Guest Blog – Denise Tompkins, Legacy

I often hang out in the ‘Next Circle of Hell,’  a virtual water cooler where aspiring authors who are either on submission or busily revising for editors/agents  get together to talk about the business. (Alright, to kvetch.) One of the nicest parts of hanging out there is that I get to meet authors who write in other genres.

One of these is Denise Tompkins. She’s the author of the soon-to-be published urban fantasy, Legacy.

I invited Denise to blog about how she went about finding an agent and getting published, because, other than using a standard font, I don’t think Denise followed any of the rules.  (Which just goes to prove, as any lawyer knows, for every rule, there’s an exception.)

Anyway, here is Denise’s secret, which seem to be this: whatever it is that you’re supposed to do? Do the opposite.


The True Secret to Getting Published

Do a simple ‘how to publish a book’ Google search and you’ll find that everyone has an opinion and they are more than willing to share with you the ‘right’ way to get published.  Just look at social media, agent and editor blogs, author blogs, publishing websites, and online chat forums where everyone discusses the best, and in some cases the only, way to become a published author with a reputable press.  I’m going to debunk the myth, solve the mystery, and give you the lowdown dirty secret to getting published right here, right now.  Get out your pen and paper.  Here we go.

There.  Is.  No.  Secret.

How do you know?  How can you be so certain?’ you ask.  I know because I broke every rule, written and implied, and I still achieved agent representation and a contract for publication with a very reputable press.  Here, in no particular order, are the rules I’ve since learned that I broke:

Rule #1: Thou shall not submit an unrested, untested manuscript.  Unrested?  Untested?  Sure.  “Unrested” means you write the manuscript then you stick it in a drawer and let it rest, let it cool off from your frantic typing and manic involvement; you gain some perspective.  “Untested” is a manuscript that hasn’t been proofed, beta’ed and/or sufficiently edited. 

I finished and “edited” my 98,000 word manuscript in an insanely short amount of time.  I refuse to tell you how short.  My keyboard was still smoking and I made odd typing motions with my fingers at the most inopportune times, like when I was putting on mascara or trying to eat corn on the cob.  It was too soon.

Rule #2: Thou shall not mass query agents.  Shall.  Not.  Agents do not want a writer who approaches the query process haphazardly.  They want a well-thought-out letter that conveys the real feeling of the story, the real emotion and conflict. 

I drafted my query letter, had a friend critique it the same day, made a couple of changes and began querying immediately with a shotgun mentality approach.  The only thing I did right was follow each one’s submission guidelines and put my preferred agents and publishers at the top so they received the query and/or submission package first. 

Rule #3: Agents will not, under any circumstance, request more if your manuscript isn’t perfect.  They want to see a manuscript that you’ve given a great deal of attention to, and they have a point.  After all, if you don’t take great care at this point, how will you treat edits?

Just over 27% of agents I queried requested either a partial or a full over the next few weeks. 

Rule #4:  Thou shall not ever query both publishers and agents at the same time.  Ever.  Agents don’t like it when authors query editors or publishers directly.  There are a variety of reasons, one of which is if you query a house with your manuscript and the editor passes, it may disqualify you from being submitted to that house later when you’re agented.

I queried everyone, publishers, editors, and agents alike.  I didn’t discriminate between professions or responsibilities, only the order in which I queried. 

Rule #5:  Agents will not consider anything outside their published list.  Agents and publishers will generally tell you specifically what they’re looking for. 

I don’t write exactly what my agent was seeking but it was very close and she liked what she saw.   

So what was the outcome of all this?  I was offered agent representation, together we were offered a publishing contract, and I learned that the odds I overcame were equivalent to winning the lottery.

Let me stress to the agents and publishers out there who are taking nitrogen pills for heart palpitations and calling out for assistants to bring cold compresses for twitching eyes that I do not advocate this approach.  I’ll admit I was ignorant.  But what I accomplished only proved that the staunch rules are really more flexible than anyone will lead authors to believe. 

For example, I happen to write very clean manuscripts because I edit as I go which is against the rules. I used my down time to compile a list of agents and publishers long before the manuscript was complete which is against the rules. And I never gave myself a chance to gain perspective on my manuscript by allowing the manuscript to rest, which was a serious offense and a convictable violation of the rules.

You’re definitely better off if you know the rules before you start the process and then find a way to work within them, or around their perimeter, so that your best traits and characteristics shine through.  But ultimately you have to do what works for you.  And above all, write what you love.  That, my friends, is the true secret.


To read more about this maverick fantasy-writer, check out her (new) website and blog. And keep an eye out for Legacy. I’ll let you know when it hits the bookstores.

This entry was posted in Getting Published, Other blogs to keep an eye on, Publishing, Querying, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Guest Blog – Denise Tompkins, Legacy

  1. Louisa Bacio says:

    It’s amazing what you can do, when you really want to. I’ve known people to call Cosmo and ask about a freelance piece. What? Their guidelines clearly say NO phone calls … ever. But, the person actually got to talk with an editor (and was politely turned down).

    Now what rule(s) can you break on the second novel? 😉

    Good luck!



    • Denise says:

      Thanks, Louisa! I appreciate the vote of confidence on book 2. ;o) May my publisher be as confident as you are!
      Very best wishes,


  2. I love rules. They taste so good with a nice corn meal coating and a dip in the deep fry…

    Though the main rules I break are in the actual writing, not the querying stuff. Still? It worked, too!

    Congrats on pushing through and making the rules, or lack thereof, work for you!

    Maureen O. Betita


    • Denise says:

      Thanks, Maureen! I never thought of breading them before devouring them. Hmmm. Definite literary food for thought.

      Wishing you all the best and a side of Ranch,


  3. Saritza Hernandez says:

    *raises her glass to the rule breakers* It’s the rule breakers that create the future… that’s why I sign all of you! 😉


    • Denise says:

      I’ve always said a person should find what s/he is naturally good at and work to be great. I suppose breaking the rules will have to fall under that category now… :o)

      Thanks for your comment,


  4. Daisy Harris says:

    I, too, broke tons of rules when I started querying- mainly because I didn’t know what they were. I actually queried with Mere Temptation before it was finished! I mean, it was mostly finished. But I revised like a madwoman when I got a full request like a day after querying.

    And when I finished Mere Passion still not having heard back about Mere Temp, I went ahead and sent that one out too!

    Ah well, it all worked out in the end. I knew enough not to send something riddled with mistakes.

    And yeah, I also queried agents and publishers simultaneously. 🙂 You’re in good company.


  5. Denise says:

    Hi Daisy. I’ll sit next to you at dinner any time. I’m beginning to think the blog should have been a collaborative effort among several writers I know. Between comments here, comments and private messages from Twitter users, and one direct e-mail, I’m feeling less and less like a maverick! But whatever label you stick me with, it’s worked out well.

    Thanks for taking time to comment on the post,


  6. Other Lisa says:

    Ah, the “Kids, don’t try this at home!” approach.

    (believe me, I have broken a few of these myself)


    • Denise says:

      Hi Lisa! I’m not sure whether to be thrilled that I wasn’t so far off the mark in the query process, or to feel a little cheated I’m not the rebel I thought myself to be (in hindsight, of course). I think I’ll settle for feeling like I’m one of the cool kids!

      Very glad to have your comment,


  7. Lisa says:

    Ha! I’ve broken most of these. Great post, Denise. I suspect it makes many of us feel we’re not alone…


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