Bestselling Author

Advice For Writers

I am frequently asked for advice — often in a tweet. I have no magic words to transmit in 140 characters, but if you're serious about writing, I have a lot of ideas.

If some of the categories here sound Greek — (What's a query letter?) — then I suggest you start with one of the books or overviews down there. Publishing is a complex business, and can be baffling at first, but those links are to people who are great at sorting it out.

If you're just getting started writing, I highly recommend a writing course to start. Writing is something you have to plunge in and do, but you can plunge randomly, or find a (human) guide. A great guide, who can help you unlock your own talent, and push you in ways you never imagined — that's priceless. If you're really serious, you should probably move on to a writing program afterward, but depending where you're at, that might be down the road.

I was unsure about quitting my job to immerse in a writing program, so I got my feet wet with an adult ed course at SMU when I was a computer consultant in Dallas. It met once a week in the evening, so it didn't interfere with work. Within weeks I wished I had tried that years ago, and started planning how to wrap up my career and transition to a full-time writing program. Testing the waters was key.

Start here

You probably want to start with one of these summaries from me:

Editor/Publisher Jonathan Karp's advice

  •  This is so good it deserves its own category, and should likely be your starting point. Jonathan Karp: amazing interview in Poets & Writers. This should be required reading at every MFA program, or for anyone considering the field. Jon is one of the great visionaries of publishing and I was lucky to have him as both publisher and editor of Columbine. He is now publisher of Simon & Schuster.





  • My Poynter Institute Q&A on covering tragedy and trauma (and reporting in general): "After Las Vegas shooting, a Columbine expert offers heartfelt advice about the why of it all." (I added this to the Start Here section as well.)


These old blog posts have disappeared. Damn. I'll try to recreate them at some point:


Getting Published


  • How to break into publishing. A quick summary I composed to help a friend trying to break into the biz. (This also disappeared. I'll see if I can find the file I used to create it.)

  • How to get published. Agent Rachelle Gardner's excellent summary, with more details and links.

Agent websites with great advice


Selling your book: Using the web / social media


Pitch letters

(Also known as query letters.) Here are the best brief how-to guide's I've found:

  • Query Letter Mad Lib: Ignore the cute title. This is a great intro post, that lays out what a query should be, with everything to leave in and out. It's agent Nathan Bransford, who has a great reputation on this stuff.

  • Examples of a Good Query Letter: Three great examples, with analysis, by agent Nathan Bransford.

  • How to Write a Query Letter: A slightly different approach, by agent Rachelle Gardner.

  • 23 Successful agent query letters: From GalleyCat.

  • For related links, see the margins of all those posts. The agents who created them have all sorts of great links in their sidebars.


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