At this writing, I have twelve books to my credit. Nine have been published and three are under contract. Number thirteen is early awaited by my darling agent, Liz, who would be saying right now, "Joanna, finish that BEFORE you blog."

But I will temporarily ignore Liz because one of my fellow Crimespace pals asked a great question: How do you get published?

What I intend to do in this blog is share the various ways I've achieved publication, and perhaps if I'm ambitious enough, I'll even interview other authors about their route to success. Please, let me know if this has value to you, any of you, otherwise, I'll gladly return to my w.i.p. (work in progress).

I'll start at the beginning: I've always written. I was a voracious reader as a child. The public library was thirteen blocks away. I would walk there, check out books, read them as I walked home, then have nothing to read! My mom got pretty disgusted, marched me down to the library, and told the librarian I needed serious help. Said librarian introduced me to the adult section. And I read and read and read and read. (Are you getting the point here? If you don't read, you can't write. It's just that simple.)

I say this because recently I heard the first pages of eleven or twelve people's books. It was a reading at a local writers' group. A reading, I might add, of unpublished authors.

How do I say this without sounding critical?

Well, there's a reason they were unpublished. Not one of those books were publishable.


They didn't have enough tension. The characters weren't sharply drawn. There was no hook.

So here's the first step to publication: Go to a bookstore. Pull every book off the shelf in the new offerings area. (Bypass anything earmarked "literary." Those are notorious slow-starting and expected to be.) Read those first lines. Read those first pages.

Now compare those to what you've written. Be as honest and critical as you can.

How valid is my little test?

This summer I was at SleuthFest with Kathryn Lilley, J.A. Konrath, and our pal Linda Hengerer (the soon to be published Linda Hengerer, because I know she will be). We all went out to dinner. As we walked, Joe (that's J.A.'s real first name) asked if we could play a little game. It was, "Tell me the first sentence of your book."

Without exception, each one was a real grabber. Mine? "Two days before Thanksgiving, a man doesn't think about dying." And that's a cozy, folks, so that's comparatively warm and fuzzy.

Here's a first line from Lee Child: "I was arrested in Eno's diner."

Barry Eisler: "Once you get past the overall irony of the situation, you realize that killing a guy in the middle of his own health club has a lot to recommend it."

Randy Wayne White: "On the morning that the most disliked man on the barrier islands was found floating, dead, Ford was aboard his skiff, blanaced on the poling platform and looking for sea anemones."

Oh, you moan. (I hear it. Even as far away as we are, I hear it.) You're thinking, hey, if she'd only give me a few more sentences, I could pass the test. Okay, are your first three sentences as compelling as these by Miriam Auerbach, "I confess. I said it. When my husband raised his fists at me that last time, I said, "Go ahead, make my day!" (By the way, if you haven't read Dirty Harriet, go buy it. Now. That' s an order.)

So the first, the very, very first step along the route to publication is a dynamite first sentence.

Next week, I'll tell you what the next step is. (It might take me that long to figure it out myself.)

And if you're pouting, saying to yourself, "But come on. I want to know about agents and publishing houses and contracts," here's my response: Hello. You will blow your shot at an agent, a publishing house and a contract unless your book grabs them by the unmentionables from the git-go.

Trust me. I know. I blew a few great opportunities along the way myself.

Want to know more about the route to publication? On Sept. 8, the St. Louis Chapter of Sister in Crime is hosting WritersFest 2007: Concept to Contract: How to Write and Sell Your Book. For more information go to

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Comment by Joanna Campbell Slan on August 7, 2007 at 9:10am
Thanks for sharing! Looks like you're off to a fine start.

Comment by Krystal Waters on August 7, 2007 at 7:10am
In your blog you mentioned the first sentence... This is mine. "He was waiting at the bar with shakey hands; they were coming and his fate was in their hands."
Comment by Joanna Campbell Slan on August 6, 2007 at 3:16am

Thank you so much for honoring me with the opportunity to read your first page. However, and I'll write about this in my blog, I've decided not to read anyone's work for criticism unless I'm instructing a class. Keep reading the blog and you'll see why! I do suggest you work with a critique group. The Guppies, a subset of Sisters in Crime, does a super job of connecting writers who want to participate in critique groups. Another option is to attend a writers conference where critiques are offered.

Comment by Krystal Waters on August 5, 2007 at 5:33am
Wow! I read a lot as a child. I even made my own books! lol I would read as much as I could and eventually was able to read the thrillers I loved so much, such as Dean Koontz and Wes Craven... Robin Cooke... I did find that the books I put down where the ones that didn't get my attention the first page. So I decided to take a writing class in college. It wasn't a necessary, however I was interested in getting better as a writer. We wrote many different styles and was fun. I remember my professor coming up to me and telling me that I had the ability to write, and that if you don't write, you lose it... Yes, to write, you must read! Find out what is the foundation of the book, how well it's written.

I have written three novels, the first two I would say were practice. The one novel that I truly feel will make it is the one I am marketing now. I have all the advice you put in your blog and used it all since I was little.

I don't know if you would be intereted in reading the first page of my novel? If you are, let me know I'll send it over and give me an honest critique. I need to know...

Comment by Joanna Campbell Slan on August 4, 2007 at 2:35am
Love those.

Here's one I'm working on:

"I hate him. He makes me sick!"

Victoria Evelyn Spinner decided she would never go to another of her dad's photo shoots again. Ever. No matter how mad her father got or how much his manager begged.
Comment by Joanna Campbell Slan on August 4, 2007 at 2:32am
Uh, any sentence with the words "Whoopie Pie" in them has my attention. You go, girl!
Comment by Kathryn Lilley on August 4, 2007 at 2:19am
Great advice Joanna! Here's my first sentence, "I didn't know it yet, but the Whoopie Pie was ready to explode." Hopefully, that'll at least keep 'em reading to the next sentence!

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