Guest Post: Chuck Sambuchino Shares What 12 Debut Authors Did RIGHT On Their Journeys to Publication

Hey! My buddy Chuck is stepping in to guest blog! Check it out…

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_ Chuck headshot biggerChuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. His latest humor book, WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE (Sept. 29 2015), will protect people everywhere from malicious bozos and jokers who haunt our lives. His books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, and more.

I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, such as the new 2016 edition. These interviews are very helpful to aspiring writers, because the authors come clean about what they believe they did right, what the wish they would have done different, and other advice for writers.

So I went back to 12 debut author interviews of the past few years and focused on one single important question I asked them: “What did you do RIGHT on your journey to publication that others can learn from?”

The results are inspiring and fascinating. See below, and learn from 12 writers who have come before you and succeeded.

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“I was very specific on who I queried to get as my agent. It’s quality over quantity and I only queried agents who I thought would truly get my story. I also think being open to critique and feedback is vital. Most authors who go on submission will get rejections. Being open to hearing the why, and working on it, is vital.”

– Aisha Saeed, author of Written in the Stars

“I didn’t put the books out there until they were ready to be seen. Really ready. These days there’s such a huge rush to get your writing out there as soon as possible, and there are lots of systems in place to let you. I could write something in the morning and have it for sale on Amazon that night. And because of this rush and these systems, a lot of people put stuff out there before it’s ready, or before they’re ready. No one expects to win Olympic gold their first time in a gym, but lots of people seem to think their first attempt at a first draft should be a mass success and acknowledged by a major publisher. I spent years learning how to write and how to tell a story, and I think I’m fortunate that during a lot of that time there weren’t any of these quick, easy avenues. I wanted to tell the best story I could, and I spent the time to make sure it was. I rewrote and edited the hell out of it before I submitted it.”

Peter Clines, author of Ex-Heroes

“I didn’t give up. I queried widely. Widely. Like more than 100 queries. I was getting a good number of requests, but the partials and fulls would keep getting rejected, for different reasons. I felt like I should quit—shelve the project and start on something new—but this was the book I loved and wanted to debut with, so I kept researching and kept querying. In the end, I got two offers of representation, and it was worth all those horrible months in the querying trenches.”

Katie M. Stout, author of Hello, I Love You: A Novel

“I just never quit. A successful writer friend recently told me that’s the only difference between a published writer and someone who used to/wanted to be a writer. And certainly, my fifteen years as an independent bookseller has helped—giving me contacts in the industry, a working knowledge of the market, and daily interaction with the audience.”

– Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil

“I joined a critique group. Getting honest feedback about your story is vital to its success. I read, and then dismiss many of the ideas suggested by my critique group members, but some of the changes I have made based on those amazing writer-friends have made all the difference in the world.”

– Marcia Berneger, author of Buster the Little Garbage Truck

“I tried to treat writing and publishing like a career, even when it couldn’t even pay for a coffee. That meant being serious about my efforts, investing in ways to improve my craft, and approaching other publishing professionals with courtesy and respect. I also always tried to remember that publishing is a long game—getting rejected or having to put a novel aside doesn’t mean inevitable failure, only that it’s not the right project at this moment, for this market.”

– Karina Sumner-Smith, author of Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book 1

“I never gave up and I kept moving forward instead of stalling out on a single story. I’d finish a manuscript, send out queries, and immediately start writing something new. When I had the next manuscript finished and polished, I put the older one in a digital drawer and started to query the new one. Wash, rinse, repeat. If I’d spent all those years revising my very first story, I never would have improved enough to write a mystery novel like Claws of the Cat. It’s hard to put 100,000 words in a drawer. It hurts to let years of effort go. But if I hadn’t kept moving forward, I wouldn’t be the author I am today.

– Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery

“I read a lot. I also sought out other writers online—forums, blogs, social media—and read as much as I could about the writing process and, later, the publishing industry. Information is power! But really, I just wrote my heart out. Whenever I sat down to draft a new story or revise an old one, I would think, You can do better.”

– Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater

“I revised the heck out of my book so that by the time I sent it in, it was in good shape. I also did a ton of agent research before I began querying. I figured out what my comps were and which agents were looking for what. I read the ‘Successful Queries’ series on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, as well as the Query Shark’s entire archive of letters.”

Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes

“I asked for help from the people with experience. It took many years, believe it or not, for me just to reach out and say, ‘I’m not sure what to do from here.’ That solicitation is what led to my first book contract.”

Elizabeth Kiem, author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

“I started as a book blogger, and that really helped me get to know the business of publishing. What books were coming out, how authors were marketing, etc.”

– Lindsey Cummings, author of The Murder Complex

“It sounds like a cliché but just taking the initiative is probably the biggest factor that allowed me to succeed. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of journalists out there who are way more talented than myself and who want to write books. But many of them don’t take the risk and actually do the damn thing.”

– Thomas Lee, author of Rebuilding Empires: How Best Buy and Other Retailers are Transforming and Competing in the Digital Age of Retailing


September 2015 sees the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. If you’d like to win one of Chuck’s books, post a comment before noon (Eastern Time) on October 12th. One commenter will be picked at random. Must live within US/Canada to receive a print book. Outside North America may receive a PDF ebook. Beware clowns.

Our book give-away winner is Allison Baxter! Thanks for commenting, Allison! 



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49 responses to “Guest Post: Chuck Sambuchino Shares What 12 Debut Authors Did RIGHT On Their Journeys to Publication

  1. Dana Michaels

    It’s interesting to read other people’s experiences. Some inspire a “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment, and some make me think I’m on the right track. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. I love inspiring yet practical advise like this. Just gotta get TO it!

  3. Been writing 45 years. Published only twice, in two minor trade magazines. Consider myself a wannabe author, and very much appreciate this blog. Gives me hope. Wondering lately if I need to give up all semblance of a social life outside the walls of my writing closet, in order to conjure up the hours needed each day, to keep up with all the blogs, posts, etc in addition to simply continuing to write my heart out? I truly Thank you for all the tips and suggestions. I’m soaking em up these days wondering if it’ll ever happen for me in my own lifetime…

  4. Kim Deal

    This article is inspiring and I feel much better knowing I am not alone in this process. It helps to know that I’m on the right track, and it’s okay that I’m not quite ready to seek publication! Thanks, Chuck.

  5. Stephanie Julian - (Sibley Stonehorse)

    Love this book. I try to buy one every year and stay informed. Thank you for the great information. Carry on. 🙂

  6. Great feedback from those who have made it in the writing industry. Very useful advice for those who aren’t quite there yet or just need some reassurance. I know it’s helped me press on.

  7. Susan Horton

    John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.” Seems like all these orphans trekked on to become achievers with self-belief stamina. I find that kind of tenacity and wisdom took two writers with many rejections down two different paths. Peter Clines kept his story out there for his love of it to be his debut. While Karina Sumner-Smith drawered hers and completely moved on with a different story. This fascinated me to see how there isn’t a right way or wrong way to be ardent about your writing. Many writers had many stories ongoing and were able to switch gears and pick up writing in one book from the other right where they left off. Some writers so invested in their story they couldn’t release it to the shelve, while others quickly saw there wining potential in starting new with a blank page. True experiences from down to earth sage writers for life’s twist of fate. A lot to absorb. Thank you

  8. Michael Ashlock

    It is good to hear from all the successful people about their writing journey. It is inspiring to hear about setbacks and how authors have moved past them.

  9. I’m working on my second manuscript. Prior to that I’ve had numerous poems published and had written four scripts, one of which won 4th prize in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Contest. I’ve had lots of rejection but keep plugging away. I try to see the rejection as one step closer to a yes. Till then I’ll just keep writing.

  10. Allison Baxter

    I’m doing many of these things! I especially like the advice about not giving up. It seems like that’s the key many times!

    • CONGRATULATIONS, Allison! You’ve won the book give-away. Chuck will contact you via email to arrange getting you your book! Thanks for reading the blog and for commenting. Feel free to shout about winning the contest on all of your social media outlets. Best regards, Linda Epstein

  11. Great post I would like to have these books. I like reading and writing.

  12. I would love to win. These books look like they would be great to have and read.

  13. trjhnsn13

    I need to find a critique group. Thanks for the advice.

  14. How inspiring! It’s important to see what others have been through to feel encouraged. I like have several debut authors said they didn’t put the book out there until it was ready. Hopefully I’ll be ready soon!

  15. I love that I am getting so many blogs & e-letters since I joined the Writers Digest list. Still working on my children’s picture book! Thanks for great advice!

  16. Now that’s a good collection of advice. I see a strong thread of persistence, which, with the help of a quote from John McPhee, I keep reminding myself: “…You put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.”

  17. What I got from this short snippet was to not give up and to either send out query letters on mass or to a select few.

  18. Sheryl Aronson

    Writing, in a way, is like medicine: There is a reason doctors call their work practice. It is hard to keep going when getting rejections. But it is impossible to succeed if you don’t keep going. Thanks for the reminder that few people get scooped up right away,

  19. rsmonterusso

    First, thank you Chuck for compiling the information here. Second, thank you to every author who proves time and time again that no matter how easy it looks, there is hard work in writing for everyone. I can’t tell you how important it is to hear that because it’s so easy to think that you’ll make it big and use that as an excuse not to put in the effort it actually takes. Hearing advice like this keeps me going and encourages me.

  20. I appreciate Peter Cline’s honesty about there not being easy avenues for success early on in his writing career. Jane Smiley said something similar. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be rejected a lot, because, if you take it well, you can really work on improving your own craft.

  21. Love these true stories on the way to the publishing house. If it takes 100 submissions, I’d better pick up some steam. Putting manuscripts in the drawer might be hard, but hey, I’ll give it a go. I have three in different stages of revision, so might as well say they’re in the drawer. FOCUS is what I’m taking from this. I’ll see Chuck on Friday in San Diego. Can’t wait!

  22. Thanks for the reminder to keep going on the writing, editing, submitting trio for success. Sometimes the process is satisfying, sometimes it’s a slog, but it’s always helpful to hear about others’ tenacity.

  23. Wow! A lot of great stuff here. The main message seems to be, put out a good story and keep trying if you get rejected. Things I need to remember.

  24. Pingback: What 12 Debut Authors Did RIGHT On Their Journeys to Publication | Amazing WWWorld

  25. Oh my goodness, I think I got rejected today without even querying! I asked a simple question about material posted. But I said the no-no word : MEMOIR. While that word was in the solicitation blurb, memoir was not a fave. Know what? Most rejections come from encouraging and surprisingly gentle agents who tell me to keep trying. Though they believe they are the wrong agent for my subject, they think the pursuit is worthwhile. Even today, someone was informative and helpful, because I said I didn’t want to waste their time or mine. In a particularly hairy business, that’s a lovely surprise. Keep truckin’, people.

    • Linda Gayton

      Wonderful advice that I will take to heart. Great post, Chuck. Thank you, debut writers and thanks to you as well, Linda.

  26. Neeru Iyer

    Thank you for this post! Now I feel more energized!

  27. Wonderful advice. It’s interesting that they have similar thoughts on what helped them. Thank you for asking the question and posting their replies.

  28. Tenacity – in the form of stubbornness – is the key. As a picture book writer I have several out, several in revision and review and several on the back burner. And what new idea will greet me today? Thanks, Chuck, for pulling these comments together.

  29. All great information to remember. The suggestions are reminiscent of my current state of affairs as a writer. Hopefully I will have the same results. Thanks for sharing, authors and Linda. You really don’t have to, and alot of people don’t, therefore I greatly appreciate it. Chuck you know you always ROCK!

  30. Susan Hoddy

    Thank you to all the authors who provided this information and encouragement. It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one out there looking to get my book published. Edit, edit, edit….

  31. Stew

    Lots of good advice. Looks like each author’s journey is a little different. Everybody needs some kind of nudge/help in a different area. Where do I need help? . . . Guess I gotta try everything

  32. It’s good to know that others are going through the same angst, and that there are several different ways to manage it. Thanks for posting these. The over-riding theme is persistence. I’m inspired to shore mine up.

  33. This was very helpful, and I loved that each author had a different set of things they did before getting published, showing that it’s not just ONE “magic bean” 🙂

  34. Maria

    Wow! These advice are amazing. I just finished my historical romance novel which is not an erotica, not about Lords and dukes and definitely not a regency/Victorian romance. I was in a dilemma as to whether I should go ahead with it but after reading the stories here, I’m definitely gonna try harder. Thanks for the very helpful article.

  35. Lots of great advice here. Thanks for the post.

  36. Kelly

    This is some great advice, and good encouragement to keep going. It’s a tough process, from writing the book to revision to queries to publication, and a lot of the time I wonder if I’m good enough or if it’s worth it. This is the boost I need to keep me in the right mindset.

    • You came this far. You are good enough. It’s worth it. Self doubt is the enemy. It IS tough. Be tougher. Beyond your skills, it is the Singular requirement.

  37. vicky chan

    Wonderful tips! As an aspiring new author, I love reading advice from authors who’ve made it. Thanks so much!

  38. Fifty pages! Fifty pages away from being done with my first novel. Need to find an agent!

  39. Walt Curran

    I have been following all the suggestions with the exception of blogging. Now I am easing into that aspect. Started writing poetry in 1997, switched to a novel in 2011 and now am writing every day, revising the first novel, starting the second, writing short stories and still writing poetry. I too think “never quit” is the best advice.

  40. Musa Kheswa

    Like Peter Clines says, these days there’s such a huge rush to get your writing out there as soon as possible, and there are lots of systems in place to let you. I also wrote my debut novel in 2012, in a month and had it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords within days. And because of this rush and these systems, I put my stuff out there before it was ready, or before I was ready. How I regret calling it my debut novel cause it has stolen that debut feeling and admiration from friends and family to be called a published author. My second novel, Sky-birds and Ravishers, is a different case though. While doing a creative writing course, I wrote it as part of my assignments. And my tutor, although he liked it as a dark and visceral read, but he suggested I find an editor, not just any editor, but a good one to take up my project. After editing it thrice in a space of two years, and still not happy about it, I finally sought the editing services of one of the best editors in America. But still, after revision, and sending out a few queries, I feel like polishing it one more time. Patience is a virtue, said the wise man.

  41. Nice take asking people what they did right. Everyone’s path seems unique so maybe asking for help is the best tip. This blog has a lot of great info.

  42. dldarcy

    Great info here. Especially liked the tip about trying a critique group. Thanks!

  43. When you’re looking down a long road and you can’t see the end, it’s really nice to stumble on posts like this. To see people on the other side, where you want to be, it’s great motivation to step on the gas and trust that the end of the road might be closer than you think! Thanks for this!

  44. Randell Carstensen

    All these experiences are important but the one I think is most important is to “never quit”. If you love to write (as I do) you just need to keep going, keep writing. Thanks for all the great input from all you writers.

  45. I feel very encouraged this morning. I really liked seeing how many writers said that “don’t quit” or some variation of it was what got them to succeed. I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated lately so that was something I definitely needed to hear. I just got some feedback from an agent on my novel; this helps me be inspired to tackle the project of revising the entire project before I try again.

  46. Encouraging input. My first novel it out with my beta readers, but I’m using the time to hone my writing skills and as Susan Spann says, each time my writing improves. Asking what is the next step was a great bit of advice. Thank you to all who provided input.