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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.)


Advice summaries I created for the Yale journo program:


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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