I attended a talk by author, Tish Cohen, at the Richmond Hill Library last night.  A vibrant presenter, she spoke with astounding candor of her own anxiety-inducing pathway to publishing.  The key messages I took away from that event:

I am more grateful than ever that three dynamic women, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Mary McIntyre and Anahita Printer Nepton joined me in forming a writers group last year.  Their skill as my critiquing group has had a profound impact on the progress of, and confidence in, my writing skills, resulting in two recent milestones, a poem published in a journal and a short story being included in an upcoming anthology.  Tish spoke to Stephen King’s take on this, write with the door closed and edit with the door open, as a reference point for when to seek feedback on your manuscript.

When you’ve completed your manuscript, polish, polish, polish

You’ve got to have a literary agent.  Tish suggests a junior agent in a well-established, large publishing house; someone who’s eager, legitimate, and a member of A.A.R. (the Association of Authors’ Representatives Inc.).  An agent will increase your chances a little bit since they are more and more becoming the screeners for publishers.  It’s extremely difficult Tish says “… to get through (to a publisher) anymore with an unagented manuscript.” 

Make sure the agent you are approaching is not a scammer.  Tish says, RUN if an agent charges a fee to read your manuscript, suggests outside editing or inside editing for a fee.

The first five pages of your manuscript need to be special enough to grab a prospective agent’s attention and to prevent them from looking away.  Her agent, Daniel Lazar, initially challenged Tish with “Make me laugh. Make me miss my subway stop, and I’ll look at your manuscript” she did, and he did! 

Tish suggested Noah Lukeman’s book, “The First Five Pages”.  (While roaming through his links this morning, I found a free e-book download, “Write a Great Query Letter”.) 

Take as long as you need to create a well-written pre-publishing blurb and then perfect it some more!  Another tip from Tish, if you are unpublished, ask a published author to endorse your manuscript BEFORE attempting to get an agent.

Tish also applied her ‘special enough to grab’ advice to the first paragraph and opening line of a well-written query letter.  More importantly she feels strongly that the rule about exclusive queries is changing with the advent of email.  Writers are beginning to do more multiple queries, the critical key being in one email at a time

Finally, Trish suggested taking a look through the Miss Snark’s archives, which contain a wealth of information related to writing, writers, queries, agents, publishers, etc., etc. even though the site went quiet in 2007.

I plan to do that next!