How to Get Published: The Hero’s Journey, Part 1

Post Date: June 2nd, 2010

“What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss.”

Joseph Campbell

While the manuscript breathes in the hands of kind and thoughtful readers, I’d like to invite all my friends to follow me on this hair-raising adventure we’ll call “Getting Published.”

The hero’s journey involves many stages, according to Joseph Campbell. And as a teacher who publishes how-to-write curriculum, I sure as heck better follow the stages of writing I preach.

First, the Call to Adventure. Like Dorothy walking out of the farmhouse door into Munchkin Land, or Luke leaving the burnt home of his aunt and uncle to seek revenge, I’ve walked through the door of my office into the wild world bearing a third draft of my manuscript. And lo, I have said, “Um, somebody read this, please?”

While some review the manuscript, I seek the guide who will help me get published– that Meeting with the Mentor, AKA, the agent.

Now, if I were Luke, Obi-Wan might just manifest, like it or not, and then I could dither around, refuse him, and finally acquiesce to my destiny. Or if I were Dorothy, I could stumble out of my house and happen on Glinda, who’d appear in a cotton-candy bubble with a sweet pair of ruby slippers. All I’d need were those and a kiss for the yellow brick road ahead. But in my case, I need to hunt down my Obi-Wan, that agent who will shepherd me through the dark and light sides of publishing.

So how does that magical meeting happen?

It’s the ugly out-takes nobody wants on film. Hours of research. Hours of figuring out whether this person I’m querying is the right fit; hours taking copious notes on submission guidelines. Surfing the agent’s blog and profile so I don’t make the mistakes of online dating: pursuing a potential match based on a picture or a few stray details. Writing multiple drafts of a query. Running those queries by people I trust.

Did you know the writing life was this glamorous?

Then, when the moment is right and the Force most active, I shall click “Send” and query a few agents at a time. Then wait. Then query my next list. And so on. (Did I mention this could take a while.)

Apparently, there are many writers out there who skip all these rules. They spam a whole slew of potential agents simultaneously when they haven’t even finished Draft #1. They ignore the very clear and specific guidelines on agents’ web sites. They misspell the agent’s name, they send bad pictures of their pets, they dangle some obscene participles, and perhaps worst of all, refrain from stating why this particular agent is the one being queried. Because apparently, in people’s lust for stardom, any agent will do.

I guess it takes all kinds to make up that pool of wannabes. Aspiring writers include that percentage who are like the recent college grad interviewing with a company. Less than 24 hours after his interview, he texts, DID I GET THE JOB? LMK. Agents are not your buds, your Facebook friends, your 24-7 advisors. They’re Obi-Wan stature. We must respect them.

Some would argue I don’t need a mentor, that this is the age of self-publishing and DIY. For some that process no doubt works, but not for me. This heroine needs a companion for the ride, a sage who knows both market and publishers. This heroine wants truth that a stranger, soon to become colleague, will tell her. Obi-Wan wasn’t Luke’s buddy, and neither was Glinda. We eventually have to listen to mentors, like their advice or not.

Dear Future Mentor: I promise I won’t be whiny like Luke, nor as skittish as Dorothy. I’m eager to test that light saber and don those ruby slippers. I’ll show you my mettle by querying by your rules, and I’ll show you my trust by believing in the Force that manifested this manuscript will also manifest You.

I know you’re out there.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Prompts, All Ages:
— What is the longest journey you have ever taken? Where did you go? Why? What made the trip long? What are your strongest memories of that trip?
— How is writing like a journey for you? Or, how is writing not like a journey for you? What’s it like instead?
— Have you ever wanted to write something that was so exciting to think about, you felt as if you were entering another world? What was that writing project? If you haven’t had that experience with writing, what other activity do you do that gives you feelings of adventure, escape, magic, and power?
— Who has been your best writing mentor — whether a favorite author, a friend/family member/teacher, or someone else? How did the person mentor you? What was that mentor’s special gift?
— You are recording a message for people hundreds of years from now. You must explain to future generations why the people of this year and this century engaged in the art of writing. Why do people writing? Why does today’s writing matter?


  1. bobmust says:

    I like that – agents are a bit like Obi-Wan; they stand as intermediaries between you and your publishing goals, nudge you occasionally in a good direction. But they don’t do the heavy lifting for you.

  2. Right. I remember Luke as the one with pools of sweat dripping off him in that swamp. 🙂

  3. NancyPurcell says:

    I like Glinda Goodwitch: some agent recognizing good writing and having the willingness to help you along until you reach success. Sort of like Godine with Hemingway and Fitzgerald. For me, it isn’t fear of flying with an agent in the pilot seat…it’s recognizine the need of using a good line editor before you EVER send your work to be viewed by Glinda! So many writers skip this step and fail to get into print.

  4. It’s so true. I think you can reread your own piece 50 times and not catch things, because there are so many angles to read the piece from. There are the sheer mechanics of plot (does cause truly lead to effect) and then setting issues (space and time make sense?), never mind consistency of characterization and point of view/narration…it’s dizzying.

    What is fascinating to me is how so many wannabe authors shop out work to agents and magazines that is patently not ready…not even proofread. I note what agents say on their blogs and tweets, and it’s a constant tale of cluttered air waves, full of ambitious folk who haven’t done their homework.

    Let me not be that person!