’ve never won the lottery (or even a door prize drawing), you need to know that we’re talking about the kind of luck you make for yourself. There is an old Chinese tenet, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” So first, be prepared. And then cultivate your own luck. Lucky writers behave in ways that create good fortune in their lives. For example, they read agent and industry blogs (like this one!) to get a feel for what different agents like. They notice and act upon chance opportunities, follow their intuition, look for the bright side of every situation, and are certain their future is promising. Their outlook becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, creating the perfect environment for “luck” to flourish. Remember, it only takes one positive response!

Put All Those Characteristics Together: Indomitable Spirit

Incorporating these seven traits will result in the indomitable spirit necessary to succeed in the publishing industry. What is Indomitable Spirit? It’s an attitude or state of mind in which you are impossible to frighten or defeat. Never, never, never give up on your dreams.

“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Elana JohnsonCarolyn Kaufman and Suzette Saxton worked together on this article!


Stina said...

Great post, girls!

I remember reading it the first time eleven months (?) ago. It's amazing just how ingrained all these points have become in the way I approach my writing and the industry. Now when writers whine to me about how agents are too stupid to see how brilliant their book is, they get a lesson from me about the reality of publishing and how it's a business. Of course, having experience working in sales and marketing in the pharmaceutical industry made me wise to the realities of business in the first place. ;-)

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post!!!

Thanks to all of the QueryTracker bloggers for your hard work and great advice week after week.

Rose LeMort said...

This is the first article of its kind that I've actually found inspiring rather than obnoxious. Usually how to get published articles are all about how you should kiss booty and follow trends--something I find onerous. I saved a copy for future reference. Thank you!

Katie Anderson said...


Jean Reidy said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. And I'm so glad you included Commitment to Growth. It seems too often that growth in craft is forgotten among all the query advice and agent search suggestions.

Rebecca Knight said...

I love your take on Luck and what it takes to be a successful writer :). I missed this article the first time around, so thank you for reposting!

Unknown said...

Wonderful post and being somewhat of a quote nerd, I love how you ended with Emerson. Thanks for this!

Gerry said...

I missed this post the first time around. Most of it I know--in principle, at least--but it's good to be reminded. I'd like to keep a copy and read it from time to time, just to keep me sane and on track. Thanks!

Ian said...

Brilliant. I'm linking to it. :)

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. Character will keep you moving forward towards achieving publishing goals. Most of the time, it's our character that makes or break us.

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Carolyn V. said...

Wow, this was an excellent post!