Getting Your First Book Published

You have to write it first


Harry Seitz

3 years ago | 4 min read

Writing a book, especially the first, is one of the most grueling experiences you can put yourself through.

You are filled with all sorts of doubts and dread, and the inevitable flood of rejection doesn’t help. But with a lot of hard work and compromise, it is possible.


For years, I could never finish anything longer than a short story. People kept telling me to use an outline, and I kept refusing. I felt they were too constraining, but what I’ve since discovered is that structure can be liberating.

There is no one correct outline for everyone. Some people want every chapter mapped out before they even start. Others, like me, prefer to keep it a lot looser. Beginning, middle, end, and a few ideas for the next couple of chapters.

The major benefit of outlines is that even skeletal ones show you what is required, so as those ideas come to you, you can begin to fill them into the narrative in whatever order they occur to you.

If I think of a decent ending, I can go ahead and write it, even if I just started writing the book.

For me, it was about finding a balance between structure and freedom.

More writing

After finishing the book, it’s time to write loglines, queries, and synopses, and to make sure that whatever the publishing house requires is 100% error free. For some, it’s the first three chapters; for others, it’s the first three chapters and the end, or the first 50 pages.

Unfortunately, this is not one size fits all. Most of the advice I’ve read about writing queries, such as using the literary agent’s name, mentioning a book they sold in the past, and why you think your book is a good fit, has not been helpful.

Using a person’s name is not the same as actually knowing them, and you have no idea what their experience was like selling that book. Maybe that was the one that turned them off literature and made being an agent nothing but a job.

A much better way is to show, with hard numbers, why you think your book will sell. Use successful examples from similar genres, point to any holes you see in the market, and describe how you plan to fill them. I’ve used this example before, but Harry Bosch is 90 years old and the character is too tied to the author.

Just as we moved from independent Dashiell Hammett detectives to Benson and Stabler dealing with bureaucracy to Bosch dealing with technology, we’re ready for a new detective facing different challenges.

The voice

The voice that carried you through the book starts to question your sanity after all the rejections. Maybe you’re completely delusional. You spent a year writing this thing, and for what? No one wants to touch it.

All you can do is to keep sending out queries. Eventually, a first reader will like what you’ve written, and it will get passed to a team of editors, and hopefully at least one of those editors will like it, too.

A good rule thumb is that the longer it takes to hear back, the better your chances. I’ve had hundred page novellas rejected in five minutes, so obviously those people had no interest whatsoever,

and on the other hand, there are a few publishers who will never get back to you — they won’t even bother to send you an email rejection. But are these the kind of publishers you want to be working with anyway?

Money and validation are a part of most writers’ motivation. Writing, even when done purely for yourself, is inherently communicative.

You’re writing because you have something to say, and you want whoever ends up publishing your book to understand that, and to care about making your work as clear and pristine as possible.


My first book was originally rejected after six months of waiting. One of the editors wanted to include the first third in an anthology, but she was vetoed.

Fortunately for me, one of the writers was difficult to work with. The publishers ended up parting ways with this author and called me back three months after I was originally rejected.

One disgruntled author and one editor who supported me, and I was in. Being paid felt great, but the validation, or proof that I wasn’t completely bonkers after all, felt even better.


Once I was in, I did whatever the main editor wanted. She cared about the book, and she had the power. I maintained control of the little things like dialogue tags, which I hate and try to avoid as much as possible, but as far as cuts and additions, I was grateful for almost all of them.

When you write a book, you know what’s happening to the characters, and this leaves you blind in certain respects. You assume the reader knows everything you do, but they don’t.

One problem in this book was a perceived time jump. I thought it was obvious that one event directly followed another, but the other readers and editors thought there was a month or two in between.

So I clarified, I cleaned, and I added, and again, I was extremely happy to be receiving any feedback at all. There was a lot I missed, or didn’t realize readers wanted to know more about, and the advice I received has helped me to this day.


I’ve made more money self-publishing, but recommend going the traditional route at least once.

You can make deals with other authors, or barter for editing and proofreading services, but the professional editors are typically superior, and there is nothing quite like having an editor who believes in your work and wants to help you.

As a writer, it is life affirming, and it makes you want to keep on writing and improving.

Good luck out there, don’t get discouraged, and keep on writing.


Created by

Harry Seitz







Related Articles