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First time out: Publishing tips for new authors

How much education does a writer need to know before getting that first book published and on the shelves?

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Jennifer Udden MMU bio
Jennifer Udden

Sifting through books or scanning the internet for information can leave a new writer overwhelmed about the talent and expertise needed for publication.

The more information, the more the publishing lexicon increases. Literary agents, editors, publicists. Publishing houses and imprints. Manuscripts, galleys and edits. Advanced reader copies, contracts, copyrights and dust jacket quotes. Marketing, book tours and royalties.

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How much education does a writer need to know before getting that first book published and on the shelves?

Literary agent Jennifer Udden has been helping writers publish their work  for the past six years. She works for Larry Goldblatt, LLC in New York City, where she also teaches a publishing course at Gotham Writers Workshop, the bricks-and-mortar establishment that offers both in-house and online writing classes. She advises writers to solicit feedback from “beta readers” and “critique partners” before researching and querying agents.

Author Celeste Ng echoes this sentiment. “It’s important to understand the overall publishing process, to know what each of the major figures – agent, editor, publicist, and so on – can and should do for you,” she says.


Udden also offers up some practical, cautionary advice when you’re researching the internet, noting the differences between traditional publishing versus the DIY, self-publishing route.

“The one lesson to keep in mind is: Money flows to the authors in traditional publishing,” says Udden. “Any press that asks you to shell out money for getting your book on shelves,” she warns, “…that’s probably not a deal that’s going to be the best for your book in the long term.”

Udden instructs students at Gotham to ask questions when researching agents, editors and publishing houses. “What has the agent sold? Is he or she at a reputable company? If the agents haven’t had sales, do they have support and mentoring?” Since most publishing houses don’t take unsolicited material, getting the right agent is crucial.

Udden offered the following instructions for the first-time published:

  • DO keep an open mind.
  • DO commit to your writing and your career and continue refining your craft. If the first thing you query doesn’t land, take a look at the feedback you’ve received and apply it to something new.
  • DO stay positive.
  • DON’T pay an agent a “reading fee” or any kind of up-front fee.
  • DON’T sign a contract unagented and without making sure you’re getting industry standard terms, at the least. Understand what you’re signing!


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Originally Published