Fan To Writer Part 4: Publication!

Welcome to the fourth part of Fan to Writer, in which writer, editor and conference organizer Spencer Ellsworth leads us through the various steps on the path to pro writer. From having fun with stories, to making pro sales and even some money on your writing, come with us on this road.

Part 4: Publication!

Stage Four! And to qualify for this stage you need…

An acceptance!

You have sold something, published something, scored an agent, MADE IT, BABY!*

*Making it is not actually making it. See Stage Five. But let’s not harsh it! This is your moment!

I cannot express how validating my first few short story sales, and the following checks, were. Finally, FINALLY, my work was deemed worthy enough for money and went before the eyes of readers. Even after spending years in therapy, reminding myself that “writing does not validate me,” publication… well, it kinda validated me.

So what then?

It depends what you’ve sold. If it’s a small press novel or a short story, you’ll just deal with the editor directly. If you’ve sold a novel, likely you’ve done it through an agent. Occasionally, you’ll make a deal with the editor yourself, and then go find an agent to negotiate the details of the offer. You all remember back in Stage Two, when you were memorizing AgentQuery and following those hashtags? Here’s where it pays off!

Before you gripe about giving an agent fifteen percent, remember that the agent is the one shopping your audiobook rights and foreign rights. After my initial trilogy sold, my agent nearly doubled the amount Macmillan paid by selling audio and German translation. People who say you don’t need an agent in traditional publishing are straight-up lying—and, to paraphrase The Princess Bride, selling something.

So, back to the manuscript, which will soon be a Real Published Thing. You’ll have to do edits. If you’re lucky, the editor likes the story or novel just as it is; if not, you will have to make changes that might have you pulling your hair out. Once in a great while, the editor will ask for changes you don’t want to make, and you will have to either pull your story, make those changes, or negotiate with said editor.

Oh, and you’ll soon have deadlines.

If you sell a few short stories, you’ll likely get hit up by editors who are putting together anthologies, or if you’re very good, by editors of magazines seeking particular kinds of stories for upcoming issues. So you’ll have a few months to throw together a short story on X theme. Hope you like X theme!

If you sold a novel, chances are you might have signed a deal to write sequels at the same time you sold it or your book may do well enough that the publisher requests sequels. Your agent or editor will request synopses of these other books and so a vague idea of “the series will end up… here” has to become a tightly plotted set of beats.

After my agent read A Red Peace and offered representation, I clarified that I wanted a three-book deal, so she asked me to send my outlines for the second and third books.

Hahahaha… my outlines?



This is very difficult if you’re the kind of writer who has always written via intuition. If you didn’t outline the novel you sold, well… congratulations! You’re now an outliner because your agent says so. Or you’re a very good BSer who can convince your agent and editor that something happens in those sequels. Whatever it takes to write those synopses.

You’ll have to turn in those sequels on deadline, which means that with all this pressure and a book release coming up, you’ve got to get back into the headspace of playing around with a story.

So you need to find the original joy from Stage One, that sense of play and excitement and breathless rush.

Y’know, figure out how to be the excited kid you were ten years ago.

And do it by December 1st.

And oh, even with all that enthusiasm, it has to be polished. As good as the first book, which you slaved over. So build in revision time.


You’ll have to get used to this. Your intuition, joy, and play are beholden to your practical considerations. You may be one of the lucky few who can be creative on command, but if you’re like me, you have spent the last few years writing what you like when you like it. You have to figure out how to hack your brain—how to forget the pressure in order to have fun. “Trick” yourself in whatever way works best. Use timed writing sessions. Give each chapter to a supportive partner, critique or romantic or both. Buy a bunch of action figures and use them to play-test the storyline.

I may have done the last one. A lot.

I don’t mean to just focus on the pressure. Publication will bring you some amazing joy. Being a debut author is a bit like being a new parent—very tired and very stressed, but full of unique, beautiful wonder at the joy in life. A successful bookstore signing, or convention reading, is so validating you might explode. People listen to your work and enjoy it. You sign your own book! Everyone wants to buy you a congratulatory drink!

(More about this process linked below, in the excellent Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog.)

Know this, in preparation for Stage Five: as the initial rush subsides, the post-publication period is a lot like the pre-publication period, with the same disappointment, discouragement, and difficult life-art balance.

Love every moment of that first publication: the first check, the first time you hold your book. It’s a wild ride, and as they say to new parents, it’s over much sooner than you think.

Further Reading: Lessons For Debut Authors by Mary Robinette Kowal, Advice For Authors Giving A Public Reading by Randy Henderson


Spencer Ellsworth

Spencer Ellsworth has been writing since he learned how. He is the author of The Great Faerie Strike, out in August 2019 from Broken Eye Books, and the Starfire Trilogy of space opera novels from Tor. He lives in Bellingham, WA, with his wife and three children, writes, edits and works at a small tribal college, and would really like a war mammoth if you’ve got one lying around.