Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What are my odds for getting published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm a first-time author trying to get my novel published and it has been tough.  Lots of rejection from both agents and publishers which is disheartening.  So, I'm wondering, do you know what the stats are for first novels getting published?  And is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

Thanks so much,


Dear Unpubbed,

Unfortunately, the news I have for you is not good.  Only about 2% of authors get commercial publishing contracts.  Stats say that about 95% of manuscripts are not up to the standard a commercial publisher would consider.  And even those that are up to the required standard might get passed on because the publisher already has something similar on their list, the subject matter doesn't align with their current priorities or they feel it may be too hard to sell.

It is a tough road...  In terms of upping your chances of being in that tiny percentage, the best thing you can do is to write an amazing book and make sure you've had several rounds of critique and editing before sending it out anywhere.  With so few books reaching a publishable standard, the best way to get a leg up to to ensure yours is among the 5% that are.

And of course, commercial publishing is not the only option for you.  Small presses often specialise in specific genres and styles that mainstream publishing companies may not be interested in, so if your book is in a more niche genre, you may be better off submitting to a small press. And of course, there is also the option of self-publishing which is a good option if you are someone who likes to be in control of things, or if you write quickly - commercial publishing generally works at glacial speed..

At the end of the day, while there are things you can control - like the quality of your book - a lot of it is luck.  If your book falls into the right hands at the right moment, it could be the thing that gets you published.  But for most of us, that doesn't happen and we need to look at other publishing options.  

I'm sure this isn't the news you were hoping for, but I always feel like it's better to be prepared and have all the facts before you go too far down any path.  

Best of luck with your publishing journey, whichever direction you choose to take.

X O'Abby

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Suzanna's Writing and Reading Goals for 2024: February Update


The second month was successful with my reading goals. I made great progress on the publishing course, though I still have quite a bit to go. It has been lovely to think of how I want to reach my writing and publishing goals.

Here are my writing goals for 2024:

  1. Write 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a NaNo project (Camp in April, Camp in July, or NaNo in November).
  2. Write at least one children's book.
  3. Write at least one new short story.
  4. Edit at least one short story from my undergrad days.
  5. Write at least twelve poems.
  6. Put together a poetry collection.
  7. Work on the draft of the graphic novel.
  8. Take a course on publishing. (in progress)

  1. Read 12 literary magazines. (0/12)
  2. Read 12 novels. (24/12)
    1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (read by Andy Serkis)
    2. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
    3. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
    4. Green Rider by Kristen Britain
    5. The Atlas Complex by Olivie Blake
    6. Rival Demons by Sarra Cannon
    7. Demons Forever by Sarra Cannon
    8. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
    9. Emerald Darkness by Sarra Cannon
  3. Read 12 short story collections. (0/12)
  4. Read 12 poetry collections. (0/12)
  5. Read 12 graphic novels. (7/12)
    1. Heartstopper Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
    2. A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll
    3. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge
    4. Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld
    5. Fables: Book Six by Bill Willingham
  6. Read 12 children's books. (6/12)
    1. The Adventures of Chad and the feelings of Glad, Mad and Sad by Dustin Wright
    2. We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates
    3. Mulla Husayn: The Story of the Declaration of the Bab for Young Children by Alhan Rahimi
    4. Naw-Ruz in My Family by Alhan Rahimi
    5. Garden of Ridvan by Alhan Rahimi
  7. Read lots of books (nonfiction, fiber, etc). (9/12)
    1. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky
    2. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher
  8. Participate in every Kindle Reading Challenge this year and get at least 90% of the badges. 
    1. On target to finish all of the badges!
What are some of your writing and reading goals for 2024? How was February for you?

Monday, March 25, 2024

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

First published: October 3, 2005

Here's what the story is about: Michael “Mickey” Haller is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County who works out of a Lincoln Town Car. Most of his clients are drug dealers and gangsters, but he takes on the case against a wealthy Los Angeles realtor, Louis Roulet, accused of assault and attempted murder.

First line/paragraph:
“There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”
–J. Michael Haller, Criminal Defense Attorney, Los Angeles, 1962
Chapter One
Monday, March 7
The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you’ll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming into Lancaster for a 9 o’clock calendar call. He must have heard the wind whistling in my cell phone.

This story starts with a quote. I've read other books that begin with a quote, but it's usually an actual quote by an actual famous person, not a fictional quote by a fictional character. But this quote sets up the entire book and does it well. The reader is primed for a story about an attorney who will be defending an innocent man.

The first paragraph gives the setting [Los Angeles County, late winter] but not just a list of facts. We learn the setting through the first-person POV of someone enjoying the morning while on his way to Lancaster, the beginning of plot. The rest of chapter 1 describes the morning of a criminal defense attorney on his way to court.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What's the difference between a university press and a publisher?

 Dear O'Abby,

Like most of your readers, I'm a writer trying to get published.  As part of my research I've been looking up the publisher of all my favorite books and discovered that many of the books I've enjoyed the most were published by university presses. 

What is the difference between a publisher and a university press?  And is one better than the other?  

Any light you can shed on this would be gratefully accepted.

Kind regards,


Dear Pressed,

Generally speaking, a university press focuses more on academic writing and often publishes work by faculty members of that university.  The things a university press chooses to publish might be academic, scholarly or focused toward a very niche audience.  University presses tend to be less concerned with turning a profit and more focused on serving a small community of interested readers.

That said, many university presses also publish novels and other works intended for a broader "trade" audience.  Novels that may have been written as part of a PhD or Masters programme are often published first by university presses and then those authors may continue publishing with that press in the future.

Commercial publishers, on the other hand, are more focused on publishing books that will sell en masse to a broad audiences.  

In terms of whether one is better than the other, it really depends on your book.  If you're writing non-fiction, particularly if it's on a very specialised subject, a university press might well be the best route for you.  If you've written a romance novel, a commercial publisher is likely to to be a better choice.

Where the line gets a bit blurrier is if you've written a particularly literary novel.  For something like that, a university press might be a good choice.  Whereas if you're writing non-fiction about something that's relevant in pop-culture, a commercial publisher is probably a better fit.

But certainly don't rule university presses out.  They often have very experienced, discerning and talented editors.  While they often have less to spend on marketing and a lower profile than a commercial publisher, they are also likely to champion your book for longer and keep it in print and on shelves long after a commercial publisher has moved on to the next thing.

And yes, you can publish with a university press even if you don't work at or attend that university.  You don't need to have gone to university at all....

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Week 12 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week 12 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

First published: July 11, 1960

Here's what the story is about: The story is told by 6yo Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, and set in the years 1933–1935 during the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout’s father Atticus, an attorney, is appointed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a young white woman. The book explores racial and social injustice. It won a Pulitzer prize in 1961, and was made into a movie in 1962 starring Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his performance as Atticus.

First line/paragraph:
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

This story starts with the main character, apparently a child although she has a great vocabulary [assuaged], speaking directly to the reader in first person POV about her brother. The reader knows a little about the child by the voice. We also know a little about the brother and what he cared about. Really nothing about the plot or setting though. But character being “king” for most readers, if the characters are interesting you'd read at least a few pages.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

From the archives - Dear O'Abby: How do I build a mailing list?

 Dear O’Abby,


My first book is releasing early next year and I want to get started on publicity and marketing in the next couple of months.  I have been researching a lot and everyone says that the best marketing tool is a good mailing list.  But how do I build a mailing list?  I have a sign-up form on my blog, but only five or so people have signed up.  And that’s over the last two years!  Do you have any ideas for how to build a mailing list that will actually help me?  Or do I need to buy a list from somewhere to get started?






Dear Unmailed,


Unfortunately mailing lists are a long game and you won’t build an amazing list overnight.  But you are correct that mailing lists are an incredibly valuable tool – you just have to be careful not to abuse them.


To build a good mailing list you need to have good content.  I don’t know how often you post on your blog or how many followers/regular blog readers you have, but the best way to grow your mailing list is to ensure that your blog is engaging readers.  People are not going to sign up for a mailing list on a blog that isn’t regularly updated or interesting.  So it may be time for a blog refresh, or even an opportunity to build a website for your author brand. 


Once you have a gorgeous, engaging and fascinating online home for your author brand, you need to ensure people visit.  Use your social channels to direct people to your blog/website.  Maybe even think of a special offer you can deliver on – a bespoke short story maybe?  Or after your book publishes, a deleted scene?  Something to entice people to sign up to your newsletter.  You can even put a pop-up window on your website so as soon as people drop by, they’ll see that they can get something free if they sign up.  Whatever you do, make sure the option to sign up to your newsletter is prominent on the page.


Once your book is published, make sure your website/blog address is clearly visible in the back-matter.  If a reader has finished your book and enjoyed it, they’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to look you up and because they enjoyed the book, they’ll be interested in hearing about the next one you write so they are likely to sign up to your newsletter.


Once you have more than a handful of subscribers, start sending out newsletters.  Not too many newsletters though.  People don’t want to be spammed.  Decide on a schedule and stick to it.  Monthly, maybe, or even less if you don’t think you’ll be able to create engaging, interesting copy more regularly.  What you write is important – don’t just flog your book.  You know what you’re interested in and what you’re an expert in, so use those things to give readers something unique in each newsletter.  And keep consistent from newsletter to newsletter.  If the formula works, readers will share your content with their friends and you’ll find your list grows.


The most important thing is to be yourself and be authentic.  Readers will see through anything else!  Take your time and do it right and your list will grow.  Just don’t get frustrated and give up if it’s slow going. Consistency is key.


Best of luck with your release!


X O’Abby

Monday, March 11, 2024

Week 11 – The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week 11 – The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

First published: September 3, 2002 in US [1998 in Scotland]

Here's what the story is about: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series of mystery novels set in Botswana, by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. The main protagonist is Mma Precious Ramotswe. She opens her country’s first female detective agency using an inheritance from her father.

First line/paragraph:
Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe--the only lady private detective in Botswana--brewed redbush tea. And three mugs--one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course.

This story starts with an introduction in omniscient POV. It introduces the main character and the main setting. The reader also has a good idea of what the story will be about – a detective in Africa. In paragraph 4 the readers learns it is set in Botswana. I have never been in Africa, and I read this book with the idea that I would learn something about Botswana. The book did not disappoint. I learned about the people and the culture, alongside a set of cases which one source describes as “gentle” and I agree. It's not edge-of-your-seat suspense, but it was a delight to read.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Dear O'Abby: how do I ask published authors for advice?

 Dear O'Abby,

I was at a book launch over the weekend and the author who spoke was really lovely and friendly during her Q & A, so I thought I'd approach her later and ask some advice about how to get my own books  published since I'm a complete novice when it comes to the publishing industry.

Well, she was not nearly as nice or friendly when I caught her after her signing and asked her if she'd be willing to talk to me about that.  In fact, she made me feel like a total idiot for even asking.  I cringed out of the bookstore and went home to lick my wounds. With a pint of Rocky Road.

Obviously that was not the right way to approach a published author for advice, but what is?  Any guidance you can give me would be gratefully accepted.  I never want to feel that humiliated again.

Best wishes,


Dear Embarassed,

I'm sorry you had that experience.  Most authors are actually very helpful and willing to help newer writers navigate the rocky path to publishing.  But maybe this was not the right place or time to pursue the answers you're looking for.  A book launch is that author's big day, a celebration of all the hard work they have put in to get that book published and out into the world.  

If you're going to speak to an author at an event like this, it's probably best if you have bought their book before you approach them.  Even better if you've read it, or at least read something they have written.  Then you can ease into the conversation by talking about their work before you bring up your own.

Also, make sure the author you're speaking to writes in a similar genre to you.  There is no point asking a non-fiction writer about their publishing experience if you are writing novels.  The two are very different and advice you get from a non-fiction author will not necessarily apply to you as a novelist.

Have a good sense what you want for your book in terms of publishing.  An author who publishes with a small press or academic press will have very different experiences to speak about that an author published by one of the big 5.  And if they are self-publishing, it's a whole other ballgame.  Make sure what you want aligns with the author you want to approach or the advice you get is not likely to be applicable.

Make sure you have specific questions.  Do some research and learn where the gaps in your knowledge are. The broader the questions you ask, the less specific the answers are likely to be, and you may not learn what you want to learn. Go in with three or four targeted questions and you are more likely to get something you can use than if you go in with something like , "so, how do I get my novel published?"

And know when to walk away.  If an author doesn't want to engage, don't push it.  Just thank them and leave them alone. Or ask if there is a better time for them when they might be more able to speak.  Book launches can be overwhelming, especially if the author is uncomfortable speaking to a crowd.  They might be more willing to meet up with you one on one, or answer your questions by email.

Hopefully that helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, March 4, 2024

Week 10 – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week 10 – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

First published: March 20, 2012

Here's what the story is about: A memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert in Southern California, through Oregon and to the Washington border.

First line/paragraph:
My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time. There was the driving across the country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and, a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the PCT crossed a highway.

This story starts with an introduction which is basically backstory. The balance of chapter 1 is also backstory about the day she learned her mother was dying of lung cancer. But this author writes with voice. The details she gives, her thoughts at the time, everything on the page compels the reader to turn one more page. This book was riveting [I read the audio book] and I could not stop until it was over.

I also love the cover!

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this story in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!