This week’s writers couldn’t help but wonder (Image: Tina Tiller)
This week’s writers couldn’t help but wonder (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyJune 27, 2024

Help Me Hera: How do I become a writer?

This week’s writers couldn’t help but wonder (Image: Tina Tiller)
This week’s writers couldn’t help but wonder (Image: Tina Tiller)

How do I get published? Do I need an agent? And how important is social media really? Two letters, one answer.

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to

Dear Hera,

I recently finished a Masters’s degree in Creative Writing and absolutely loved it; I was stoked with my mark and my supervisor recommended I try to get my project published. This was obviously a terrifying and exciting suggestion, so naturally, I have done nothing about it.

I’ve been given a bunch of advice on finding an agent, setting up my own website, making a Twitter account (gulp – apparently this is where all the literary agents live). Logistically, I have the means to do all of this, or else I can figure it out, but I’m totally overwhelmed and frozen. It feels like I have this one chance to create my Image, my Writer’s Persona, and if I get it wrong, well… that’s it. How do I get over myself? How do I navigate Twitter? And how did you make your website so cool?


Writer Adrift

Dear Hera,

I read your recent advice column on artistic pursuit and financial stability and it really struck a chord with me. My question to you is, how am I supposed to share that love outside of my mum, my boyfriend, and two facebook friends who read my twice-yearly blog posts?

The actual doing of the writing I understand. But I want to go further with it, not with the goal of writing becoming some sort of side hustle, but to share my passion more widely and maybe bring joy and enjoyment to others.  

Which is where I get stuck. How do I do that? Do I just email a publication I admire and want to have my work included in with an essay I’ve written and go “hey, I want you to publish this, do you want to publish this?” Do I need to have a long list of accolades as to where my work has been published before I can make such an approach? Do I need to exclude those publications I admire and publish with a bunch of small sites that I don’t even know about before even thinking of approaching a more reputable company? There’s no blueprint for how you become a one-off or occasional guest writer for cool online magazines and journals. What’s the level of experience, the credibility you need before even being considered? If you need to start smaller, where do those places exist? I don’t really want to “build a following” or make a load of money from my thoughts. I just think, maybe, some people might enjoy reading what I write sometimes.


Worrisome writer

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Adrift and Worrisome,

I’ve decided to answer your questions together because you’re both asking a variation of the same thing. How to become a writer. Only you don’t want vague platitudes about the importance of art. You want cold hard publishing advice. 

If you’ve read any critically acclaimed biography of a 20th-century writer, you’d be forgiven for thinking the biggest hurdle when it comes to making a career in the arts, is whether or not to have your daiquiri before or after 12pm, and how to press a white linen suit. It must be tempting, after writing seven Booker-prize nominated novels, to go around saying things like “writing is a fire extinguisher for the burning zoo within.” It’s called maintaining an air of unimpeachable mystique, and someone has to do it.  But it’s not very helpful advice when you’re just starting out. 

Then there are the writers who missed their calling as sales executives and ought to be making a living hacking into celebrity Instagram accounts and advertising discount Ray Bans. These people will try and tell you you need Goodreads, TikTok, X, Instagram and a weekly Substack to be published. But you don’t have to listen to them either. 


If you want to publish in online magazines or journals, it’s usually best to pitch your ideas first, so you don’t end up wasting your own time when you’re inevitably rejected. 

The most important part of pitching is knowing your audience. Don’t pitch an article about Crufts Dog Show to the Financial Times, unless one of the dogs is currently undergoing investigation for tax fraud. You don’t need a huge list of accolades, although I won’t pretend it doesn’t help. The New York Times probably isn’t going to commission your personal essay about overcoming travel sickness without an impressive portfolio. But rather than “working your way up” I’d suggest making a list of publications, whose writing you share an affinity with, and begin pitching to them. Local magazines are probably a good place to start! 

When pitching an article, read the magazine’s submissions page and follow the instructions. Pitches should be short, professional, and to the point. In four to five sentences, outline the story you want to tell, why the editors should care, and if appropriate, why you’re the right person to tell it. Editors are busy people who hate long emails. You want to develop a reputation as someone easy to work with, who can turn around a high-quality piece of writing without a lot of hand-holding. 

It might help to build up an online portfolio so that people can see examples of your work. This is obviously something of a chicken-and-egg situation. But it’s both free and legal to make a website. If nobody wants to commission your essay about your pet chicken Glinda, there’s nobody stopping you from writing and publishing it on your own domain, to give people a feeling for the kind of writing you’re capable of.  

Try not to take any rejection personally. There are lots of reasons why a magazine might not want to publish something, and most of them have nothing to do with you. The more pieces you get published, the easier it will get, so don’t be discouraged!


It all depends on what kind of book you’re trying to sell. If you’re writing a biography of your great-grandfather, who founded a beloved local jam company, you would probably be better served by submitting to a local publishing agency. If it’s your dream to sell the film rights for your Gone Girl style thriller, an agent is the best way forward. 

If you’ve written a small and exacting book of literary fiction, that’s a more complicated question. Agents take a cut of your earnings, but they can help to get you a bigger advance, sell your book into international markets and help you navigate contracts. On the other hand, bigger publishers aren’t always better. You’re more likely to be forgotten or consigned to the backlist. Often it’s better to work with a boutique publishing house, whose staff actually care about your work. Never underestimate the importance of working with someone who gives a shit. It doesn’t matter if the person who gives a shit is your publisher, your agent, or both. But having someone enthusiastic on your side makes a huge difference, and often translates into better sales.  

NZ is one of the few countries where you don’t need an agent to get published… in NZ. Many publishers have open submission windows and “debut novel” competitions.  Some local authors pick up an international agent based on their local success, but that’s not the usual order of events. But if you publish in NZ first, there’s still a chance your book might be sold into an international market, and your local publishers will support you with this. My first book was published with Te Herenga Waka University Press, and they did more for my poetry than anyone else before or since.

I don’t know a lot about finding an agent, but a lazy way to get a better overview of the situation is to Google debut writers you like and see who represents them. You can also see which publishing houses they’re contracted to, and which magazines they write for. 


I’m sure some people would say so. But now that X is a wasteland of haunted porn bots, it’s getting harder to make a convincing case for its literary relevance. Perhaps someone might be more inclined to publish your memoir if you have an enormous Instagram following. But then again, being popular on social media isn’t always good for your literary career. Just look at J. K. Rowling. 

If you’re not a natural-born poster, I don’t think having a social media presence is compulsory. At least not before you’ve published anything. And you really don’t need to stress about creating a “literary persona.” Your writing will do that for you, whether or not you want it to. Technically you don’t even need a website. I like having a website, because I think it’s nice to have a place for people to read your work and try to sell you discount SEO solutions. I used one of those static site generators (Weebly) and it looks like shit. I love it and will never fix it. All author websites are terrible, and that’s the way it ought to be. 

If you want more specific advice, you can always send an email to me at said, horrible website, and I will try to help! 

Keep going!