Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
When you’re a debut author trying to break in to traditional publishing, one of the most important things to remember is this:
Minimize the obstacles.
You already know it’s not going to be easy to break in, so you want to avoid making it even more difficult on yourself. This is why agents give so much advice on their blogs. Not every piece of advice applies across the board to every author, but we’re trying to help you have the best chance of attracting an agent and publisher.
Assuming you’ve written a terrific book…
What are some possible obstacles to finding an agent and publisher?
- Not working on your book and your writing craft long enough
- Manuscript word count outside of acceptable guidelines
- Not being familiar with how publishing works and approaching it with unrealistic expectations
- Wasting your time pitching your book to agents who don’t rep your genre
- Pitching several books in different genres
- Not being able to name a genre for your book
- Not understanding who your audience is
- Having a poorly written book pitch and/or query
- Not having the right credentials or platform for your non-fiction book
- Having no social media experience or presence
In any of these situations, it’s not that you can’t attract an agent and traditional publisher. It’s just that it could make it more difficult.
The reason I’m pointing this out is because for every piece of advice I give, writers come back to me and say, “But what about So-and-So Author? They did that and they’re published.” All I can say is, yes, there are plenty of exceptions to every rule. But ask yourself:
Do you really NEED to keep this obstacle in place, or can you eliminate it somehow, making your path a little easier?
When you read all kinds of rules and guidelines on getting published, don’t take it as “You MUST do this to get published,” but rather reframe it in your mind as:
If you can, eliminate this potential obstacle to getting traditionally published.
Have you encountered any of these obstacles to getting published? What are some others you’ve experienced?
I bookmark so many of your posts to read at different times in my writing journey. So thankful for those of you that freely share this information to help us!
My biggest obstacle is genre selection. I am terrible with it and shamelessly admit that. After being rejected by agents I had queried and having over a year of experience in the independent author world, I still feel clueless when it comes to genre selection. My novels have characters that fall into the new “new adult” age bracket, yet lack the graphic sex, violence, drugs and drinking, etc… I feel readers expect that with a New Adult classification or at least some of that. There is a mystery, suspense, but the main theme is grief. It is about a young woman’s journey to self-forgiveness and self-reliance as well as allowing herself the chance to love and trust again. She needs to learn to trust herself, trust others, and trust God. Why is this so hard? Seems pretty straight forward, but it’s not. There is a factual blend of history heavily involved in the suspense and mystery aspects of the novel which seems to complicate things a bit. I still am unsure, but I have classified it as Romantic Suspense. That’s the best I could come up with and at the end of the day I guess that’s ok. If I had to guess by reviews, I would say 85% of my readers have loved my series! Any who have left negative reviews always seem to agree that the main character is whiney about her loss and they wished she would just “get over it already”. I’m not sure if they were disappointed by the expectation they had because of the genre or they simply haven’t experienced a deep, personal loss at this stage of their lives. Either way, genre selection makes me want to write a flat-out simple, easily labeled book, just to simplify things! Thanks, Rachelle. Great post, as always!
I have the same issue. Sometimes I wonder if I should be writing to a specific genre or formula, but then it wouldn’t be my story. But then again, I guess it falls under the obstacle category of doing your research. I’m still looking…
New writing genres seem to spring up eternally today. If you’re having an issue finding your’s, just make one up. I think a good blog for Rachel would be to explore the million and ten genres and what they mean. I especially like literary agents who say they represent literary fiction. What is ‘literary’ fiction, but all fiction?
I think a good genre selection for your book would be Romantic Christian Suspence or Christian Romance Mystery. To find the best genre catagory, I pull out the most important eliments of the story, what do you want people to know about it. I see that its romantic, its Christian, and there is a level of suspence or mystery. Hope this helps.
Rachelle! Great post! I have been working very hard on a query, and though I’ve had some published authors tell me it’s good, I still worry that its less than par… Such great advice!
Though, I did just see on the Books & Such Submissions page a section for “Twenty-to-thirtysomething fiction and nonfiction”. Why can’t that be a category on Amazon?
It is. It’s called New Adult, and it’s under romance because that seems to be the main focus:
However, as someone has already commented, general market NA has a lot of sex. From what I’ve seen of the market, Christian fiction with this age group is currently Amish or Historical Western Romance, so there’s definitely room for some quality Christian NA.
Amen, Lola. It’s just a matter of getting the traditional Christian publishing houses to take a chance on it. I’d love to see more Christian fiction address this readership.
I’m not sure if it’s been an obstacle, but almost all of my readers have said that they were surprised a guy wrote my stories…if they didn’t know, they’d have thought they were written by a woman.
I take it as a compliment, because I do write for a predominantly female audience, having been profoundly influenced by Nevil Shute and Andrew Greeley.
(OK, women and Marines…who have, by inclination and indoctrination, a very ‘female’ sentimental streak.)
But I do wonder if this has been a ‘discontinuity’ for agents.
Writing for women seems to work for Nicholas Sparks and Charles Martin.
That would be great company.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t have guessed your stuff was written by a man. Wait, that makes it sound like you’re into copying and pasting, but, ah, you know what I mean. And that’s what makes you a great storyteller and writer, you tell the story. Not ‘the story as written by a guy’. You can feel and see things from a woman’s perspective, which is a rarity amongst most men.
And you give GREAT advice, because you understand the female psyche. But before your head puffs up, we really need to talk about the Magnum PI look. Especially before you influence my husband and he says silly things like “Hey, Andrew’s wife lets him wear Hawaiian shirts!”
Yeah, she also let him park half an airplane in the kitchen.
Well, thank you!!I’ll put a couple of c-clamps on my head so it doesn’t swell. Nope, too late.
But about the half-airplane in the kitchen…it DID do double-duty as an island. Well, as long as you don’t mind an island that lay in a Russian swamp for 70 years. And has jagged metal edges…is that not what they call a ‘distressed’ look?
Or was the distressed look that on the face of my wife, when she got home and the Thing was there?
This is incredibly helpful. I am working on these areas, especially keeping at the writing craft and my manuscript but it’s good to hear how to work smart now so that it is more likely to pay off in the long run.
My obstacle: genre. Christian fiction (historical) or not? I’m thinking mine manuscript is tragic Midwestern western love story with an inspirational bent. But that’s not a genre, that’s a description.
How about Inspirational Midwestern Romance. It tells us type/field, history/location/period, and feeling/emotion. Think on the eilments of the story you want your readers to know when choosing genre categories. Hope this is helpful.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
One huge obstacle is arrogance. Let’s use me as an example…mostly because if I go with the generic “you”, somebody will think I’m talking directly at them. Which counters back to? Arrogance.
I wrote on a blog post recently which mentioned the idea that there is NO SUCH THING as a One Draft Wonder. NOBODY writes one draft and is on the NYT bestseller list later that same day.
Arrogance and an over-inflated sense of one’s own genius and importance will wave a mighty big red flag. Try going to a writer’s conference with that kind of attitude and you’ll…oops, sorry, *I* will ride the elevator alone.
Humility, grace and an open and willing attitude to take whatever advice and criticism is needed will get anyone’s attention. And that’s MUCH better than being labeled ‘difficult to work with’.
Leave your Olympic levels of self-confidence at home. Or divide up and share it with the less fortunate.
Good point. It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to even write a novel, much less try to shop it.
Making the transition to working it into the publishing business takes a pretty abrupt change of focus, and is generally a foray into a place in which a writer drops down the totem pole to the position of ‘learner’.
One learns best with ears open, mouth closed.
One thing I appreciate about Books and Such and other agency blogs is the willingness to share information to make it easier for writers to become more knowledgeable. I’ve learned so much from you ladies! Thanks you.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is knowing the story well enough to be able to pitch the “essence” of the story. Picking the wrong angle to highlight in a query or a pitch can make it more difficult for an agent/editor to see the value of the story.
In the genre aspect of things I have a question…I’ve seen fewer references to “Women’s Fiction” in contests and in bookstores. Is this genre fading, or is it being called something else now? I’m just curious.
I so appreciate that willingness to share information too. It’s been so amazingly helpful to my writing journey.
I agree, genre angst is the worst. My book might qualify for Contemporary Fantasy, but it’s more about feelings and my MC discovering family secrets that tie into Irish folklore. There’s no sex, there’s only one curse word in the whole book. That’s why I thought it might be more Women’s Fiction. Arrgh…but it’s nice to know others face the same problem! We will all hang in there together! Thanks Rachelle for giving us a venue to learn more about the craft of writing!
One of the things I’ve been working on over the years since I started this journey was to scale off the obstacles–craft, word count, genre, etc. One by one, they have been minimized. We’ve mentioned in the comments here how New Adult can be problematic. My story is set on a college campus, which has caused me trouble. I was told to increase my grad-student’s age from 24 to 27, so I did. However, there is that part of me that would love to see a New Adult readership take to this book, since there are younger characters dealing with the types of issues NA face today, but that is not the central issue.
Houston N. Gray
Thanks Rachelle. Good post and good comments. Genre is tough to define but commercial (or contemporary) seems to work in my case. I think the biggest obstacle that I had no idea about is word count. Not until I had finished my novel and it was 131,000 words did I realize first time novels have almost NO chance if they are over 100,000 words. Even the editor I hired never mentioned word count (and at $5.00 a page was probably happy with more words). Not one person of the dozen or so that have read it (and you should have a diverse group of readers that will be honest), and several that read it in 2-3 days, complained it was too long. I’m sure word count is not the only reason for rejection but it is a big red flag to most agents. Most query requirements include word count.
I like this list, Rachelle. I think it’s absolutely necessary to remove any obstacles that is in your power to remove. I thought I knew what my genre was, but after ACFW and many conflicting opinions, I’m not not sure. This is the obstacle I’m up against now…who to believe. Strategies for subjective obstacles are tough to come by. I much prefer meeting concrete ones head on!
Great thoughts here, Rachelle. Another obstacle: not having a teachable spirit. When we think we know everything, and have nothing else to learn — or we too easily get our feelings hurt when someone critiques our work — we are stuck and can’t go any farther. Plus, no one wants to work with someone who is unyielding or unwilling to compromise.
I definitely agree, Lindsay! A teachable spirit is a must!
Hi, the obstacle that my debut novel Dream’s Sake faced was that it was considered too long, especially since the current market trend in India is favoring ‘light’ reads.
Now I have learnt my lesson and kept my second novel strictly within acceptable word count 🙂
I’m beginning to think that perhaps what I’m writing falls in the New Adult category–but it’s definitely Christian fiction! I’m basing this somewhat on what Iola mentioned above, but based on my characters’ ages, I’ve wondered if I might fit into that category.
But it seems like NA hasn’t caught on in the Christian market. So…what do you then?
From what I’ve read of yours, Sally, I think it *could* fit the NA market. I think that readership is ready for a little bit more “reality” even in Christian fiction.
I don’t mean to sound as if most Christian fiction doesn’t show reality, but having a character that’s a prostitute or stripper or party girl … these things aren’t often showcased in regular CF. (Of course there are exceptions like Eva Marie Everson’s series about a former stripper, and Christa Parrish’s Coming Home.) But I believe you can get away with a little bit more grit in NA.
I hope you’re right, Christina. I guess I’ll need to pray that CBA publishers go for NA.
And just to clear the air, future readers :), my character is not a stripper or a prostitute! It’s not THAT kind of a book! She is a bit of a party girl, as are so many in their late teens and into their twenties. So I do think the book would resonate well with that age group.
My biggest struggle is how to tackle building an online presence while staying focused on writing the novel itself. There is only so much time in the day…and my family still needs to eat and occasionally see me emerge from my den!
I can relate, Karen! How to effectively build an online presence is difficult for me, too, and I’m always looking for advice in this area. I know I need to “step up my game” and I’m trying to learn how. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles in this area.
Thanks for sharing!
AND. . .once again there is the struggle with balance: How to balance “real” life with life online! LOL
Enjoy the journey. . .
Shelley Rhodes Kerns
Yes low I have chapters in outlines written I’m looking for a publisher I’m wondering if you could recommend a good one.
Thanks for another wonderful post, Rachelle. I am so blessed by all the helpful information here.
I once wrote a short story for a contest and definitely didn’t give it the time it deserved. You can’t get those moments back. I might be sitting on the perfectionist end of the stick right now, but I’m still submitting, so that gives me hope.
My dog Dinozzo is a really good jumper so I’m sure he will help me a lot when we go for a walk on the publishing path.
Rachelle, I think you just gave us an “easy button!” We can follow your recommendations and make things easier for us, or we can ignore them and make things more challenging. I vote for easy (or at least, easier). Thanks for the reminder/
I’m trying not to assume too much here, so let run with what is already written in your blog:
“Assuming you’ve written a terrific book…”
Alright, let’s! You read a submission and utter to yourself, “Now this…THIS…is an awesome book!”
In your opinion, which obstacles still remain? I mean, we are talking about a terrific book here, right? If the list remains unchanged, where’s the hope of ever getting anything published?
My obstacle was not working on craft long enough. There were/are so many things I didn’t/don’t know! I finally sat myself down and realized, I need to study! I need to grow!
I think us novice writers want to jump the game and be #instafamous. But really that’s not how it works. And it’s way better to achieve a goal you’ve really been striving for.
Thanks for the great post.
Great post, Rachelle! It is always so tempting to skip steps to rush to publication, but without the proper legwork our chances of ever getting there are greatly diminished. Thank you for the reminder.
The last time I pitched a novel, the agent requested pages. (Yay, good query letter!)
Alas, she replied in the negative. However, she asked to see my next project. Something must have struck her right. (Maybe she Googled me?)
My mistake was not having sufficient mastery of the craft to realise that project was not ready to pitch.
I went back to the project a while later. With new, fresh eyes, I saw what I had done wrong. How could I have been such an amateur to think this project was ready?
I’ve written a few more books since then and have gained a whole lot more experience and skill. As soon as my current WIP is polished, I’m pitching it to Agent I-Wanna-Believe-in-You first.
If it doesn’t strike her fancy, I’ll pitch the next twenty on my list. If I am truly ready, the magic will happen.
I get the frustration of many aspiring writers but the reality is simple in the majority of cases – Literary Agents and Publishers find you. It is so easy to self publish now days and there is certainly a place for Indies – but the erotic and vampire genre is saturated with some not-very good writing and people who ‘give’ away their ‘books’ and create FB ‘Author’ pages and then be hound their friends to ‘like’ them do the Literary Industry more harm than than good. Some really simple advice – Write and if it is any good they will come. Even if they don’t – just write for the joy of it. Blessed be the written word
I have completed a couple novels and am wondering, how do I get them published…? I am very ignorant of the whole publication business! How do I get started?
Very helpful blog post. I have a query; I wondered whether you may have an answer to this. Is there a maximum number of named characters which US fiction readers like to find in a novel? This seems to be a vexed question. Some highly successul novelists do get away with a huge number of characters. But for a new author, is this another hurdle to finding an agent? Your thoughts on this, Rachelle, would be greatly appreciated!
Gary Neal Hansen
Thank you for this post!
Count me among those posting here with Genre Angst.
I’m wondering if there is any official or reliable list of genres in Christian non-fiction?
As a new author, I am certain I have made many of these mistakes. I may have sent in unpolished queries, could not correctly identify my genre, and have not perfected my craft before sending it off.
Once, a publisher requested my manuscript, but it had not been revised by anyone (basically in first draft shape). No surprise the publisher rejected it. Learning from that mistake, I joined a critique group so that I can allow others help me to revise and edit my book properly. I suddenly realized how much editing it required…changing verbs to active past tense, showing more and telling less, and catching those words that are used incorrectly.
I wish I had read a tip like this before rushing to send out my query letter.
what genre would the DaVinci Code be in?
There are no barriers I face
on the road to publication;
living in a state of grace,
it’s a path I am not takin’.
This is not the time for climbing
success’ lader to the top,
for the Lord, He’ll soon be chiming
my engine telegraph to STOP.
I save my writing for the blogs
(they say my readership’s immense);
at night the crickets and the frogs
keep me in the present tense
where all striving’s now gone past,
and I have found my peace at last.
Kristen Joy Wilks
One of my obstacles is that very few books for teens and middle grade readers are finding homes in the Christian market. I keep plugging away though and you know what? I’m going to write a fresh manuscript for NaNoWriMo before jumping back into edits on my current one. This keeps me growing as a writer, both new stories and revising old ones.
“Eliminating obstacles” sounds much more positive and proactive than the approach I’ve heard some writers describe as “jumping through hoops.” I appreciate this mindset adjustment you’ve offered us. I will be sharing this post with my friends at the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. Thank you!
Katherine Talbert Phillips
This was so good for me to read! I am a novice in all of this, and although I am reading everything I can get my hands on, it seems as though every day there is a new term or new obstacle (as you call it) that I hadn’t considered. The Lord has to talk me off the ledge daily! I am grateful to agents who take the time to talk about topics for the newbie.