What Does it Take to Get Published?
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
It’s An Uphill Battle
In a writing workshop, the instructor wrote on the board the three things a writer needs to get published: a good book; a good agent; and, luck.
A Good Book
Let’s assume you have a good book. The plot is interesting and unique, the main character is compelling, and the writing is great. You’re now ready to look for an agent to represent you and find a publisher. Oh, and by the way, you have an author platform; website, Twitter, Facebook with a bunch of followers cheering you on.
A Good Agent
You research and focus on agents that could best suit your needs and theirs. The querying process is what gets the agent interested in your work. You meet the submission guidelines where you may be asked to send a query letter, synopsis, sample pages or any combination of each. But after reading the query letter or by the time agents gets to read actual sample pages, they have already decided to go to the next step or reject it. 99% of the time an agent will stop reading a partial before reaching page 10 or the query letter just didn’t cut it for them.
This is frustrating for a writer. Everyone, including the agent, knows that it’s impossible to judge the quality and merit of a book by reading only a few pages. As a result, thousands of books don’t get represented or published.
Agents receive thousands of queries a year and they don’t have time to read all of them because their first priority is to service their existing clients. The “slush pile” of queries, sample chapters and even full manuscript submissions don’t get attention until the end of the day. We all know what it’s like after a long day’s work. Do you really want to do more work?
But that’s what a reader does. Should the agent really do the same? After all, their judgment of a story will have greater significance to the publication of a highly successful book than merely deciding what to read next.
If your first 10 pages introduces us to a compelling character, the prose has some great writing, and dialogue is authentic, then why does it still get rejected? Agents will tell you that there wasn’t enough to want them to keep going. Yet, how many of us have picked up a book, read the first 10, 50 pages or the entire book and asked ourselves, “How did this ever get published?” And think about the books that were initially rejected and later, by luck, divine intervention or whatever the case, it landed on the best seller list – The Da Vinci Code, Gone With the Wind, Carrie, to name a few.
A bit of luck goes a long way in obtaining representation. We’ve all heard the stories before.
“I met her [the agent] on the train to a writer’s festival …”
“I was reading a section of my novel at a Goldsmiths literary evening for grad students and [Agent X] – who is now my agent – was in the audience.”
“One of my teachers […] passed my novel on to her agent […] who in turn passed the manuscript within […]”
“I found my agent […] through another agent named […]. My friend knows someone who went to school with [this agent], and because of her, the book ended up in his hands. He referred me to […].
And then there’s a different kind of luck. Author Delia Owens, now 70 years-old, had never written a novel before. Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon helped rocket Owen’s book, “Where the Crawdads Sing” after Witherspoon selected it for her Hello Sunshine book club pick.
Being at the right place at the right time can work wonders. But for most of us aspiring authors we leave luck to land wherever it chooses and continue to persevere and never give up on our dreams. We’ll continue to query, as best we can, to literary agents and publishers regardless if the system is broken or not. We’ll continue to receive rejection after rejection, regardless of the subjectivity that influenced the decision. Most importantly, we’ll continue to write, no matter what lies around the corner because our passion is in writing not querying.
Until next time!