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Writing to be Published…and Read!

By Don Keith

Published by



Indian Springs Village, Alabama

Also by Don Keith

The Forever Season

Wizard of the Wind

The Rolling Thunder Stockcar Racing Series (with Kent Wright) (8 books)

Final Bearing (with George Wallace)

Gallant Lady (with Ken Henry)

In the Course of Duty

The Bear: the Legendary Life of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

Final Patrol

The Ice Diaries (with Captain William R. Anderson)

War Beneath the Waves

We Be Big (with Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba” Bussey)

Undersea Warrior

On the Road to Kingdom Come

Firing Point (with George Wallace)

Riding the Shortwaves: Exploring the Magic of Amateur Radio

Dangerous Grounds (with George Wallace)

Mattie C’s Boy

The Spin

Undersea Warrior

Dream On: A Journey to Deliverance

Get on the Air…Now!

The Amateur Radio Dictionary

The Ship that Wouldn’t Die

Dial Dancing

The Indestructible Man

Writing as Jeffery Addison with Edie Hand:

The Last Christmas Ride

The Soldier’s Ride

The Christmas Ride: the Miracle of the Lights

© 2018 by Don Keith

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form other than brief excerpts for review purposes without the express written consent of the author. He is also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and other events. Contact him at














When I finally lived that dream so many people have of getting a book published, one I actually wrote, something happened that I did not anticipate. One of the inevitabilities of being a published author is that there will be a number of people who want to know how to live that same dream.  Become a published author, that is. 

Let me assure you. You and I are not the only ones!

I published my first book, THE FOREVER SEASON, with St. Martins’ Press. Within days, the emails started, friends I had not heard from in years called me up, and people I did not even know came up to me at book signings, at work, and even at my kids’ baseball games, mostly congratulating me. But then they ultimately ended up telling me about the “fiction novel” they had been working on, their mom’s or dad’s story that “would make a great movie,” the memoir that any publisher would be excited to get, or the truly original children’s book they had written over the weekend that they knew would outsell anything Dr. Seuss ever cobbled together.

“Oh, by the way,” they would continue, even without prompting, “Could you tell me how you got your little book in front of that big New York publisher? Could you give me your editor’s name and phone number? Could you introduce me to your agent?”

Look, the truth is that I don’t mind getting these questions at all.  I appreciate those who answered my equally ill-informed questions and gave me much kind encouragement way back when getting published…and read…was still just a dream for me. I am also thankful to those who steered me in the right direction and, even more importantly, gave me the warning signs to look for that kept me from getting taken for a ride, or from wasting time, effort and money.

See, back then I was so desperate to get published that I could easily have jumped all over some of those wrong steps that so many others do. It is not an easy business, as I will describe later. It takes a special will, a serious drive, to get your words published for anyone to purchase and to make your prose available to be read by total strangers, including considerable numbers of them willing to pay for the privilege.

And another warning: even if you break through and get published, unless that book sells lots and lots of copies, be prepared to continue to have to fight for attention, advances and more royalties. There is an oft-quoted maxim in the book-writin’ business that says less than a thousand people make their sole full-time living by writing and publishing books. From my experience, that number may be high. And I doubt that those ads you might see from the self-publishing vendors about folks who cash regular six-figure royalty checks has moved the needle one iota.

This is still a tough way to make a living.

As I often tell writer groups and seminars, if you want to be rich and famous, forget about writing for a living. Rob a bank. You will be rich for a short while. Then, when they arrest you and your image shows up on the seven o’clock news, you will be famous!

Discouraged yet? Good. Read on.

Let me—before I even get deeper into the subject—make it very clear for whom this particular book is intended.

I am going to be talking to those of you who seriously want to write and, even more importantly, those who want to be published and have their words read by more than just family and friends.

That may seem obvious, but not everyone is cut out to be a published/read author. Some want to write so they can be rich and famous. Good luck! We have covered that already.

Some people want to write to free their inner muse or to create art, whether anyone ever reads their prose or not. Not a thing wrong with that, but the topics in this book may or may not apply to you if that is your particular vision.

Some simply want to capture an oral history or experiences of themselves or a family member. Nothing wrong with that one either. I actually am an advocate for capturing what I call eye-witness history. We bury the holders of wonderful human-interest stories every day before those storytellers can share their experiences with future generations, authors and historians. See my web site for information on making sure these untold stories are captured and archived before it is too late.

But this book is not designed to address the needs of these particular would-be published writers.

No, I want to talk with those of you who are looking for practical advice on how you can find a publisher for your book-length writing, and furthermore, a publisher who can make sure your words will be read by someone.

Should what you write turn out to be art at the same time, great!

Should it someday make you rich, super!

If you succeed in getting real stories documented for future generations, superb! I strongly believe that is a valuable thing to do, and today’s self-publishing options make that easier and more effective than ever.

But just so we are straight with each other, what I am going to talk about here is writing to be published and to be read. Got it?

A caveat here: this book and the advice I will give you pertains to fiction and non-fiction book-length works, but not so much to poetry, memoir (unless you are famous) or short-story collections. Those types of books are even harder to sell. 

Children’s books are tough, too, and the most competitive genre of all, but much of the advice I am about to give you may apply to that area, too. Read on and decide for yourself.

And I must also emphasize that—again being honest with each other—you need to be able to write reasonably well, have enough skill to produce a marketable manuscript, and have a book that will have enough interest among enough people to make it worthwhile to publish.

What am I saying here? You must be honest with yourself. Is your book any good? Can you tell a story, craft interesting characters, follow punctuation and grammar rules? Will anyone really want to buy it?

Please do not rely on input from best friends or close family members. By all means, get feedback from them. But ultimately, you should seek advice and honest input from others you trust.

Write! Write that book! Tell the story!

In the next pages, we are going to discuss three potential tracks to becoming a published author. Those are

  1. Going it on your own, presenting your fine book to traditional publishers,

  2. Getting someone who knows what he or she is doing to represent you and your literary efforts…a literary agent, or

  3. Self-publishing.

The “getting read” part is a whole book unto itself, one I may attempt to compile someday, but we will deal with it to some extent later on, so don’t give up on that important topic.

But before you sally forth determined to sign a book contract or self-publish your masterpiece, be sure you have something in which an agent, a publisher and—by far most importantly--potential readers will want to invest time, money and effort. There is plenty of competition out there!

Look, this business is too difficult, too chancy, too time-consuming, too potentially heartbreaking to take a shot when you really don’t have the goods to justify it. Yes, bad books get published every day. Some bad books become mega-bestsellers. But you must face the fact that those are the exceptions and certainly not the rule. We hear about them primarily because they are not typical.

Still not discouraged? Still interested in getting published…and read? Then let’s go on.

What I have written in this book are my thoughts and suggestions, based on my own experiences and observations. I am someone who once was where you are…wanting to write for an appreciative and paying audience. I found a way, and continue to explore the options, as you will see, but I have successfully published over two dozen books to date and get ideas for several others almost daily. Some of those books were issued by some of the biggest publishing houses in the world. Some have been released through respected regional publishers. One was with a major university press (which has kept it in print and available for purchase for more than a dozen years).

Some of my books have been very successful, including a couple of national bestsellers. One will soon be a major motion picture with deals pending on others. Some are considered important by those who judge such things. One was submitted for consideration for a Pulitzer Prize. Some have been self-published. But some sold relatively few copies, went out of print and either are no longer available or I have reacquired the rights and published them myself, just to keep them out there and available if someone stumbles upon it.

But each of these children of mine have reached an audience that continues to tell me how much they appreciated my writing them. That goes for the ones that did not sell well, too.

And while I have certainly not become wealthy with my writing—that’s correct, after over two dozen books, I still don’t make my primary living writing—I have earned some money, a large measure of respect, and a loyal following of readers who buy my books and tell me they like what I write. I am what publishers call a “mid-list” author. Does that mean the big boys are lining up to bid on my next book? Hardly! But if you visit my web site, you will see a long, long string of book covers with my name on them.

And you know the really cool thing? I have found this limited success by writing books that I would enjoy reading.

Yet, in the spirit of total honesty here, let me make a painful admission. I still fight a battle with every book I attempt to get published. Despite my success, I still have to justify each book I submit to a publisher, and I still get turned down sometimes. Not as often as with the first few, but it still happens. We will talk later about the trends in the publishing business. All media are in flux as the internet, social media and other recent technology have changed about everything.

(I even blog on that particular subject. See my ramblings at about rapid technological change and its effect on media and society…as well as on my hobby of choice, amateur radio, about which I also write books.)

Look, your experience may be totally different from mine.  Plus things change in the publishing business so rapidly nowadays that it is difficult to keep up with it.  That you can count on.  Truth is, the fundamentals have probably changed since I started typing this chapter!

But I think I understand how things work in this business about as well as anyone does, and especially from the author’s perspective. I believe I know what it takes to write, get published, and be read. I am also egotistical enough to think I can help you realize your own aspirations, providing:

  1. You have something worth sharing with paying readers,

  2. You have the talent to get that book into a computer file or printed out on a stack of paper (not the preferred method anymore, by the way), and

  3. You have the will to see it through, even when you get rejected, have your baby called “ugly,” or—even worse—simply get ignored.

So, if you will stick with me, I will happily share my knowledge and experience with you in the hopes that you will benefit from it. I also ask that you let me know how you do, whether you follow my advice or not. My email address is

Who knows? Maybe I will purchase and enjoy reading YOUR book one day!



Okay, let’s get this very difficult conversation out of the way right now, here in Chapter One.

In the spirit of continuing to be honest with each other, even if it hurts, let’s be truthful. If you want to become a published author, you must have grit, determination, and a burning desire to do so.  This game is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.

It’s hard! Even heartbreaking! If it weren’t, everybody would have a bestseller, right?

Maybe your dream is to make a fortune by writing that book that lands at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.  Sorry, I have to throw cold water on that one. Face facts.

Just do the math. Hundreds of thousands of books are published every single year. That is a lot of potential competition for the unknown-but-hopeful writer. You.

The odds of that are so stacked against you that you are almost certainly destined to be disappointed.  Remember that factoid from the foreword, that less than 1,000 people worldwide make their entire income by writing books?

If that is not enough to get you all glum, walk into your nearest big-box bookstore. Survey the shelves full of books, turned spine out. What is going to make anyone search out that book you have waiting there on your computer hard drive? Or cause them to invest some of their credit card headroom to bag it up and take it home?

I will talk just a bit more later about the economics of the writing/publishing business, but let me once again state here one resounding truth. If you are writing just for wealth and fame, you would be better off doing something else. Maybe even playing video poker or buying a Lotto card each week. The odds of becoming wealthy are about the same.

Another harsh reality: if you get your feelings hurt when someone says, “No!” Or turns you down for what you believe is no good reason. Or fails to offer even a hint of why they rejected you. Or that someone even refuses to read your wonderful prose. Or simply ignores you and your earnest entreaties. If that sort of thing discourages you then you should probably forget getting published.  At least by one of the major publishing houses or most of the smaller regional ones.

See, publishers are so overwhelmed by would-be John Grishams and James Pattersons that they hardly take the time to say, “No!” let alone explain why. They have their existing stable of proven writers, too, on which they can count for delivering marketable works that have a built-in readership out there, ready and willing to ding the Visa cards or download their favorite author’s latest offering. The publishing houses actually are convinced they can put an accurate guess on every book they decide to print up nowadays. Where once they depended on acquisition editors to ferret out potential best-sellers, most publishers now have an editorial board, usually consisting of not only good, old-fashioned book editors with a nose for finding wonderful books, but with accountants, lawyers, and marketing types aboard in sufficient quantity to out-vote any editor.

Plus publishers maintain a network of literary agents out there who are basically pre-screening new material for them. Those agents know which publishing houses are looking for what kinds of material and types of writers. And, as we shall discuss shortly, getting a book directly to a publisher without benefit of an agent is virtually impossible.

Also, if you are the type of individual that I often encounter at writers’ conferences who have been polishing and tweaking that same novel since Reagan was president, then I probably don’t have much for you here. Eventually you have to quit massaging that next great American novel before you have squeezed all the life out of it. You have to go ahead and take the risk that somebody will call your precious baby ugly. That some dolt at some big publishing house—or a faceless literary agent somewhere who doesn’t even know you and obviously did not even read that manuscript on which you worked so hard—will tell you they do not want to represent or publish the book.

That your work of literary art “does not meet our requirements at this time.”

Oh, the sting!

One thing is for certain, though, if you think about it. You will ever get turned down or have your feelings hurt if you don’t submit your work to someone who can ignore it, denigrate it, or belittle you and your talent. But you damn sure will never get it published and read if you don’t! 

 Okay, you still interested even if I have done my dead-level best to discourage you?  

Then here we go.



So let us consider your first and most obvious way to get your book published and, eventually, read by eager readers. That option is good, old-fashioned traditional publishing houses. Those that enter into a publishing rights contract with the person who created the content in the first place.


Legitimate publishers do not ask the author to pay any money or invest in the printing and marketing of the book. Run like the wind if a “publisher” starts down that path.

Instead, by contract, they agree to pay you a royalty for each book sold. Most will even pay you money upon signing the contract, before the first press has rolled or the first e-book is uploaded. That is cleverly called an “advance.”

It is, in reality, an advance against future royalties. Say the publisher agrees to pay you a thousand dollars as an advance. You won’t get another check until the royalties they owe you exceed that thousand bucks. But they are paying YOU. You are not asked to chip in and help out on the cost of producing or marketing the book.

This kind of publishing arrangement has been around for centuries, and it has changed very little. We will discuss all the various ramifications later, but please listen to this.

If you do not believe anything else I say here, believe this.

In today’s world, very few publishing houses will accept material from anyone other than a legitimate literary agent, and you are, in most cases, wasting your time trying to approach traditional book publishers yourself. 

Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-13 show above.)