Tips from a former editor, now published author

Following up on my last blog post, I’m writing today with more advice from a (in this case former) big-house editor. I worked with Chris Pavone when he was an editor at Clarkson Potter, as well as when he was at Artisan, and now he can add bestselling author to his resume since his first novel, THE EXPATS, has hit the list.

I really like seeing the insider information from WritersDigest.com and was especially curious to see Chris’s tips on how to avoid editors rejecting your work. There is some solid if basic (and blunt) advice here, mostly for beginning authors. Much of what he suggests it seems to me is really more for authors before they’ve pitched to agents. I’d hope that most agents submitting projects to editors have made sure their authors have corrected all of these holes before the proposal or manuscript hits the desk of an editor.

What I love most about the piece is the comments. Writers are so grateful for seasoned feedback, and it’s clear from Pavone’s background that he knows of which he speaks since he rejected hundreds if not thousands of proposals and manuscripts in his day.

It got me to thinking of asking the question of our readers – what’s the best publishing advice you’ve ever received? From whom? And the worst? Where do you go when you need advice on how to pitch your work? Please share your stories and ideas here and let us know what’s helpful, and maybe more importantly, what isn’t.

4 Responses to Tips from a former editor, now published author

  1. Sebastian Clouth says:


    I am the Books editor at Before It’s News (beforeitsnews.com). Our site is a rapidly growing people-powered news platform currently serving over 3 million visits a month. We like to call ourselves the “YouTube of news.”

    We would love to republish your blog’s RSS Feed in our new Books section. Every post would have a description of your site and a link back to it. Our visitors would love to read your content and find out more about you!

    You could also publish excerpts of your books if you’d like :), along with links back to pages where they are for sale.

    It’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your work and reach new readers. We don’t censor or edit work.

    We will be featuring and promoting content and book excerpts across the web.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!


    Sebastian Clouth
    Books Editor, Before It’s News

  2. I’m most surprised by the idea that an agent or editor would allot even thirty minutes for a book proposal; that’s a big chunk of a busy day!

    Mildly freaked out about the “no-manuscripts-over-400-pages” idea, but that’s because I tend to write longish SF. No 800 page manuscripts for me yet, but 400-something isn’t too unusual. I’ll just hope that particular editor doesn’t do SF and follow the general reassurance I’ve seen on other blogs and writing sites that SF and fantasy can and tend to be a bit longer. (Of course, I’ll also try to trim away any unnecessary fat. There’s no point in padding a book for the sake of it.)

  3. Jenni Wiltz says:

    Considering I haven’t had any books published yet (just a couple of short stories–it’s a start!), I’m not sure if I’ve missed the boat query-wise or just haven’t had the right book at the right time yet.

    One piece of advice that’s stuck with me, though, has been the “never start your query letter with a question” adage. I actually did this once and I still had a few nibbles from agents, but I wouldn’t do it again. I’m pretty sure I came across this in an article in the 2010 or 2011 Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. It makes sense–if I were an agent, the last thing I’d want is to be asked hundreds of rhetorical questions a day.

    I think the best advice I’ve ever been given came from mystery writer Carolyn G. Hart. I attended a talk she gave at a literary festival a few years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas. She explained that she wrote at least 8 or 9 manuscripts before she ever got an agent to look at any of them. It helped immensely to hear this. It’s way too easy to think of the Zadie Smiths of the world and feel like a failure for querying four books with no luck. But Carolyn had to do *twice* what I’ve already done before getting her big break. I think beginning writers need to know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Just because the first one, two, three, or four books don’t “take,” it’s not the end of a dream. It just means you have to work harder and longer to achieve it.

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