Dani Hedlund published her first novel Threads of Deception at the age of 18. After experiencing the difficulties of getting her book published she founded Tethered by Letters in 2007 to help other new writers perfect and publish their work. Tethered by Letters is a nonprofit offers free writing coaching, publishing, and editing guidance and it has grown into an amazing community of writers, editors and artists from all over the world.
Dani began writing Threads of Deception when she was 15 years old. When she finished writing the book a year later she had no idea what to do with it. She grew up in a farming community and didn’t have any publishing contacts. She spent the next two years of her life trying to get someone in the publishing industry to take her seriously.
When she was finally able to hold a copy of her published book in her hands she thought of all the times she almost gave up. That’s when she decided to create Tethered by Letters to help new authors navigate the publishing industry.
One of the breakout successes that Tethered by Letters helped to navigate the publishing industry is Isaac Marion who wrote the short story that inspired the movie Warm Bodies. He has since written a novel that expands on the short story.
Our conversation covered many topics including: the best way to break into the publishing industry, strategies for writing query letters, and common mistakes that new writers make.
Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:
- If you want to make a career out of writing you can’t simply wait for the muse to bless you with a wealth of ideas.
- Writers Write. You have to put in the “butt in chair” time working at your craft if you want to succeed.
- If you want to be traditionally published today the most important thing you need to do is build a platform. The easiest way to do that is to get your short stories published in journals, magazines and anthologies. When agents see that you’ve already been published they are more likely to look at your work because they see that other people have taken a chance on your writing. It’s classic social proof.
- The short form side of the publishing industry is incredibly diverse. Over 90% of literary journals do not pay writers for their submissions. Those journals have value because agents and editors read them. Tethered by Letters does pay for the submissions that they end up publishing.
- Why book deals and film deals are the way to earn the most money in the industry for fiction writers.
- Every time you publish it helps your career.
- You should practice your craft by writing short stories. When you write short stories you’re exposed to your errors in a much more condensed and navigable way. It’s much easier to understand what you’re doing wrong in a shorter piece of fiction because there are fewer moving parts. This can lead to faster learning and improvement.
- Enjoy the process of writing and submitting your work. It’s the only way to survive the journey and become successful.
- You will grow faster in a less painful way if you write short fiction first.
- Writing short stories is a good way for you to figure out what kind of writing sells well in your market. It’s a good way for you to judge the audience reaction before investing time in writing a novel or series of novels.
- Any author that tells you, “I only write for myself and I don’t care what other people think,” is lying.
- Authors write because we want people to hear what we have to say. In order for people to hear what we have to say we have to find our audience and entertain them while exposing them to our point of view.
- The most common misconception among new writers is: “If my reader didn’t understand what I have to say then my reader isn’t smart enough.” As a writer our primary job is to communicate ideas. If the reader doesn’t understand the idea that you’re trying to communicate it’s the job of the writer to revise their work so that it’s understandable to as many people as possible.
- The biggest thing that new writers have to learn is that you can be wrong. All humans are fallible. The flip side of that is that revision is always possible.
- The easiest thing to do is identify the writer by how grandiose their writing is. How many words are you using? Are you trying to show off your literary erudition?
- The purpose of writing is to communicate ideas clearly so that the largest audience possible can understand them.
- New writers often try to put too much into one story. It’s because they feel like this is their one shot at writing. The truth is that if you’re a good writer you can have as many shots as you want at writing. So choose one idea, finish it and then write something else.
- Simple stories are the ones that work.
- Concentrate on telling a good story. Remember the type of stuff you like to read. Don’t get bogged down in the technical side of writing a manuscript.
- Charles Dickens would not have been published today. His narrative style doesn’t fit the reading patterns of today’s audience.
- We are the twitter generation. That means we need shorter paragraphs and stories that are fast-paced. Get to the heart of the matter is quickly as possible.
- Focus on telling a good story. Don’t worry about communicating sweeping themes or lofty ideas. Focus on entertaining your audience (if you write fiction) or informing your audience (if you write nonfiction) and let the ideas reveal themselves.
- As a first-time novelist you have to grab people from page one. People don’t have the attention span they once did. You have to grab them from page one and keep them turning the pages.
- After you have the trust of your audience you can do anything with them. But you have to earn that trust.
Two Ways of Opening Your Query Letter
First, always start with your plot description. Don’t introduce yourself before you introduce your story.
Successful approach #1
Establish a setting in your first sentence. Reveal conflict in your second sentence. Share the plot twist in your third sentence.
Successful approach #2
In the first sentence answer the question, “Who is your main character?”
In the second sentence answer the question, “What does your main character want?”
In the third sentence explain, “Why your character wants what they want.”
It’s really important to make the stakes for your main character as high as possible. In order for the story to matter to the audience there has to be consequences for the main character because the main character is the lens through which the audience experiences the story. Regardless of the story we read to learn about and experience life through characters. It’s important to make sure your audience cares about the main character. So whenever possible make the hook of your story about characters.
A Few More Tips About Query Letters
- When querying agents make sure you research the gender of the agent to querying.
- When querying a female literary agent, use Ms. instead of Miss.
- Never let your query letter be longer than a page.
- Add as many publishing credits as you can.
- Never make suggestions about what release you think you can have.
- Never say, “It has great film potential.” Ever.
- Agents are looking to make money but they’ve dedicated their life to stories because they believe in stories.
- Agents are going to google your social media following. That’s important in defining the size of your platform.
- They don’t want you to tell them how to do their job. It’s off-putting.
- Be humble. Write a very good, concise letter. Thank them for their time at the end. Tell them the word count.
- Never query an unfinished book.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview
Threads of Deception — Dani Heldund’s debut novel published when she was 18 years old. It’s a fantasy novel about physics.
Warm Bodies — The breakout zombie romance by Isaac Marion first in the Warm Bodies the series.
Tethered by Letters — The core mission of Tethered by Letters is to help new creators reach their potential.
Tethered by Letters Free Editing Program — Anyone can submit a piece of writing up to 6,000 words. Click this link to read more about the guidelines.
Submit to Tethered by Letters — Along with their Free Editing Program, Tethered by Letters runs quarterly writing contests with prizes ranging from $300-$10,00. They also publish a triannual literary collection that you can submit your work to.
Joining the TBL community — A place that aims to make writing fun.
Apply for an Internship at TBL — An internship with Tethered by Letters will give you first-hand experience working in the publishing industry. Our programs are designed to bridge the gap between learning about publishing and actually working in the business.
Donate to Tethered by Letters — Help support the TBL community.