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Are You a Professional Writer?

Come on in, gather 'round and enjoy a cup of British-brewed tea! This page will be your link to other interesting sites, discussion groups, research material, and advice for troubleshooting with publishers and agents. Note: This website is outdated, and is being maintained purely for researchers interested in the Historical Web circa mid-1990s) For Linda's current website, please see Linda Barlow's Official website

Or Would You Like To Be?

If you've been dreaming for years about seeing one of your stories, articles, novels or poems in print, here's a chance to pick up tips and advice!

Your Hostess and Workshop Leader, Linda Barlow

Writer, teacher, consultant, editor and author of 15 published novels, including Intimate Betrayal (Warner Books), Keepsake (Warner Books), and Thicker Than Water (co-authored by William G. Tapply, published by Penguin) and Leaves of Fortune (Doubleday).

I'm one of those few, fortunate writers who actually manages to make a decent living writing novels.  Maybe I can help you do it, too! That's a glamour shot of me, by the way--a book jacket photo. For a more casual shot, click here.

Doing Research?  Searching the Web?  Let Us Help!

Try our own The Spider's Apprentice for help before you search.  Spidap is an in-depth help site for Web search engines and directories, designed to assist you in planning a Web search that will actually produce useful results.   The Spider's Apprentice also rates, ranks, and analyzes the major Web search engine sites like Alta Vista, Infoseek, Excite, Yahoo, HotBot, Lycos, Northern Light and Webcrawler. It has proven to be  popular service (we had over 150,000 hits last month!), so if you want advice on search engines or doing research on the Internet, check us out!

Questions From You

Send me your questions about your work and/or your attempts to sell your work. I'll do my best to answer you, and I'll post some of the really hard--or really controversial--questions here for other writers to respond to.

To submit a question, send me e-mail by clicking here.  

1. Do I need a literary agent?

This is one of the most common questions I hear.  Many aspiring novelists have heard that if they don't have somebody in the publishing business to act as an intermediary for them at a publishing house, they don't have a chance of getting published.

This is not true.  I personally know many professional writers who do not use a literary agent. They prefer to sell their own manuscripts, negotiate their own contracts, and keep the 10 or 15 percent (usually 15, nowadays) that literary agents charge for their services.

It is true that an acquiring editor will probably be quicker to read a manuscript represented by an agent whose judgment she trusts.  But ultimately, what sells a book is the book itself.  Editors frequently disagree with agents' assessments of manuscripts.  If an editor doesn't love your book and think she can publish it successfully, she won't buy it, no matter what your agent says.

Agents make their living by representing successful writers.  Unless they're just starting out, they're probably not very hungry for new, unpublished authors.  It has been said--and pretty accurately--that it's just as difficult to get an agent as it is to get a publisher.  If I were starting out now, I'd concentrate my energy on getting a publisher first, and not worry about getting an agent until after I had a firm offer from a publisher.

2. How much money can you actually make on a published novel?

It's impossible to predict how much money a single book will make. I've had books that made as little as $4000 and as much as $250,000--and everything in between. I have a few writer friends who make hefty six (or even seven) figure incomes each year. But for most of us, this kind of money is a lovely fantasy.

In short, you should be warned, if you don't know it already, that most of us published writers do NOT earn a grand living. Recently (actually, after my divorce) I began doing some work for a high tech company because my writing income this year probably isn't going to pay all the bills. Who knows--next year it might be a different story. But if you're just starting out, don't quit your day job!

3. How can I determine whether my book is actually interesting to people or will have commercial value?

The best way to determine if something you write will be interesting to anybody else is simply to show it to folks and see! Many years ago, I joined a writers' group in my home town. I'd been writing privately, for my own amusement for years, but I'd never shown my work to anyone. They encouraged me so much that at last I was able to submit my work to a publisher.

Also, good into the bookstores and see what's selling. Look at the bestseller lists. If nobody's writing anything similar to what you want to write, you'll have a harder time selling your work than if what you want to write is already popular. There are exceptions to this of course--occasionally a writer comes along and blazes a new path. But this is rare, and your book would not only have to be wonderful, it would probably also have to coincide with some fundamental shift in national consciousness. And that's something you can't plan!

4. How does an unknown writer without a track record get an agent or an editor to give him a fair read?

Well, assuming you've told a wonderful story with sympathetic characters, lively dialogue, a compelling plot, and the kind of narrative drive that hooks readers and keeps them to keep turning the pages until 3 am--then your lack of big-time publishing experience is by no means a handicap! Publishers take chances on new writers all the time; in some cases they actually prefer new writers. Why? Because new writers usually come cheaper than established writers, and they don't have a long list of poor sales records jinxing the sell-in of their latest novel.

You have to be damn good, though. Your novel has to be damn good. Remember, you're competing with a lot of damn good writers, for a relatively small number of slots on publishers' lists.

What to do? Well, you can try to get an agent, or you can try to get a publisher directly. What would I do in your position? As I mentioned agove, I'd go directly to the publishers.  Basically, agents don't need you. Publishers, however, do. I don't know a single publisher in NYC who isn't hungry for the next big mainstream author. As for editors, one of the ways they advance up the hierarchy is to discover great new talent and nurture a new writer's success.

How to approach a publisher? If you haven't already done so, go to the bookstore. Check out which publishers are doing books that are similar to the one you've written. Also, read the trade publications--Publishers Weekly in particular. PW is available at any library, and they now have an online edition--in fact, you can reach it through a link on my web site.

You can follow the industry gossip in the trades and get some useful names as contacts, including editors and agents. Personally, I'd call the publishers and check with the switchboard to see who's still there (editors move around a lot) before querying. If you can pitch the editor over the phone, do it--then you can follow up with a "solicited manuscript" rather than with the infamous "unsolicited" one.

Joining a writers' organization is also a good idea--Romance Writers of America, for example, provides aspiring novelists with a lot of information about editors, agents and publishers. So do all the writers' organizations (see below for links).

In other words, do some research on the publisher industry. It is not a mysterious closed-off world--it's more accessible than you think, if you've got a great book.

Linda's Links

National Bestsellers

Literature, Literary History, Classics, and Linda's Favorites

Authors and Agents on the Web

Useful Resources for Writers

And Closer to Home...


Copyright, Linda R. Barlow, 1996-20013, all rights reserved.