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Elana Johnson

You’ve Written a Book! (what to do next)


24, 2017 |

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Recently, I’ve had several people approach me with the fabulous news that they’ve written a book (congratulations!), and they’d like to look into publishing, but they don’t know what to do next.

I’ve been working on getting published for so long, that I sometimes forget that the things I’ve learned about how to get published aren’t always obvious. With so many people asking this same question, I thought it might be helpful to share this information with all of you.

I’m going to warn you, this will be a long post, but I hope it will be helpful.


IMG_0689So congratulations!!! You’ve written a book. The first thing you should do is celebrate. This is a huge accomplishment! Many start, but few finish. You are one of the few!

First of all, before you do anything else, you should have someone who is not family read your book and comment on it. Then you should consider those comments, make changes, and repeat the process. I would recommend sharing it with at least three people at a minimum.

Finding people can be hard, but if you’re serious about it, you should be willing to exchange manuscripts with someone else. I actually find that critiquing someone else’s work can be really helpful in showing me what kind of improvements I could make in my own work.

Also, a great place to find critique partners is the Querytracker.net forum.

There are all kinds of discussion threads, including one called “Critique Group Central.”

Do you just want to see your book in print? Do you want to share your work with family? With a broad audience? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want an agent or would you rather submit to publishers on your own? Do you want to self-publish? Do you want control over every aspect, or would you rather pass some things off and just work on writing?

Here are some things to consider:


This option can get your book out there faster, but it can be a hard road, and there are steps that normally a publisher would do that you would need to take care of. For example, you would need to do things like editing and copy-editing. I would strongly recommend that you pay someone to do that for you, as outside eyes will catch things that you as the author will not.

You will need to design a cover and format the e-book (or pay someone to do it). Also, you would be in charge of all marketing to get your book known and out there. This can be really frustrating, and it can be hard to find an audience, but these are things you would be responsible for. One thing to consider is that it can cost a good chunk of money to self-publish (if you do it right), and that is not always earned back.

That said, there are many benefits to self-publishing. For example, you get a higher percentage of any sales. You have a lot more control over content, and cover, and marketing and promotions. Some people very much want that control.

To give some other perspectives, HERE is an article from Harold Underdown, who has worked in publishing a long time. He gives a lot of good information in this article.

And HERE is an article from Elana Johnson who has both traditionally and self-published.

Traditionally Publishing:

So there are two options here. One, you search for a publisher on your own. And two, you work to get an agent, who will then submit to publishing houses.

For both of these options, I highly recommend using QueryTracker.Net. You can use it to search for agents and publishers who publish your genre. Whether you are looking for an editor or agent, you will need to research each agent or publishing house and find out what they are looking for and whether or not they are open to unsolicited submission/queries. QueryTracker provides links to many of these agents and publishers so they are easy to research. Certainly, there are other places to find this information. There are yearly books published, but I have found QueryTracker works for me.

Once you’ve done your research, make a list of those editors/agents you want to submit to. Once you know who you want to submit to, you need to write what is called a query letter. A query letter is a letter asking the editor or agent if they would be interested in considering your work.

For good information on how to write one, here are some sites to check out:

HERE is Nathan Bransford’s post on writing query letters.

Rachelle Gardner breaks down what to include in a query letter HERE.

Janet Reid’s Query Shark is a place to see real-time improvement on query letters. You can see exactly what an agent is thinking as she reads a query letter. I recommend reading through the archives to get a sense of what a query letter should look like.

Finally, HERE is an example of a successful query letter received by Andrea Somberg.

Reasons to search for a publisher on your own:

You don’t have to split your earnings with anyone. Also, many people don’t want to take the extra time to find an agent. It would be faster to go straight to the source.

Reasons to find an agent first:

(Caveat, this is the option I chose, so I might be biased.)

Many publishers are only open to submissions through agents. The reason for this is because it saves them time. Agents have vetted the work, often done rounds of revisions to get the book closer to being publication-ready.

Agents also help you with contract negotiations. They know what to look for, and they will help you avoid contracts that aren’t favorable to authors. This can be a big deal. BIG DEAL. Better to have no contract than a bad one. I’ve seen it.

Agents act as a go-between for you and your publisher. Agents will do the hard stuff like pushing back on a cover an author doesn’t like, or dealing with problems that may come up in the editing process. Or pushing for edit notes when they are long overdue. This allows the author to maintain a more open, less tension-filled relationship with the publisher and editor which is so needed throughout the revision process.

HERE is an article on what agents do and don’t do for writers:

Honestly, I can’t imagine trying to get published without one.

The process is long and arduous to get traditionally published, and I think it’s important that people understand that up front and know what they’re getting into.

All of these options can work. It mainly depends on what your personal goals are, what you are willing to put into the process, and what you hope to get out of it.

I hope this has been helpful for you, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.

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My Fabulous Summer Giveaway


12, 2013 |

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So when I making plans to travel this summer, I had this conversation on Twitter:

So look who else I met this summer!ο»Ώ

Yep, the one and only Elana Johnson (@ElanaJ), who may or may not be a long-lost distant relation (I mean, hey, if we go back to Noah, we for sure are!). She is just as cool in person as she is online. The type you want to cozy up with on a couch while eating a big plate of bacon while you watch crazy movies.

Right now she is up to her ears in WriteOnCon, which STARTS TONIGHT!! (Though the forums are already in full swing. Go check it out if you haven’t.)

I also met the amazing Kasie West (@KasieWest)! (And her super cute daughters). If there hadn’t been a line of people behind me waiting to get their books signed, we might have chatted all night.

And and and . . . I got to meet the super sweet Jenn Johansson (@JennJohansson), the crazy cool Natalie Whipple (@nataliewhipple), and the fabulous* Bree Despain (@breedespain).

Seriously, these are my people. And see that black bag in my hand in the picture with Kasie? Yup, totally swag I won. It even came with “Insomnia Pills”**

So of course, to celebrate having met so many amazing authors in one shot, I wanted to do I GIVEAWAY!! One lucky person will win their choice of any one book currently published by any of these authors:

This giveaway is open to anywhere The Book Depository delivers and is open through the end of August 2013. I’ll announce the winner the first Monday of September. Good luck!

I’m being all kinds of modern and using a rafflecopter, so just fill it out and I’ll cross my fingers it all works the way it’s supposed to.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So what book would you choose if you won?

* Yeah, I couldn’t think of another good “F” word to go with “fabulous” to keep it all parallel. I debated “freakishly fabulous,” but that wasn’t quite right. “fascinatingly fabulous” was better, but a bit of a mouthful. “flailingly” just doesn’t fit, same with “flinchingly.” “Flightily” is really stretching things, “fantastically” felt a bit overdone . . . Well, you see my dilemma.

** Jenn Johansson ASSURED us that they were CANDY. Not real pills. And she was 100% correct. Candy. Not pills. πŸ™‚

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Apples to Apples Contest: Prizes to Win!


01, 2011 |

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Perhaps I should have done this in the beginning, but to entice you to play this game with me, here are the prize packages to be won by the top three contestants:

The Possession Prize Package:


The MG/PB Prize Package:


The Mystery Prize Package:


For the complete rules, click here, but really, it’s basic word association. So go ahead, click on over and add  your responses for each contest day.

Apples to Apples Contest Day 1
Apples to Apples Contest Day 2
Apples to Apples Contest Day 3
Apples to Apples Contest Day 4
Apples to Apples Contest Day 5
Apples to Apples Contest Day 6
Apples to Apples Contest Day 7
Apples to Apples Contest Day 8
Apples to Apples Contest Day 9
Apples to Apples Contest Day 10

And remember, the contest closes at Midnight, EDT, 4 September 2011. May the most clever answers win!

P.S. I won’t be here Monday, as I’ll be out there laboring or something for, you know, Labor Day. And my blogging friend Amy just nabbed an agent, so go congratulate her at The Green Bathtub if you get a chance. So excited for her!

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That’s Not Me!


04, 2011 |

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A year ago (or so), I read about Google Alerts on Elana Johnson’s blog.

They are pretty cool. You choose something you’d like to google, and once a week (or however often you want to receive them), Google sends you a list of the top-ranked pages for that search term. If you don’t know how, you should definitely google it . . .that is, as soon as you’re done commenting on my blog. πŸ˜‰

As a writer and blogger, for example, you can set up an alert for your name just to get an idea of where and how frequently you are mentioned. Does your blog come up when someone searches for your name (ie agents and editors)? Are any other sites referencing you?

I decided to take a leap, and I loved the results. My blog came up consistently. And often, I’d find my name mentioned on other blogs (which was always a fun surprise!). 
Anyway, fast-forward several months, and Google (the stinkers!) changed the way they do something, and suddenly, my blog is gone from the lists. Except occasionally. So instead of seeing my posts proudly displayed, I learn about other Janet Johnsons (because there are a lot of us).
Did you know that in July, a one Janet Johnson of Texas gave birth to a sixteen-pound baby! Wow.
And do you know how often I find links to my obituary? At least once a month.
Still, it is amusing, and it’s nice to know I do show up somewhere . . . even if it’s a few links down.

So do you do Google Alerts? How does your name fare?

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Possession Launch: Rule Breaking


08, 2011 |

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If you’ve been living in a hole, you may not have heard that Ms. Elana Johnson, woman extraordinaire, is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Possession.  I’m so excited for her, that I couldn’t resist participating in the launch.

My job is to tell about a time when I broke the rules. And confession, this was not so easy for me. Can you tell I’m one of those people? The kind who always keeps the rules and tows the line? *cough* Yeah.

But I have broken a rule or two in my day.

I think.

Just give me a second to remember when . . .

Okay! I’ve got it: In sixth grade when I got to help serve lunch (total privilege, btw!), I gave two desserts, count them TWO, to a cute boy. Ha! Take that, cafeteria rules.

And then there was that time or two I pulled a California stop at a stop sign [aka, I only slowed down a little before going through it, rather than coming to a complete stop]. Total rule breaking, right there.

So yeah, I am no Vi (the mc in Possession). Let’s just hope I never live to see the world as it exists in Elana’s book.

What rules have you broken?

And if you care to check out any other blogs participating in this launch, here’s the list:

And P.S. Don’t forget to swing by Friday for the interview with Molly Jaffa, Agent at Folio Literary!

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Query Helps


18, 2011 |

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Writing a query letter is never easy, but I’ve found several useful helps that I wanted to share. Most of you probably know of these, but just in case I ever lose my head, I want a record. πŸ˜‰

The biggest help was Elana Johnson’s blog and her book From the Query to the Call. I stumbled upon her blog about a year ago, and she was just starting a series on writing a good query letter. I found her advice so useful at actually getting words on paper, that I purchased her book (which I still refer back to ALL THE TIME).

With all of Elana’s success, she now generously offers her book free to anyone who would like it. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not useful. Seriously the best $8 I’ve ever spent—I’d still pay money for it. If you don’t have it, go get it post haste. You’ll find it on her website under the “Query to the Call” tab.

Another helpful blog is Janet Reid’s Query Shark. As a successful and respected agent, she breaks down queries that have been submitted by brave souls and points out what is and isn’t working. It’s a fascinating study. While you can submit your query, I’ve found it very useful to simply read through her past posts. You start to get a feel for what a query should be and what you definitely should NOT do. So go, and be enlightened.

The last link I want to share is QueryTracker.net. Not only can you sign up for a free account (they have Premium accounts you can pay for if you want to do more) that will track all the queries and submissions you have sent with the dates and names of the agents or publishers, but they have the Query Tracker Forum as well. You have to request an account for the forum in addition to the QueryTracker.net account, but it is well worth the trouble to do so. Here you can connect with other writers and also receive feedback on your work. They have forums for giving and getting critiques on query letters, the first five pages, as well as the synopsis. They have a forum for any questions you may have about the query process and they have forums for about anything book related you could want.

The forums at AbsoluteWrite.com are similar in nature, and also very useful. (So I lied about querytracker.net being the last link.)

There are many other helpful sites and blogs when it comes to querying (see Matthew Rush’s blog The Quintissentially Questionable Query Experiement, for example), these are simply the ones that have been most helpful to me. In the comments, feel free to share sites and blogs that have helped you the most with writing your query.

And best of luck to all of you working on writing a query letter!

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The Pitch


20, 2010 |

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Back in June, I entered the pitch for my book in a contest and won. I was shocked and elated!

The thing is, when I saw the contest, I wasn’t going to enter. I looked at the agent’s bio, and didn’t think she was interested in fairy tales. But my husband, being the wise man he is, asked, “Well what harm is done if you enter and don’t win?”

So I pulled out my pitch, which I’d edited and revised and played with after reading Elana’s blog:

“With his country at war, Prince Bob, Prince Charming’s failure of a little brother, is desperate to prove himself and finally escape his brother’s shadow.”

I was about to post it, but that nagging little voice in the back of my head made me doubt. I’d read Nathan Bransford’s blog on pitching and came up with this:

“When war breaks out and Prince Bob is demoted from his captain’s post, he prevents a mutiny, stops a traitor, and leads the army to victory to save the kingdom.”

But to me, it felt flat. So I pulled out the one I’d gotten some good feedback on it at Seekerville:

“Prince Charming’s little brother must overcome a mutiny, a traitor, and his own ineptitude to prevent the downfall of his kingdom.”

And while I liked it better, I still doubted. See, a few months back, I read through some winning pitches on QueryTracker.net, and one of them read something like this: A post-apocalyptic glee club.

It says nothing about the plot. ‘So how could it win?’ I asked myself. Then came the lightbulb.

A pitch is one sentence. How can you really tell someone about the plot in so few words? But see, a pitch isn’t meant to tell the whole plot. That’s what a synopsis is for. A pitch is meant to capture someone’s interest. Make them want to read your book.

That’s when I decided to break a few rules. Think outside the box. I stopped focusing on the plot, and started focusing on what I thought was unique and intriguing about my story. Here’s what I submitted:

“Before Prince Charming rescued Snow White; before he faced her evil step-mother in a knock-down, drag-out battle, he faced his biggest challenge to date: training his inept little brother, Prince Bob, to be like him. This is Bob’s story.” 

While I still got a rejection letter in the end (albeit a very nice one), the pitch did what it was supposed to do: catch the attention of the agent. I definitely think I have a better concept of what makes a good pitch. 

So what makes your story intriguing? Can you turn that into a winning pitch? I’d love to hear yours!

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