Are Newcomers Welcome?

by Greg Johnson
President, WordServe Literary

People ask me all the time if today’s tough publishing climate is a good time for newcomers to get noticed and get published.

Let’s start with some obvious negatives:

→ Publishers are cutting their lists and delaying books until the economy turns (and they may stay lean thereafter… this may be the “new normal”).

→ Publishers have to concentrate on their core authors who have established platforms and broad readerships.

→ Publishers are dealing with an ever-changing retail climate where whole chains are going—or can go—out of business at any moment. Consequently, they’re hedging their manuscript buys until they see the economy stabilize.

Is there any good news for new authors?

→ Great writing will always get looked at. It may not get bought, but it will always get a fair shake. And what an author should want more than anything else is to get their work in front of the right editors and then let the chips fall where they may.

→ It will force a new author to do what they should have been doing all along—working harder on the front end: finding the right hook, using high concepts, mastering your craft, building a website or starting a blog, growing a speaking platform, writing newspaper columns, even developing a TV presence to 200 markets! The era where someone with a home computer can stay safely in their PJ’s behind their computer screen and write (and let someone else market) is over. Some novelists can still create and not worry about building a readership, but most will have to write AND market.

→ Some publishers can’t afford the big names so they’re always looking for newcomers they can get relatively cheaply.

→ Agents are hungry. The queries have increased to nearly every agent we know, but creative queries (and good writing) will still attract attention.

→ Content is king, now more than ever. The internet is filled with content. Who’s writing all of this content? Writers. Experts. Good researchers. People in their bathrobes. This can be you. Investigate many different options for “being a writer” besides commercial book publication.

→ People still want good books to escape into. If you can tell a good story in 80,000 to 110,000 words, you’ve got a good chance. Look at The Shack. Every publisher rejected it, now it’s a phenomenon. Which leads to the last bit of good news…

→ Persistence can pay. Not obnoxious pushiness, but belief in your story, your message, your craft, your gift. If you’re willing to face rejection and listen to people telling you how to make your book better, there is always a chance. If you don’t have it in you to be persistent, don’t be a writer. Don’t be one today when it’s as tough as it’s ever been, don’t be one three years from now when (hopefully) the economy has turned around.

This last point can prevent you from spending weeks and months behind a computer screen in the early mornings or late evenings when you should be tending to more important things. Before you put words on paper and devote yourself to selling your work—count the cost.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Camille Cannon Eide on February 25, 2009 at 2:13 AM

    >Karen – congrats! I’m excited for you!!

  2. Anonymous on February 24, 2009 at 5:12 PM

    >When people find out I’m a (published) writer, they often want me to write “their book.” I tell them to write it and I’ll help with the editing. No one has ever taken me up on the offer. I think people need to distinguish between writing as “therapy” and writing for publication.

    As a journalist, I’ve been taught to meet my deadlines and wrlte clear, publishable prose. I’m not a tortured soul struggling to make sense of the world. Sadly, while everyone has at least one book in them, not everyone can or will get published. Writing, like any other art or craft, is hard work and takes years of study and training. Good luck to all!

  3. T. Anne on February 24, 2009 at 12:18 PM

    >Oops, my post above should read ‘greg can you see me?’ *big sigh*

  4. Sara on February 24, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    >One of the things I keep reminding myself is, don’t write to get published. Write because you love it. Write because it makes you feel whole and complete and hopeful and because it is what you were created to do. Learn and grow and love your craft, love the process, get your writing out there, and then learn to accept the many many disappointments you’ll face. Let go of the end result. If you’re only writing for the end result you’ll end up so frustrated and discouraged that you’ll never make it.

  5. Mindy Obenhaus on February 24, 2009 at 11:44 AM

    >Excellent post, Greg! Like anything worth while, it takes hard work and persistence to make your way into the publishing industry.


  6. Karen Witemeyer on February 24, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    >Just as a note of encouragement to all the new authors who struggle to keep hope alive in this downturning economy – I am an unpublished author and just last week, I signed a three book deal with a major CBA royalty house publisher.

    It is possible.

  7. Julie Gillies on February 24, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    >What an encouraging post, Greg. You’ve encapsulated truth, reality and hope.

    As Christian writers, we must do our part by working hard, day after day, whether we “feel like it” or not–whether success is immediate or tarries.

    I think this current climate tests our mettle. We count the cost and work hard, knowing that the outcome is always in God’s hands.

  8. Marla Taviano on February 24, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    >This is totally unrelated to this post, but I’m reading Brian’s Mackert’s Illegitimate and just got to the part where he spent time in Okinawa and went to Koza Baptist Church. I about fell off the couch!

    I was a student teacher in Okinawa from March-June 1997, and I went to Koza Baptist Church!! What in the world?! I was looking for info to see what year he was there but couldn’t find it. Do you know?

    Okay, this totally should’ve been an e-mail, not a comment. 🙂

  9. T. Anne on February 24, 2009 at 11:27 AM

    >People in their bathrobes? Rachelle, can you see me?

    On a serious note, I truly believe nothing is impossible with God. I’m fine with His will and I have an abundant amount of faith in his word. No fear here, either way.

  10. Michelle on February 24, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    >One thing I’m really starting to appreciate is that a lot of the fluff that has been published lately won’t be in the near future. There will be more selectivity to things.

    That said, I love what Greg mentions about authors needing to work harder. We can’t sit about on our laurels anymore. It means we have to have the manuscript and query completely polished before sending it out. We have to do our homework. It’s time to work smarter, not just harder.

  11. Dara on February 24, 2009 at 10:58 AM

    >I know what it’s gonna take to get my book published and I’m ready! I know it’s going to be difficult and frustrating (it has been already) but I think the challenges make it worth pursuing even more!

    Thanks for the post!

  12. Marla Taviano on February 24, 2009 at 10:41 AM

    >Great post, Greg! Thanks!

  13. Kim Kasch on February 24, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    >And for those of us who look at the mountain and say, “I’m going to climb that.”

    Maybe we love a challenge, maybe we’re crazy, but maybe. . . we’ll make it 🙂

    Mom used to always say, “Anything worth having, is worth working for.”

  14. Rachelle on February 24, 2009 at 9:47 AM

    >Re: Lynnrush’s phrase, “A brutal reality check.”

    Not to belabor the point, but this “brutal reality” is where agents and publishers live everyday of their lives. Come to think of it, many people in many businesses are in the same place.

    However, publishing isn’t ALL brutal, as you know. It’s the bright, shining, happy moments that keep us here.

    The whole thing brings me back to a basic truth, as expressed in the first line of M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled:

    “Life is difficult.”

    The rest of the book is one long way of saying, “So deal with it.”

  15. Joe Moore on February 24, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    >Nice post, Greg. My advice is to quit. I would like to see everyone quit. Don’t hesitate, just stop writing and definitely stop trying to get published. I have no intention of doing so, but I sure wish everyone else would. 🙂

  16. lynnrush on February 24, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    >Great article. A brutal reality check with a hint of encouragement…..

  17. Sir John on February 24, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    >The one item that has helped me more than any other is the friends to be made in the writing community. It’s great to be around so many talented people wanting the same brass ring. It’s also so much fun watching everyone around you grow into becoming a better writer with each new project.

    Johnny ( Sir John) Ray

  18. Jess on February 24, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Thanks for the optimistic words! Happy to read anything about publishing that isn’t doom and gloom!


  19. Kat Harris on February 24, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >Thanks for the pep talk, Greg! I needed that this morning!

  20. Just_Me on February 24, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    >I have a clipping from a very old newspaper with the quote: When in doubt, never underestimate the healing power of brute force.

    Sometimes it’s not the best idea to find what everyone else is doing and fit in. Right now the publishing climate favors those willing to make their own niche and their own place. Instead of trying to be the next JKR, be the first Me. Just aim to write a book that grabs innocent passers-by and turns them into readers.

  21. Sharon A. Lavy on February 24, 2009 at 7:53 AM

    >And in spite of everything. Some of us cannot not write.

  22. Rachel on February 24, 2009 at 6:41 AM

    >I always appreciate these kind of posts. A good reality check. Helps me focus.

  23. Gwen Stewart on February 24, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    >Thanks for a great post, Greg.

    Especially now, I think a writer must maintain confidence and tenacity while guarding against bravado, bitterness, and discouragement.

    This is almost a daily battle for me. The odds for a newcomer, the economy, and the stunning work of others can discourage me to the point where my writing nearly withers and dies. This would be great if withering and dying were my MO, but it’s not. Even the dark spots in my novels are couched in sweetness and light, for pity’s sake.

    Perhaps I should practice some snarky humor or some bitter darkness. Or just hope that people want sweetness and light in tough times.

    (Rainbows, butterfies, fairy tales and happily-ever-after, anyone? Anyone?)


  24. ~Jamie on February 24, 2009 at 2:30 AM

    >Well, I guess it’s just like all the other industries… definitely not promising, but the economy has to turn around some time, right?

    What I say is we will get through this… and when people are sad and have no time for entertainment… they will STILL READ!

  25. Anonymous on February 24, 2009 at 2:20 AM

    >If nothing else, “The Shack” is proof that even a poorly written and ill-conceived book can hit big. Not that we didn’t already know that from Ms. Meyer. Those are two good reasons right there to keep at it.

    I’ve also got the encouragement of several close friends who are successful novelists. When I feel like throwing in the towel, they get pissed off and assure me that my MS is far better than anything they’ve ever written and are dumbfounded that it has yet to find a home. I know it drives my agent crazy, God bless the poor woman. And to think that I imagined it would be a downhill battle once I got over the hump of finding an agent.