So you want to become a published writer?
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So you want to become a published writer?

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child dispense immortal advice on how to become a writer, find an agent, and get published.

Dear Readers,

Oscar Wilde

Many of you have asked for advice on how to become a writer, find an agent, and get published. We are delighted to share with you a few random thoughts on the matter. (Your mileage, of course, may vary and our advice is only that—advice.) Write. Write often. A violinist who aspires to Carnegie Hall practices eight hours a day. An Olympic athlete training for the triathlon works out every day. Writing is no different.

Develop the habit of ruthless self-criticism. Your first (or tenth) draft is not your precious child. Murder it. Savage it. It is nothing more than inert clay: a thing to be scrutinized, questioned, kneaded, chopped up, pounded, rearranged, and, if necessary, thrown away. Seek out those whose opinions you respect and ask them to give you objective criticism. (Advice from mothers is to be avoided.) Do you know why there are so many versions of Shakespeare’s plays? Because (some scholars believe) he was an inveterate reviser, never satisfied with his work and always willing to listen to criticism from his actors and audiences.

Another piece of advice is to write the kind of story you yourself would like to read. Don’t write a book because you think the subject is publishable or marketable—that rarely works. Study your favorite writers and dissect their work. Don’t imitate or copy, but let yourself be guided and inspired.

Our final piece of advice: you must rearrange your life so that you have an uninterrupted, inviolable period of time to write every single day. To do that, others must cooperate. So find yourself a quiet place and get to work.

“I have a fantastic idea. Would you be interested in writing it yourself or with me?”

Ernest Hemingway

Absolutely not. Our ideas must be our own and one collaboration is enough! If you have a good idea, why not write it yourself?

“Will you read my manuscript?”

We are very sorry to inform you we will not. There are many reasons for this, the most important being legal. While we do a great deal to help aspiring writers, the one thing we cannot do is read and critique a manuscript.

“How do you do your research? Do you have help?”

We do all our own research. We like to write about things that interest us: computers, music, paleontology, archaeology, physics and engineering, exobiology, horses, the desert, the sea, scuba diving, and boats. And we set our novels in a potpourri of places we know well—New York City, New Jersey, the American Southwest, Italy, England, California, Louisiana, Cambodia, Long Island, Egypt. If you are a writer wondering about research, we recommend you start with what you already know in terms of information and geography. When we do have to research something more thoroughly, we often become journalists, identifying experts and interviewing them. When we were writing THE ICE LIMIT, for example, we called up a top engineer at the Bechtel Corporation and asked him: “Let’s say you found a 25,000 ton meteorite on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean and you wanted to load it on a ship and bring it to New York—how would you do it?” We got one hell of an interesting answer… Most experts are happy to talk to novelists who are making an effort to be accurate.

“How can I get published?”

Mark Twain

You need to find an agent. If you’ve already tried to find an agent and not been successful, we suggest you set aside the novel you were trying to sell and write another. (We all have an unpublished first novel sitting in a drawer somewhere.) If you have written a nonfiction book or a literary novel, you might consider approaching regional and small presses, which don’t require agents. Personally, we do not see anything wrong in self-publishing, as long as you have realistic expectations and work with a respectable firm.

Many books have been written on how to write a proposal, how to submit it, etc. If you’re interested, we suggest you seek out such books. A good starting place would be the reference section of your local library.

“How can I find an agent?”

There are many excellent resources out there to help you find an agent. Here are some links. We highly recommend Writer’s Digest as a source of excellent and accurate advice on how to get published.

Writer’s Digest
Agent Query, a database of literary agents
1000 Literary Agents, another database
Writer Beware

The Literary Marketplace, or LMP, available in most libraries, is an excellent reference book covering many aspects of publishing, and it has lists of reputable agents and how they can be contacted.

“What organizations should I join?”

There are many excellent organizations for writers. These organizations provide opportunities to attend conferences, meet other writers, discuss publishing, and learn more about the craft. The two essential ones for thriller writers are: The Authors Guild (to which every writer should belong) and International Thriller Writers, Inc. (a superb organization which is free if you are a published writer). Other excellent organizations are Mystery Writers of America; the International Association of Crime Writers; and PEN, among many others.

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