6 Ways You Should Be Stealing from Your Favorite Author

Chris Madden illustration of a burglar stealing a book on ethicsIf you want to get published, look to those writers who have come before you. In other words, be a book thief.

While we would never, ever suggest you plagiarize other authors, there are other ways to steal from them—and feel good doing it. The writers you admire have a lot of wisdom to impart, both directly and indirectly. Here’s how to leverage the career, advice, and published works of your favorite authors to get a publishing deal of your own.

  1. Check their acknowledgments.
    Doing your research is key to getting a sweet book deal. By checking the acknowledgments pages of your favorite authors, you will quickly compile a list of editors and agents to whom you might want to submit your project. In our Business of Books classes, we always recommend this bit of old-school sleuthing because it’s a much easier way to get a targeted submission list together than slogging through lists of agents and editors.
  1. Reach out and touch them.
    There are more avenues than ever to engage your favorite author, and we’ve seen more than one client make a personal connection with a writer. Follow and converse with writers you admire on social media; Susan Orlean, for example, is very active on Twitter, as is Judy Blume. You can also seek out writers who teach and take a class from them. Pam Houston, Andre Dubus III, and Maria Semple, for example, all teach at writers’ conferences and retreats. Many workshops allow serious interaction and review of your work. What better way to have your work noticed than to workshop it with a writer/teacher you admire? Who knows? They might even blurb your book when it goes to print!
  1. Learn from their successes and mistakes.
    Don’t reinvent the publishing wheel. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge out there already about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing and publishing a book successfully. In print interviews, podcasts, and TED Talks, authors impart lots of useful insider information about both their experiences. They also often write books about writing. Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Elizabeth George, and now Mary Karr, among others, have all written books that share their insight into the writing process. Sherman Alexie and Jess Walters teamed up to host a weekly podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, where they share new work and talk about the bumps in the literary road. We’re personally excited to hear from some of our favorite authors—Joyce Carol Oates, come on!—at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in February 2016, where we’ll also be teaching a workshop. NPR’s Scott Simon is giving a keynote, called “Napping, Drinking, and Other Writing Tips I’ve Learned From Great Authors from Phillip Roth to Judith Krantz to Mickey Mantle.” Great minds think alike, or so we’d like to believe. Glean all you can. And there’s almost nothing more encouraging than hearing how many times a wildly successful author has been rejected. 2015 Man Booker Award winner Marlon James persevered after his first novel was rejected 78 times by various publishers.
  1. Compare yourself to the authors you love.
    When you think about pitching your book (and yourself) to an agent or publisher, what authors might you compare yourself to? Give this question some thought. In your book proposal, it’s always a smart idea to align your writing with another writer or two. It helps agents immediately get a fix on your writing and an idea of how to position you and your project in the marketplace. This is not to say that your voice and writing isn’t completely original, it’s more that you are directing the conversation and putting yourself in the literary company you want to keep. As a case in point, Jen’s agent will always respond to an author who indicates why they reached out to her, which usually is because they believe their writing to be similar in some way to one of the authors in her stable. So, who is your literary dopplegänger?
  1. Study their writing practices.
    At events and in interviews, authors are always asked if they have any rituals or routines. When, where, and how do they write, and can you apply these tips to move your own project forward? Kerry just went to a reading where National Book Award Finalist Lauren Groff discussed how she needs the physicality of writing longhand for her creative process. If you feel stuck in front of a blank computer screen, this might be just the thing to get your creative juices flowing again, in the direction of a publishing deal.
  1. Find out who they admire.
    What and who do your favorite authors read? To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader as well. Finding out who an author reaches for or is influenced by might expose you to a whole new world. If you are experiencing writer’s block in some form, don’t fret. Consider it as a fallow period and use it as a time to read something great that a respected author recommended. It will make you a better writer and might offer up some additional comparisons when pitching your book.

To move your project forward in just two days, join us for Get Published!: A Writers Retreat at Willows Lodge on January 23–24, 2016.

(illustration: miloandalice.wordpress.com)

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