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How NOT To Get


Virginia Beach, VA
Also by Kathryn Lively

Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery

Little Flowers
How NOT To Get Published copyright 2010 by Kathryn Lively

All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American

Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents

are either the product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or
dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

PO Box 55071
Virginia Beach, VA 23471
Cover art © 2008 Kathryn Lively

First DLP Edition – January, 2010

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Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this

copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement,
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Author’s Note

This very brief primer is adapted from a talk I gave on

November 14, 2009 to the Virginia Romance Writers chapter of
Romance Writers of America on the topic “How Not to Get
Published.” While it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of
publishing do’s and don’ts, I find this basic information can at
least guide the author submitting work for the first time to
properly follow directions set before them by agents, editors, and
publishers. This is not a guide to writing fiction or non-fiction,
but a few common sense rules of the game I have observed being
broken with alarming frequency.
Future revisions of this work may come in the future as new
things are learned. Whatever happens, this will always remain a
free work. If you see it for sale, it is unauthorized. Please contact
me at
Here’s hoping any novice author who gains a bit of wisdom
from this short piece manages to receive The Call quickly. Keep
Thank you for taking the time to read this today. Before I
get into the heart of this primer, I think it would be appropriate to
give you a little background on my history in publishing. It’s not
exactly a glamorous story, as I’ve endured more headaches than
triumphs, but I like to believe I’ve come away from every
experience having learned something, even if I wasn’t always
compensated at the end.
I received my BA in English Literature in 1993 from a
small university in Florida—I had intended to go into journalism
but found I was more comfortable writing fiction. In college, as
the Internet came into the mainstream, I would send short stories
and poetry out to small websites in exchange for bylines and
exposure, and this would lead to some regular writing
assignments and the occasional stipend, depending on the site’s
budget. As I became more adapt at creating websites and
searching for information online, I went to work for a major
media corporation that had just opened an Internet division as
their search engine optimization specialist. This was before
anybody really knew what SEO was, even back before Google
launched, to give you an idea of how long ago that was.
In this time, I wrote my first novel, an inspirational romance
called Little Flowers. My goal was to find a Catholic publisher
for the work, considering the themes of the story, and discovered
to my dismay that my target publishers either did not deal with
fiction or, despite the good feedback, did not have it in the
budget to publish my work. Eventually I found a small press
utilizing this new platform called print on demand. Highbridge
Press published the book in 2000, but due to poor management
the house folded in 2002.
Undismayed, I continued to write and completed a mystery
novel, Saints Preserve Us, which I placed with a small eBook
press, as I was coming to learn more about this digital medium.
In 2003 I wrote another mystery called Pithed which was picked
up by another small house. While waiting for the release of
Pithed, this press announced plans to launch an erotic romance
imprint in response to the success of another eBook house called
Ellora’s Cave. The imprint opened to submissions in early 2004
and I, being several months pregnant at the time and whacked
out on crazed hormones, decided to see how far I might go in
that genre. I wrote a romance called Truth or Dare, under the
pen name Leigh Ellwood, and got a contract. Both Pithed and
Truth were released in 2004, and I do have to tell Truth sold
circles around the non-erotic mystery, even though I devoted
equal time to promote each book.
In 2005, the imprint’s publisher put out a call for editors and
proofreaders and I signed on, citing my experience in college
newspaper editing and my English background. By the end of
the year I moved up to Acquisitions Editor, and in mid-2006 the
publisher had to step down due to health issues. The house’s
president then asked me to step in until such a time when a
replacement could be found…and that went on for close to four
However, more recently, most of my duties as publisher,
which pretty much have included everything but promotions and
cover art—which are more than capably handled by two
wonderful ladies—have been parsed to other staff, and I now act
as Executive Editor for the imprint, with my primary
responsibility being the acquisition of new works.
So now you know a little bit about how I came to be here,
we can move on to the material defining the title of this work.


I have attended quite a number of conferences and seminars

over the years where authors, agents, and editors discuss how to
get published. When was I asked by a chapter of Romance
Writers of America to deliver a presentation on this topic, the
first thing that came to mind was that there were probably many
members who have been published before—either with a
traditional or small press, or with an eBook house, so why would
they care what I have to say?
Well, having been published myself, I can tell you that even
though you may have received a contract offer for one book, it
doesn’t necessarily mean an offer for the next book is a
guarantee. I have several novels published under two names, but
my backlist does give me some street cred, and as an editor I
have turned away work from authors who have been published
previously with my house, including works by some of our top
sellers. Granted, in those cases the reasons varied, and thankfully
none of those authors committed any of the sins in the list I’m
about to recite.
Rather than focus here on how to get published, I’m going
touch on what you need to do to ensure that getting published
doesn’t happen to you. The more you know about what not to do,
perhaps like George Costanza in that well-known Seinfeld
episode, you’ll do the opposite and things will turn your way. So
without further rambling, I give you the Top Ten Steps to take to
not get published, in no particular order:

10. Don’t Follow Any Directions

As you research potential agents and editors, you will find

that not all of them work on the same schedule. Some only
accept full manuscripts, some want you to query first. Others
want you to send a synopsis and three chapters, and there are
publishers who don’t want to talk to you unless you have agent
doing it for you.
At the imprint for which I acquire work, we are always open
to submissions and don’t require material to be agented, whereas
our parent company is open to submissions four times a year. If
you send a manuscript to them at any other time, it will be
rejected. If you call an agent who expressly requests on her
website no phone calls, you will be rejected. If an editor wants
specific formatting on the submission you send—margins, font,
single-spaced, etc—and something is missing from your book,
chances are you’re getting it back.
If a publisher requests a synopsis, manuscript, and
marketing plan, and you only send the book, you’ve just told that
publisher you cannot follow directions, or you didn’t read their
submission guidelines, so why would they bother with somebody
incapable of doing just that?
In our defense, the majority of publishing guidelines don’t
read like Van Halen’s infamous tour rider. Agents and editors
are not in the business to gleefully dash away hopes, contrary to
popular belief. They want to hear from authors because their
income is dependant on good books from good writers. They
depend on you to get it right the first time, otherwise chances are
they’re going to think you don’t want it enough or you’re
unwilling to adapt.

9. Clutter the Editor/Agent’s Inbox with Unnecessary


Let’s say you follow submission directions properly, and to

your delight the agent and editor wants to see your work. This is
your chance to shine, but rather than follow this set of directions
given to you, you decide sending the book isn’t enough. Maybe
you have a long list of testimonials from your critique group to
share, or maybe the book is the first in a seven-book series
you’ve planned, and you’re thinking maybe this is a good time to
interest the agent in buying everything at once. Well, chances are
it isn’t a good time. Chances are this act of overwhelming
somebody who has agreed to make time to read one story will
turn off said editor/agent to the point where he just says no
Agents and editors are very busy people. Some could have
as many as a hundred books to read a month, with many more
queries to sift through. Their time is limited as it is, so when one
asks you for a manuscript it probably means they have budgeted
just enough time to read that manuscript and nothing else. It’s no
crime to appear overjoyed and eager on receiving a callback, but
this is the time to show that agent/editor that you are a
professional and that you agree to and accept their requisites.

8. Lie About Having a Finished Book

As I understand it, non-fiction authors can get away with

pitching an unfinished work depending on the timeliness of the
work and the subject. When Michael Jackson passed away, I
doubted anybody had a book ready for publication that day, but
no doubt some authors pieced together a salable outline and a list
of credible sources to pitch to a publisher. Fiction is different—if
you’re at a conference or have the ear of an agent and you pitch a
work they want to see, they want that book now. If you have
only one chapter written, if you are halfway through, if you are
three quarters of the way through, do not pitch anything unless
you are confident you can deliver when the agent wants it.
John Lennon once said that life is what happens to you
while you’re busy making other plans. You might think you have
time to finish up a book, but nobody ever expects the power to
go out or a laptop to crap out right at the pivotal moment where
you press control-S to save. Finish the book, then pitch. That
way you’ll have something to deliver.

7. Lie About Your Book’s History

Some publishers will consider reprinted material. This is

something I’m very familiar with, and if you have experience in
the eBook realm you may be able to sympathize. In the last few
years we’ve seen a number of eBook houses fold—some due to
illness, while others just imploded in ugly messes. Those that
survived were consequently pitched orphaned stories, my imprint
included. Right now our policy is to only consider reprints from
established authors. New authors to our imprint are asked send
something original first, and once you’re in then you can pitch
the backlist provided you own the rights.
In my experience I’ve had authors send works and omit the
book’s history, thereby violating our guidelines. Now, in this age
of the Internet, hardly anything is secret. A simple Google search
will tell me not only if your book was published previously, but
if it’s still contracted and made available through another
publisher. A Google search will tell me if you published your
book through Lulu or Createspace and haven’t taken it down—
I’ve had this happen to me. An author pitching us had self-
published the book, then decided maybe she ought to find a real
publisher, but she didn’t want to take her book off the market
until she had a contract.
I politely told her that wasn’t our policy, and because she’d
made this work available she very likely diminished any chance
of placing the work elsewhere.
If you’re not up front with a publisher about the history of
the book, that house is going to wonder if they can trust you and
wonder what else you’re hiding.

6. Send Your Child Out Into the Cold Without a Jacket

About fifteen years ago I met Rita Mae Brown, a New York
Times bestselling author, at a signing. She talked a bit about the
craft, in particular revisions. She likened revising text to properly
dressing a child—your manuscript needs to impress, so it needs
to read as though somebody went over it with a fine tooth comb.
In my years of acquiring books, I have read many an
impeccable manuscript, and I have read disasters. I have read
books with the track changes feature left on, I’ve read books
where the author didn’t use quotation marks in their dialogue,
and I’ve read books with numerous homonym mix-ups: your
instead of you’re and vice versa. One slip-up is forgivable, one
page of slip-ups is not.

5. Mass E-Mail Every Agent and Editor in Your Contact List

Among various submissions coming to my inbox, I have

received manuscripts addressed to editors at other houses, I have
received books addressed to other editors within my house, and
I’ve been addressed as sir. I have also received form e-mails
addressed to “undisclosed recipients” which tells me right away
that the author has taken the stairway approach to submissions—
that’s when you throw a book down a stairwell and if any of the
ten agents climbing the stairs catches it, more power to them.
Agents and editors want to be addressed when they are
pitched, and any author who wants a contract should know the
exact name of the person to whom they pitch.

4. Sit on the Couch and Expect Everybody to Do the Work

For You

Consider this dilemma: two manuscripts come in to an

editor. One is impeccable and probably wouldn’t need much
work, falls within the guidelines, and there is marketing
potential. However, the author reveals in his marketing plan that
he’s a writer first, and has no plans to promote the work or even
set up a website or blog because that’s not his thing.
The other manuscript, while needing quite a bit of work
before it could be published, is not all that bad, even though it’s
a genre that hasn’t done well with the house. The author’s
marketing plan reveals she is active in social media, has a blog
with five hundred subscribers, and already has a list of
bookstores in her area willing to host a signing if she publishes.
Which book would you contract?
While it’s true publishers strive to offer quality material, for
a house to acquire a book means they are investing in that book,
and the author. A publisher may take on a rough work and assign
editors to polish it if they know the author is willing to self-
promote. When you think about a New York publisher, houses
like Harlequin and Kensington and how many people have
contracts with them—the publisher can only devote so much
time in one place before the next batch of books has to go out.
Authors and publishers must work in concert to achieve success,
and if one isn’t willing, chances are the other won’t be either.

3. Show Absolutely No Respect for Anybody in the Industry

Author Sherrilyn Kenyon delivered the keynote at the

Virginia Beach EPIC conference. One thing she said really
struck me, and that was if you have too strong an opinion of
something or someone in the industry, be very careful how you
express it. Earlier I mentioned Googling a book title to determine
history—same applies for authors. I know of one eBook
publisher who, when she receives a query from a new author,
first Googles that person to see what’s out there. If you have
blog that’s overly critical or snarky, or at one point you’ve
jumped in on the mob come to dance on the grave of particular
author or house gone wrong, it could come back and haunt you.
If you are active on Twitter or Facebook or blogs, think
about how you present yourself to the Internet world. If a
potential publisher sees this persona and is uncomfortable with
what they see, chances are they don’t want that negativity or
attitude carried over to their house, where others may think that
voice represents the publisher. I’m not saying you have to be all
unicorns and rainbows online, but if you have no qualms about
harshly criticizing another author or editor online, the editor
you’re trying to impress is going to wonder if you’re going to
talk about them like that one day.

2. Demand Ultimatums

Where I work, the house is primarily an eBook publisher,

and every title is initially released in digital format. Our print
program is a bit unusual in that we take each print length title on
a case by case basis—we look at sales, the author’s knack for
marketing, and the health of the genre. Sometimes we’ll receive
queries from new authors who don’t ask, but demand
simultaneous print release because their relatives will only buy
Okay, I don’t know about you, but I have print books out,
and my relatives don’t buy them. If you have relatives who buy
your books, I want to know your secret to sales.
Some will argue that it is the author who works for the
publisher, or vice versa. One depends on the other to meet their
publishing goals. My belief is that the author works with the
publisher to ensure a clean book, a viable marketing plan, and
sales success. Agents and editors are very busy, as I’ve said, and
don’t have time to handle divas.
This author who queried me eventually went elsewhere
because I couldn’t agree to the print demand. She claimed to
have an auto-buy list of readers in the hundreds, but I don’t
really know that. In my own experience I’ve published with one
house and sold hundreds in a month, yet with a larger house I
didn’t do well at all. There are no guarantees in the business, and
if you try to force an agent’s hand you risk pushing yourself out
of the way so the author behind you can step forward for his

So, this brings us to the number one way to not get

published. It is the easiest thing to do of all the tactics mentioned
here today, and hopefully it is the one thing I hope a writer never
The number one way to not get published is…to quit.

Don’t do it. Thank you.

About the Author

Kathryn Lively is an award-winning author and editor whose

work has appeared in numerous Web sites and magazines. She is
also the author of Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery.