Monday, December 18, 2017


So. The publishing business has undergone a sea change. You can get published without a publishing company. You can buy or sell books without a bookstore. Literary agents are going the way of the dodo. New business models have turned the business upside-down, and old-fashioned publishing is dead. Right?

Not even close. The business has not changed as much as you think. And the things that have changed, have little to do with what you need to know and do to succeed as a writer. 

Here’s what is truly new: Ebooks, POD, and online sales. That’s about it. Yes, they’re huge. Yes, they move a lot of books. No doubt, your buyers have more options for how to buy and read what you’ve written. But it's just that: it's about consumer choices. The real impact for you as a writer, is far less than you may think. In fact, these things can make your task harder, not easier. We'll get back to that in a moment.

Friday, September 22, 2017


This morning, I received an email from a frustrated writer who I met at a conference last year. Her story wasn’t right for me, but she did eventually sign with an agent. And this agent recently found her a decent deal with a major publisher. Normally this would be cause for rejoicing, but today she’s feeling overwhelmed. Her question:

I wanted to self-publish my book, but you told me that I should wait to find an agent and a traditional publisher. Now that I’ve done so, my agent and editor have given me a to-do list a mile long. They want me to rewrite my book, build a website, get onto social media, form a marketing plan, solicit endorsements, and a dozen other things. If I had self-published my book, it would already be on the market by now. What have I gained by following your advice?

Well, first, I don’t tell anyone what they should do. If you ask my advice (and only if you ask), I will review options with you and discuss the good and bad of each. Based on your situation, I might suggest a specific course. But only you can decide what you will do.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


This morning I found a long rant in a LinkedIn group, about a national magazine that doesn't pay all of its writers. How evil! I suggested an easy solution to this problem: If they won't pay, you don't submit there. Problem solved.

Of course, this answer won't satisfy many aspiring authors. They want the byline, to be sure, but they also want the validation that only a paycheck can bring. I get it. But there's a bigger picture here that most won't even consider.

Me, I've worked for free many times over the past 12 years. Every free gig has gained me recognition. Followed by multiple paid gigs. I've also had my blog posts lifted more than a dozen times (once by a national news magazine), without permission or payment. And in every case, those rotten thieves left my name on it, and a link back to my blog. With this, I gained tens of thousands of new viewers. (Google Analytics tells me so.) Some of them called me to offer paid work. Among that humber, some became repeat customers who then sent me referrals. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


At the age of eight, I learned to swim at a Boys’ Club in Hollywood. My instructor, Ron Friscia, continued to be my mentor for several years. At sixteen, I took a class with the Red Cross to be certified as a WSI (Water Safety Instructor.) With this credential, I could secure gainful employment as a teacher, lifeguard, or coach. It seemed like a dream, to spend my days around a pool. Or a beach. And legions of pretty girls in skimpy suits. And get paid for it! What more could a young man ask for?

But then I did my research, and a hard dose of reality hit me: The career path for a WSI is very uncertain. The pay is lousy, and most jobs are part-time and seasonal. Beach duty pays more, and Baywatch made it look easy, glamorous, and sexy. But the work is grueling, and brings with it an elevated risk of skin cancer. Any long-term advancement would likely require extensive travel or even outright relocation.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Last year, I attended sixteen writers’ events. After six years as a literary agent, this is my all-time high. Some were across town (Los Angeles), while others were across the country (Kansas City). Two weeks ago I was in New York City, and soon I will be in Orange County. 

I’ve come to expect at least one strange conversation with a writer in attendance, at each event. His language might be subtle or explicit, but one way or another, he accuses me of a crime. Not necessarily because of anything I’ve actually done, but because he has heard a horror story or three about agents. Surely we’re all the same, right?

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Every time I speak at a writer's conference, I teach my students how to submit their work to an agent or publisher. I have a list of DOs, and a list of DONTs. Many of them think it's unfair that I might reject those who don't conform to the prescribed process. After all, the book might be good, and a less-legalistic (and presumably more virtous) agent might snap it up and I will miss out on a great opportunity.

Sure, that could happen. But I still need to follow a screening process, and I can't help everyone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


When I correspond with writers, and speak at conferences, one of the most common laments I hear is this:

“I pitched my book to 400 agents, and no one wants it!”

Yes, 400; that seems to be the magic number where many writers give up. They get frustrated, angry, resentful toward those rotten agents who wouldn’t give them a chance. As an author myself, I feel their pain. Yeah I know it sounds trite, but I’ve been there. Now that I’ve worked as an agent for a few years, I can view the situation from a different perspective.

Here's the part you don’t want to hear: You probably set yourself up to fail.

Let me explain.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Recently, on a respected publishing blog, a reader asked, “Is it permissible to query an agent by phone?” The expert answered no. I couldn’t agree more, and I am confident that you will get that same answer from most agents and editors.

The expert went on to give a long and convoluted reason for that policy, and I agree with most of it. But in my view, he severely overthunk it. I have a better reason:

Because I said so, and that should be enough. 

Here’s the thing: every agent has a process for evaluating submissions. Some want a one-page query, period. Some want a query and sample chapters. Some want a proposal and sample chapters. Still others are content to start with a Tweet. Some want a package by postal mail, others email. Attachments, or no atttachments? Whatever the case, this is how we roll. Almost every agency has a website with instructions on how to submit your work. If you want to catch our attention and maximize your chances, the best thing you can do is to follow instructions.