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Aspiring authors: Finish the book, get an agent, keep your day job

For aspiring writers seeking to become the next Clancy, Grisham or King, one local author has some advice.

"If you do decide to write the great American novel," said author Thomas Grace Jr., "do not quit your day job. Nobody is paying you to write that first book, and you will likely be writing it on stolen moments. Clancy sold insurance, Grisham practiced law, King worked in a donut shop. We all write our first books for ourselves."

Grace, a U-M graduate who lives in Dexter, and other speakers participated in the recent Book Publishing Workshop Weekend at the Michigan Union. The three-day event, which began Feb. 7, introduced students to careers in the book publishing industry. Some speakers offered tips on getting a manuscript published.

The most important task writers must do to get published is to finish the book, Grace said.

"A lot of people want to write a book. Some of them even start the work, but few of them ever finish it. There are few things more gratifying in the world than completing a 500-page manuscript," he said.

Kay Radtke, executive vice president and associate publisher of Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, stressed the importance of a good cover letter that accompanies the manuscript or book proposal.

"I have received some excellent cover letters that definitely capture my attention," she said. "Among the helpful points to include: Your expertise in the subject, how the book differs from others in the area, the audience it is intended for, and why we should consider it for our publishing list.

"This last point involves first doing some homework to make sure your book idea would fit in the publisher's program. Likewise, if you are sending it to an agent, make sure it is the kind of book the agent handles."

Have an agent pitch manuscripts to publishing houses because the work will be read more likely than an unsolicited manuscript, said Eric Chinski, executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Co. To find reputable agents, talk to other authors and network with as many people as possible in the industry, he said.

The more you can establish personal relationships, Chinski said, the more likely you are to get the manuscript read and published.

The Department of Communication Studies, LSA, Sweetland Writing Center, Yaffe Center, the Career Center and the English Department sponsored the event.

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