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 Note: This website is outdated, and is being maintained purely for researchers interested in the Historical Web circa mid-1990s) For Linda's current website, please see Linda Barlow's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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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.
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