Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success


Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:



  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.


*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.


15 thoughts on “Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success

  1. Ditto ditto ditto! I am in stage #1 right now but eagerly await stage #6 – looking forward to patiently getting through all the other stages to submit to my agent and then sit back and write something entirely new to forget about it for a bit. Good advice, Marie!

    I could add in there too Stage 4a: give to your qualified beta readers for feedback before you polish some more and submit. More eyes on it helps you see new things to mine in your story that you may not be seeing as you can be too close to the story. 🙂

  2. Hi Donna!
    Thanks. 🙂

    And true. Most writers need another set of eyes on their work for more perspective. The majority of clients I work with belong to a writer’s group and/or have a bevy of trusted beta readers they swap their manuscripts with.

  3. The whole process of writing is enjoyable to me. Polishing is rewarding as I watch my work evolve. And yes, I do truly believe that my craft is improving as I go. What your article points out that is new and helpful to me is that my mistake in the past has been waiting for some feedback before I started working on something else. For the past three years I’ve been writing one memoir. Yet I am already planning for my second memoir–a totally different story about another unique twist toward learning in my life. So, now I know that once my current work is out, I can begin working on my next. My question to you, Ms Lamba, is that once we have completed our manuscript, if we have already employed the insight of several readers chapter by chapter, is it necessary to send our completed book to a professional editor before we send it to you? Thanks for all of your help!

    • Thanks for checking in, and I’m so glad this is helpful to you.

      As for the professional editor, it really depends on the level of your own edits. With my own writing, I bring to the table my own editing background, plus my manuscripts are vetted by my highly skilled writer’s group, who read and critique my full manuscript before I share it with my own agent.

      You do want your own manuscript to be as polished as it can be when you send it out on submission. And agents can only submit to editors highly polished manuscripts.

      If a manuscript is riddled with errors or shows promise but needs a lot of work still, then most agents will pass. Agents don’t have lots of time to spend on fixing up a work.


      • As an ex-professor who has graded the grammar and content of many a paper, I have a few editorial skills. Yet, in my own work, I certainly do miss some things. So thanks–my decision is made–I will send it to an editor!

  4. Such sage advice, Marie. So many writers do give up too quickly. 🙂 And you are so right, a skilled critique group can also offer a detailed editorial opinion. After all, they’re invested in your success.

  5. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 02-11-2016 | The Author Chronicles

  6. I appreciate this enthusiasm. I am in the club that has too many drafts to count, too many years to admit to, and a definite sense that I am getting there thanks to posts like this one. Many thanks.

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