Mailbag – questions about publishing process

Crystal writes: I am doing a research project for english.  I was just wondering what your favorite food was.


Lauren K. writes: I’m an eight grader at Clifton T. Barkalow Middle School in Freehold New Jersey. I am doing a book report on a book you wrote. The book is Speak. About the repot, their is a part of the report is about the author. I was wondering if you could help me. If you do, it would really help. Here are some of the questions that you might be able to help me with:

How many books have you written? 23, think.
What do you enjoy to do? Writing, reading, hanging out with my family and friends.
What inspired you to start writing? A rather lively imagination.
What is your favorite book out of all the books you have written? I’m proud of all of them.
If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be? Be nice to your parents. If you are going to try and make a career out of writing fiction, you will wind up living in their basement for a long time.
Where do you like to write? In my attic.
Where do you get your ideas for a story from? Everywhere!!

Tom writes: Hello, Ms. Anderson. Have you ever/Would you ever post the query letter that eventually led to the publication of Speak? It would not only be entertaining, but could also serve as a model for those reading your LJ who are in the query-writing process.

That is a great question, but I’m afraid I don’t have it anymore. (I submitted SPEAK in 1997.) My query letters tended to be very brief: A paragraph with (I hoped) an interesting one- or two sentence summary of the book, a paragraph that briefly detailed my writing qualifications, and a paragraph that said thank you for considering my work. Let me point out for the record that SPEAK was plucked from the slush pile. I sold my first 4 picture books, my series, 2 novels, and a couple of work-for-hire jobs without an agent.

Kashia writes: I believe that you met my teacher at a conference recently. She was so happy to meet you and I wanted to hear everything about it. To my surprise she was really nervous to meet you. I never would have thought of my teacher as a nervous person before. She really looks up to you maybe even more than myself.

But any way I was wondering what procedures you took to get your book published? was it hard? Did you have to go through a lot of editors and stuff or can you simply walk into a publishing office and say “I want to get a book published.” And did you start out with picture books or was Speak your first book? And the last thing I was wondering is how old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer? I am very interested in what you had to do to become a writer!!

I did it the old-fashioned way. I borrowed books from the library that taught me about the publication process (librarians rock), I borrowed more books from the library that had lists of publishers’ names and addresses, I wrote manuscripts and sent them to publishers. The first four years I was writing books for kids, I got rejected – over and over and over again. But I kept trying to improve my skills and it paid off. I started out with picture books because my kids were little back them. (I was about 30 years old when I decided to try and write for kids.) If you want to be a writer, you need a good day job to pay the bills, a passion for storytelling, a willingness to learn about craft, a wicked stubborn streak, and patience.

16 Replies to “Mailbag – questions about publishing process”

  1. Seven years and waiting

    Yeah, I’ve been at it seven years now.

    I still have 4 stories I have been waiting to hear about since
    November 7th 2005.

    I just finished up 2 more I plan to mail out next month.

    If I hadn’t gotten several handwritten notations of encouragement on some of the rejection letters I may have quit years ago!

    So I wait.

    and wait.

    and wait.

  2. plucked from the slush pile

    This always amazes me when manuscripts are pulled from the slush pile and published. (I bet the aquisitions editor who slushed it felt dumb, and the one who pulled it got an award…unless they are the same person).

    Also, I’d like to add that since discovering your journal (via your webpage) and then Sarah Dessen’s yesterday (through the March Madness post and I’ll stop gloating about LSU soon), that I’m leaning more and more towards editing as a career and not a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition (I’m just a first year MA now), and I’m leaning more and more towards YA publishing.

  3. Ol’ Harry Potter was slushed as well

    From what I understand, and I apologize if I am wrong, but I heard that a certain publisher wanted something to read while he ate lunch and grabbed an envelope out of the slush pile….Harry Potter!
    6 books and 4 movies later….

    And SPEAK, as well…a book and a movie!

    It does happen!

  4. I LUV…

    I love your book Speak. How did you come up with the story Speak? Did it happen to someone you kno?

  5. I have a question about the last question, but I’ll be quick, House is on. Im sure a library is the best place to look because online you really cant trust many people because alot of them are fakes. But I have limited resources when it comes to librarys, (I live in Ferdndale MI, and our city library sucks and so does our school library.) So do you know of any editors that you have talked to or trust that I could get ahold of.

  6. They won’t respond to you. This is a hard fact, but it’s true: the editors has thousands and thousands of people who are all desperate to get their attention. They have designed a system that is not perfect, but it works. You have to write your story, then you do the research, then you submit your story to them in the mail. If they like it, they’ll get back to you and offer a contract. If they don’t, you try another editor.

    Ask your librarians about Inter-library loan. The state of Michigan has a good system.

  7. I read…

    I read your book Speak, it was really good and did that really happen to a person in real life? talk to you later!

  8. My name is Kimberly and i’m doing a research paper on you and your books. I attend Perth Amboy Vo-tech. I was wondering, how does your life reflect on the book speak and catalyst?

  9. I definatley have the stubborn streak part, lol hello again, Mrs. Anderson, and thank you for all that you have given us.

  10. My senior multi-genre project

    HI, My name is Xavier P. and I am doing a final project for my class. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me. I was wondering:
    1. What do most people think of your writings?
    2. Do all of your books involve teenagers? If so, why?
    3. Did anyone influence you to write about teenagers?
    If you could respond to me as soon as possible that would be great.


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