The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer: Everything You Need to Know About Craft, Inspiration, Agents, Editors, Publishing, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Writing Career

The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer: Everything You Need to Know About Craft, Inspiration, Agents, Editors, Publishing, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Writing Career

by Kevin Larimer, Mary Gannon


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The definitive source of information, insight, and advice for creative writers, from the nation’s largest and most trusted organization for writers, Poets & Writers.

For half a century, writers at every stage of their careers have turned to the literary nonprofit organization Poets & Writers and its award-winning magazine for resources to foster their professional development, from writing prompts and tips on technique to informative interviews with published authors, literary agents, and editors. But never before has Poets & Writers marshaled its fifty years’ worth of knowledge to create an authoritative guide for writers that answers every imaginable question about craft and career—until now. Here is the writing bible for authors of all genres and forms, covering topics such as how to:

-Harness your imagination and jump-start your creativity
-Develop your work from initial idea to final draft
-Find a supportive and inspiring writing community to sustain your career
-Find the best MFA program for you
-Publish your work in literary magazines and develop a platform
-Research writing contests and other opportunities to support your writing life
-Decide between traditional publishing and self-publishing
-Find the right literary agent
-Anticipate what agents look for in queries and proposals
-Work successfully with an editor and your publishing team
-Market yourself and your work in a digital world
-Approach financial planning and taxes as a writer
-And much more

Written by Kevin Larimer and Mary Gannon, the two most recent editors of Poets & Writers Magazine, this book brings an unrivaled understanding of the areas in which writers seek guidance and support. Filled with insider information like sample query letters, pitch letters, lists of resources, and worksheets for calculating freelance rates, tracking submissions, and managing your taxes, the guide does more than demystify the writing life—it also provides an array of powerful tools for building a sustainable career as a writer. In addition to the wealth of insights into creativity, publishing, and promotion are first-person essays from bestselling authors, including George Saunders, Christina Baker Kline, and Ocean Vuong, as well as reading lists from award-winning writers such as Anthony Doerr, Cheryl Strayed, and Natalie Diaz. Here, at last, is the ultimate comprehensive resource that belongs on every writer’s desk.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982123079
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 144,288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Kevin Larimer is the editor in chief of Poets & Writers, where he edits Poets & Writers magazine; oversees the website,; and directs the organization’s program of events, Poets & Writers Live. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he served as the poetry editor of The Iowa Review, and holds a BA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Mary Gannon is the executive director of the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. From 2013 to 2018, she was associate director and director of content for the Academy of American Poets. From 2010 to 2013 she was the editorial director of Poets & Writers, where she oversaw the production of and the publication of Poets & Writers magazine, for which she served as editor from 2004 to 2009. She received her MFA in poetry from Arizona State University, where she was awarded a Swarthout Writing Prize in poetry, and a BA in English from Skidmore College.

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Freedom and the Power 3

Being a writer is not a hobby

We all have a different story to tell

Living an engaged life

From inspiration to publication and beyond

The evolving ecosystem of writing and publishing

A successful author is an informed author.

1 Getting Started 13

Establishing goals and making informed decisions

Educational goals

Terrance Hayes recommends five healthy reading habits for living a life in poetry

Writing goals

Publishing goals

Financial goals

Money matters

Higher goals

Living a deliberate writing life

There is no road map.

Writer's Notebook: George Saunders on Motivation

2 Inspiration 38

Demystifying inspiration

Being open to new ideas

The art of observation

The adjacent possible

The writer's commonplace book

The concept of flow

Shutting out the noise

Eight apps to help you focus while writing

On distraction.

READING LIST: Cheryl Strayed Recommends Five Books to Read When You Need to Be Brave on the Page

3 Writing Prompts 50

A symphony of ideas

Walk with me


Pandora's box

Line of inquiry

Not the same old story

Recreating fear

Digging deep

Foregone conclusion

Open house

Reshaping the past

On beauty

Missed connections.

Writer's Notebook: Ocean Vuong on Becoming a Poet

4 One Hundred Notes on Craft 70

A way of thinking

Character and event


Poetry as a political act

Truth and nonfiction

The narrative sentence

Point of view

Rhythm and meter in poetry

Image and emotion

Form and matter

Time and experience

Poetry and place

Deep structure

Romance in fiction

Rules and revision

The vivid and continuous dream.

Reading List: Yiyun Li Recommends Five Books to Remind You Why You're a Writer

5 Finding Community 98

The writer's paradox

Connecting with others

Literary festivals

Twenty-five of the best book festivals in the United States

Writers conferences

Fourteen conferences and retreats for underrepresented voices

Trade shows

Writers retreats

Six ideas for DIY writers retreats

Twelve residencies abroad

Elements of a writers retreat application

Writing groups


Writer's Notebook: Christina Baker Kline on Encouragement

6 A Writer's Education 125

Can writing be taught?

MFA programs

Six authors on whether to pursue an MFA

Full-versus low-residency MFA programs

Twenty-one questions to ask

How to choose

Eight elements of unique MFA programs

What you need to apply to MFA programs

Who is reading your application?

Advice from MFA graduates

MA and PhD programs

Nonacademic writing programs

Online programs

Parting thoughts.

Reading List: Natalie Diaz Recommends Five Books to Read When Constellating Indigeneity and Our Individual and Collective Relationships to Bodies of Land, Language, Water, and Flesh


7 Writing and Time 155

Stealing time to write

The struggle with time as a positive force

Learning to say no

How long it takes to write a book

How long it takes to publish a book

The age-old question

It's never too late.

8 Writing and Money 165

A little financial planning

Debt and the MFA student

Federal student aid

Expenses and cost of Living

Taxes and insurance

Health insurance

Getting paid

Eyes on the prize

Worksheet: valuing your time

Worksheet: business deductions (unreimbursed).

9 Writing and Happiness 175

Expressive writing

Narrative medicine

Flow and productivity

Permission to be proud

The tortured artist myth

Imposter syndrome


The pressure to produce

Writer's block


Our team is winning.

10 Writing and Family 184

Respect and expectations

Supportive partners and friends

All expectations are not equal

Impediment and inspiration

Writing with children


Resources for writers who are parents.

11 Writing and Respect 193

Writing about others

Let your fear drive you

Sensitivity readers

Quality as a sign of respect

Opinions: everyone has them

Book critics on the value of negative reviews.

12 Writing and the Law 200


Electronic rights

Exclusive rights

First serial rights

Reprint rights

Subsidiary rights

World rights

World English rights

Film options


Fair use

Public domain

Basic parts of a book contract.


13 Literary Magazines 211

A brief history

First steps in publishing

Getting started

Free online databases



The company you keep

Magazines that pay

How to submit your work

A note on reading fees

What to expect after submitting

If your work is accepted

What to do with rejection.

Writer's Notebook: Charles Yu on the Inner Writer

14 Writing Contests 233

Sorting the options

Pros and cons

A cost-benefit analysis

Entry fees

How contests are run

The smart approach to contest submissions

On winning

On Losing

Letting go of the results

Worksheet: submission tracker.

Reading List: Dani Shapiro Recommends Five Books to Read When You're Feeling Lonely, Solitary, and Out of Step with the World

15 Self-Publishing 247

A fork in the road

A brief history

First, some questions

The advantages and drawbacks of self-publishing

Not a sure stepping-stone

The logistics of self-publishing

How much it costs

Publicity efforts for self-published books

Looking ahead

Hybrid publishers

Parting thoughts.

Writer's Notebook: Jane Hirshfield on the Poem as a Field of Possibility

16 Literary Agents 263

The small world of publishing

Going it alone: contests and small presses

Finding an agent: preparing the ground

Eighty-four agents active on Twitter

Approaching an agent: the query letter

Five basic elements of a successful query letter

Case study: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black

Five key query questions

Case study: Nathan Hill's The Nix

Selling nonfiction: book proposals

Case study: Polly Rosenwaike's Look How Happy I'm Making You

Getting to the submission: working with an agent

The agency agreement.

Reading List: Anthony Doerr Recommends Five Books That Might Save You When Your Writing Starts to Feel Dry and Dull and You Consider Becoming a Full-Time Dog-Walker

17 The Book Deal 298

How publishers make decisions

Profit and loss: how editors think about your work

The bids: individual, preemptive and auction

Advances: how the money works

Ancillary rights: what's in the fine print?

Nonfiction; selling the truth

Beyond the book contract

Inking the deal.

Writer's Notebook: Adam Haslett on Faith and Wonder

18 Independent Publishers 315

The indie publisher alternative

Eyes on a prize greater than dollar signs

Before you sign a small-press contract

A launching pad for emerging writers.

Reading List: Benjamin Percy Recommends Five Books That Will Change the Way You Think About Writing

19 Working with Your Editor 322

Communication, trust, patience

Types of editing

The author-editor relationship


What happens if your editor leaves?

The editing process

What was the most unexpected thing about the publication process?

How Long do you need to wait before your book is published?

Pacing the follow-ups.

Writer's Notebook: Luis Alberto Urrea on Trust and Power

20 Publication Checklist 335

Cover art

Promotional copy


Author photos

Publication credits


Parts of a manuscript

Title page

Copyright page



Quotation page or epigraph



Table of contents

List of illustrations

Dramatis personae







Reading List: Nicole Dennis-Benn Recommends Five Books to Read if You're Unaccustomed, Queer, and Alien in a World Too Stuck on Labels to Read Between Lines and Across Borders

21 Publicity and Promotion 346

Publicity and promotion in context

Working with your publicist

The changing media landscape

Small-press publicists

Communication and collaboration

Media outreach

A few thoughts on engaging readings

A sample press release sent to media outlets

Considering a freelance publicist

Social media

Ten of the best writers on Twitter

Good things can happen on Goodreads

Author websites.

Writer's Notebook: Jennifer Acker on Promoting a Book as an Author with a Disability


22 Surviving Success and Failure 381

Empires built on shifting sands

F is for failure

The "loser" list

Failure is forever

The implicit shrug

S is for success

What is your definition of success?

Playing the game

R is for reading the reviews.

Reading List: Naomi Shihab Nye Recommends Five Books of Poetry to Turn to When the Going Gets Rough

23 Careers 398

Supporting-cast work


The publishing industry

Freelance editing

Freelance writing

Pitch writing 101

Other writing gigs to consider

Speaking engagements

Literary nonprofits

Parting thoughts.

Writer's Notebook: Ada Limón on Sadness and Succulents

24 The End of the book 417

What writers don't talk about

Don't be embarrassed

Be proud of yourself

Find your team

A mixture of feelings

Fear and doubt

Feel all of it.

Reading List: Nafissa Thompson-Spires Recommends Five Bucks to Remind You Why You Started Writing When the World Is Too Much and Not Enough and Expatriation or Giving Up Isn't an Option

25 The End is Just the Beginning 421

The path up ahead

Something bigger than ourselves

The forest for the trees

The freedom and the power

Time to get started.

About Poets & Writers, Inc. 425

Free Resources at 427

15 National Organizations Serving Writers and Writing 431

140 Books for Every Serious Writer's Bookshelf 435

20 Top Podcasts for Writers 443

5 Video Playlists for Writers 447

Acknowledgments 449

Sources 451

Index 463

Customer Reviews