5 Writer Tips I Learned at a Publishing House

After working three years for a New York City startup, I quit to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing and took on an internship at a publishing house.

What I learned and saw first depressed and then motivated me.

The interns (myself included) went through the slush pile, read a few pages, and then decided whether or not the manuscript might be worth an editor’s time.

If we passed the book along, we had better be sure it was worth it . . . so we were selective.

Interns were also asked to look through a writer’s social media page to see if they had a following or had made it onto any Amazon bestseller lists.

Surprising? Here are some things I learned about making it out of the infamous slush pile.

1. Delete the First Paragraph/Page/Chapter

The first part of whatever you’re writing might be (ahem, will be) stuffed with lengthy exposition and wordy, unrealistic dialogue.

Try it out with anything you’re writing. If it’s an essay, ask yourself if it still stands after erasing the first paragraph. If it’s a book, try slicing out half or all of the first chapter.

Not to say the expository work that went into those introductions is wholly unnecessary…but it may have been more important for you than it is for the reader.

Jump right into the action. If you did your job, readers (and frazzled interns) will be able to follow.

2. Your Audience is NOT an Editor

It’s probably an unpaid intern, which means your book has to be interesting enough for someone who is unpaid to read it.

Which hey, is good practice for real life, because you want people to not only read your book for free, but to pay for it.

When you’re editing your book, step back and think to yourself: If I was an unpaid, overworked, broke twenty-something, would I read this?

If the answer is no, then maybe (gulp) it’s not interesting to the general population. What can you shorten? What has to stay?

If you rely on the editor of the publishing house to do they work, you may find that they, well, won’t.

3. Having a Following Helps

I see a lot of writers knock social media as though Emily Dickinson wouldn’t have been all over Tumblr (with black-and-white photos and sad quotes) if she had access to it.

Having a blog or some kind of online presence is not bad. It does not make you less of a “genuine” writer. We have the potential to have a huge audience all on our own. Use this resource. It is an asset.

If you have a large online following, a publishing house will notice (particularly because they’re still so, so bad at marketing books).

Do not rely on a publisher to market your work. Do you write funny tweets? Do Instagram giveaways make you tingle with happiness? Or are you more into old school blogging?

Market yourself, and connect with your own audience. (Or, at the very least, do not think of yourself as being above it.)

4. Read. Out. Loud.

Read your book out loud to yourself, or, better yet, go to open mic readings. I always catch mistakes and typos once I print out a few pages and begin rehearsing.

If you trip over your own words, misnamed a character, repeated a detail, or left one out, you’re more likely to catch those errors once you start rehearsing for an audience.

If your book is published, you’ll need to read out loud anyway . . . and you never know who you might meet at an open mic (hint: your future fans).

5. Be Flexible With Your Medium

Get used to the idea of your formatting and fonts going out the window.

Your book, IF accepted, will be converted into an ebook.

100%.

The font will change. It will be formatted for iPad, Android devices, and maybe even converted into an audio book.

This is a shock to some writers who feel as though the printed page is the only acceptable medium for their work.

Additionally, be prepared to use technology yourself. It’s not uncommon for a publishing house to use Google Documents or to correspond via email.


In short, lose your preciousness and stubbornness. Many times, we have the idea of the isolated, depressed, lonely writer who only uses a typewriter stuck in our minds . . . and that’s not helping anybody.

Write interesting stories and read them aloud. Connect with people and roll with the times.

Good luck!