TOWNSEND -- Publishing a book? "It's a lot of hard work. You have to write the book first and then find the agent," author Matthew Dicks said. But it is possible. "If you're humble and you're willing to listen, I really believe everyone can be published," he said.

Dicks was at the library for the finale of the "One Book, One Town" program. This year, Townsend readers were encouraged to read his 2012 book published by St. Martin's Press, "Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend."

"We all loved it, plus we thought it was accessible to kids," Library Director Stacy Schuttler said while introducing the author to a writers' group on Feb. 21.

Learning to write was a process for the fifth-grade teacher and Trinity College graduate. All the organizational procedures he learned in school work wonderfully for about half the writers out there, but not for him, he discovered. "The writing process is different for people," he said.

"The one thing I'm very good at is characters. I'm able to really inhabit the character," he said. So, instead of organizing the whole novel on a white board with colored stickies, he found out that he works better by writing and then finding out what happens next.

"As long as I keep moving my fingers the story continues," he said.

But writing the story is only part of the process. Next comes the battle of getting it published. "The first step is to find an agent. If you can get an agent, that's the way to do it," he said.


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A good agent gives a writer access to editors. The major publishers rely on agents to present the right books to them.

Finding his agent was a full-time job; one summer, eight weeks and 40 hours per week was dedicated to the project. He researched agents, read parts of the works they had represented and contacted each one he thought would be a good match.

He was on the Web, on the phone and wrote an individualized letter to each person he targeted in 100 agencies. Another 100 agencies were already identified if none of the first 100 panned out.

There was some interest from the first 100. He got 70 rejections, 20 no-replies, seven "well, maybe if you rewrote it"s and three interested in the book. He was in.

Part of the reason for his success comes from being a personable guy, he said. "Ninety percent of authors and 100 percent of male authors are jackasses. My gift is I know how unimpressive I am." He is planning on bringing coffees, chocolates and trying to pay for lunch the next time he meets with his publishers.

There are other avenues besides agents for new writers to use in getting a book published.

One of Dicks' friends, described as an Emerson professor with excellent credentials, contacted small presses until he landed a contract. It was as much work as finding an agent, Dicks said.

Another friend, a successful mystery writer who wrote for a major publisher, decided he would have more income if he published through Espresso, a print-on-demand book machine located in stores throughout the country.

The decision came with a high coolness factor. "It's really fascinating to see those machines work," Dicks said. They have glass sides so the printing process is visible.

Christopher Paolini, author of the successful "Eragon" book series, self-published his first book, selling it in outlets like craft fairs. It was noticed and picked up by the industry.

"Once your book is out in the world, you never know what is going to happen," Dicks said.