Write It, Publish It!

Rainbow Rowell, author of the romantic comedy Attachments, one of Entertainment weekly’s top 10 “Best of Summer” reads, told an NFPW audience that she had been a journalist for so long it was hard for her to write beyond a few inches. Rowell is a lifestyle and pop culture columnist at The Omaha World-Herald.

"Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell“Writing something like a book is like wading into the ocean when you can’t see the bottom,” she said of her novel, which came in at 87,000 words.

But she waded in, cramming in writing whenever she could. She wrote on holidays and usually one day during the week (often Sundays). Rowell said she couldn’t simply write for an hour each day as many authors do.

“I can’t just dive in and out. I have to have blocks of time to write it. I have to get to a place where it can just come out of me.”

After completing the manuscript, she found an agent and two years after the book sold it was published.

Rowell says that finding an agent is the most difficult part of getting published. “Publishers don’t look at anything unless a literary agent gives it to them,” Rowell said. “They trust the literary agents to weed through the manuscripts.”

Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell shares publishing tips.

To find a literary agent, Rowell suggested looking through books that list agents. She also said that going to writers’ forums is a good way to learn about  others’ experiences with an agent.

Agents all have different rules for submissions, and Rowell said you need to follow them. “You have to give them exactly what they want,” she said. “They want to make it hard for you.” The agents receive so many submissions, this is a means to weed out the crap.

The best is when the agent asks you to send your manuscript. “Then you are in,” the author said.

A few additional tips she shared include:

  • Write only a one-page query letter.
  • Never call it a book. It’s a manuscript. “The publisher gives you a book,” Rowell said.
  • Start with your bottom choice for literary agent, saving your favorite agent for your final query. “Let other people reject you first so you can learn from them,” she said.
  • Don’t do any pitching to agents in the summertime. Rowell said, “They kick into gear after Labor Day.”
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