More For Unpubbed Novelists

It seems the biggest concern many of you have about this business is the difficulty of making the leap from being an unpublished novelist to being published. This comes out in all kinds of worries, like this one from Courtney:They say it’s very rare for a [new writer] to land an agent, let alone sell a book. I guess my question is, is it waste of everyone’s time for an unpubbed writer to have an agent/editor appointment at a conference? I’m going to my first conference in the fall, so I am wondering if this is something I should bypass.It’s only a waste of time if you aren’t looking at it as a learning experience and a stepping stone. Every time you make a contact with a professional in this industry, it’s an opportunity to learn more and to make a personal connection that just might serve you in the future. Many writers land an agent after several years of attending conferences, networking, talking with professionals, attending workshops, and working on their writing. Then it still might take quite awhile longer to land a publishing contract, but the point is, they probably wouldn’t have gotten that agent to begin with if they hadn’t taken all those meetings earlier.Another concern for unpubbed novelists is platform, and there were some comments last Friday and yesterday about that. If this is a topic that still concerns you, go back and read this post, where I covered it pretty thoroughly: Fiction Platform. The main point is that platform isn’t necessary to sell a first-time novelist to a publisher, but it can be a big help. In your proposal, you want to demonstrate your familiarity with the types of marketing efforts generally required of authors once they get a contract, and express your ability and willingness to do these things. (See also Megan’s comment on yesterday’s post.) A fiction author should be ready to start investing time in building a following of readers immediately after they are contracted with a publisher if they haven’t already done it through a blog or other kinds of writing and speaking.In fiction, the best platform you can have is being a previously published author with a loyal readership base. People who are frequent book buyers always look for books by authors they’ve previously enjoyed. If you don’t have this yet, then don’t worry about it! All you can do is start from where you are.You may wonder if agents & editors look at plaform before they look at the writing. In houses that require a fiction platform (previously published novels) then yes, they’ll look to see if you have one, and if not, you’re tossed out. However, at houses that DO accept new novelists without platform, most do the same thing I do: When I am evaluating fiction queries, I skim through the synopsis or proposal, then go straight to chapter 1. Within a couple of pages I know whether I want to keep reading. If I like the writing, then I’ll look at other things like platform.So again, for all unpublished novelists—yes, the writing is very important. It needs to impress editors before anything else, like your marketing plan, will even be considered.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

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. Jennifer AlLee on July 29, 2008 at 11:34 PM

    >I attended my first writers’ conference (which happened to be ACFW) last year. Before that, I thought they were too expensive and doubted the info I received would be worth the price of admission. Now I’m kicking myself for all those years I wasted going it on my own. Not only was the conference a great learning experience, it was also a huge blessing from a relationship standpoint. God connected me with some very cool people and for the first time in my writing life, I actually have other writer friends to bounce ideas off of.

    But it’s true that some folks simply CAN’T afford a conference. Don’t panic! In the last year, I’ve been able to learn, grow and make even more connections simply through blogs (mine and others), an email loop, and social networking. The way I look at it, any career requires an investment, be it of time or money. Usually both. So I choose to invest as much as I can in this crazy path the Lord’s put me on!

  2. Camille Cannon (Eide) on July 29, 2008 at 7:28 PM

    >Amen, Pam, and thanks for the reminder that we write for the CBA for a unique reason. It’s an honor and a privilege as well as a responsibility.

    I’m afraid yesterday’s Anonymous has a major chip on his/her shoulder about the CBA coupled with a blatant disdain for the writers who count the opportunity to write for this unique market a huge privilege. It’s really not about “good enough” or “too good” for CBA, but whether or not we are humbly making use of the gift God has placed in our hands and offering the product of our efforts back to him. I think that’s why it’s called a ‘gift’.

  3. Sheri Boeyink on July 29, 2008 at 5:57 PM

    >Yes, conferences are an investment. But they are needed to hone our skills, network, and get our foot in the door with agents and editors. It’s a choice each author has to make. I am unable to attend the ACFW mega conference this fall due to finances, however, I have my goals on the 2009 conference and am starting to save my pennies now. In the mean time, I’m utilizing the less expensive means to network along with attending a few smaller conferences near my home town.

    I always try and look how I CAN do things versus how I can’t and I am surprised the difference that can make in how things come to fruition.

    PRESS ON everyone.

  4. Marcie Gribbin on July 29, 2008 at 5:54 PM


    I spent several years with the same feelings you have expressed about conferences, mostly because I knew that spending that much on a conference and having a young family (on my husband’s “ministry” income) was pretty much out of the question. Last year my husband and I decided it was time for me to go, even if I went just to see what all the hype was about.

    The money spent to get there was worth it. I have met the most amazing people and have shared some awe-inspiring God moments with people I met only a year ago. People (conference attendees, staff, editors, agents, etc…) were so helpful and insightful about my projects from the very first moment I met some of them (even at the airport, before the conference).
    Long story, uh, long- I bet if you go some day, you’ll be amazed at what God can do there, and amazed at how much there really is to learn about this business (although, just so you know, I’ve learned some by reading your blog posts, too). Sitting at home staring at the screen and soaking in cyber-info is nice, especially when you find blogs like this or other writer’s groups, but being there is a whole different experience- a scary, expensive, sometimes overwhelming, but definitely worthwhile experience.

    Just a thought from a gal knee deep in a synopsis.

  5. Carrie Turansky on July 29, 2008 at 5:22 PM

    >Timothy – I look at conferences as an investment in my writing career and a necessary part of my education. Many people spend loads of money on their education to learn what is needed for their profession. Writers should not expect to stay home and learn all that is needed. It may be possible, but it will probably take a lot longer and be much more difficult.

    Learning to write well and understand the industry takes time, effort, and often a financial investment. Attending conferences and getting the training you need will also help you make the connections that count.

  6. Eric Dabbs on July 29, 2008 at 5:20 PM

    >I agree that attending a conference could be valuable if your writing was good and you were able to make a good impression on an agent. And I’m sure a writer might run across some helpful advice that could improve their writing skills.
    However, I do see Timothy’s point as well. It could be expensive, possibly out of my price range.
    But at the same time, if a conference were to show up within driving distance of where I live, say, Nashville, TN or Atlanta, GA, I would definitely be interested in attending as long as I could swing it financially.
    In the future, that may be something I look into doing. But as Rachelle has mentioned, the most important thing for an unpublished writer is to get the writing as good as possible. And I guess, if a person really has a passion for writing, they will do whatever it takes to make it to the next level.
    Rachelle must have high speed internet. When I went to preview my comment, she had already buzzed in. I am one of those individuals who has yet to make the leap from dial-up to high speed.

  7. Rachelle on July 29, 2008 at 5:13 PM

    >Timothy–You’re right, conferences can be prohibitively expensive, and we all have to make difficult choices. But is it really all about the money? Or could those “five years” attending conferences actually lead to a fuller life, more friends, fellowship with other Christians, improved writing and plenty of laughter and good times?

    And let’s not forget, networking can be done for no cost except for your monthly hi-speed internet bill. Being a commenter on this blog is networking, right? The internet is bursting with information. The library is overflowing with books about writing. Community colleges have low-cost writing courses. Being flat broke can’t stop you from networking, meeting industry professionals, and learning.

  8. Timothy Fish on July 29, 2008 at 4:57 PM

    >Many writers land an agent after several years of attending conferences, networking, talking with professionals, attending workshops, and working on their writing.

    I find this statement very disturbing. I believe these are good things to do, but when we look at it from the perspective of an unpublished author, these things are expensive. For that matter, they are expensive for published authors. If an author attends the ACFW conference five years before landing an agent, she is already $6,000 in the red before she finds out what her advance will be. That doesn’t even include whatever expenses she incurred while writing the book and participating in other activities. As we know, the author can’t apply her advance toward the $6,000 initial investment because she is probably going to spend it trying to sell enough books to please the publisher.

  9. Marcie Gribbin on July 29, 2008 at 1:12 PM

    >Got it. Thanks, Kaci! Great info. I do remember reading that now (and thanks, Rachelle, too, for providing us with so much great info).

  10. Kaci on July 29, 2008 at 11:59 AM

    >Marcie — The short answer is to scroll down her sidebar. “Quick Links” appears to have a few, though I’ve yet to look through everything. I’m new to this site, so, obviously, other people can better answer.

  11. Marcie Gribbin on July 29, 2008 at 11:40 AM


    I may have missed this in your past posts, but could you give some specifics of things to include in a proposal that impress an agent/editor (especially for the unpublished)? And/or, what are some good links to proposal examples?


  12. Inspire on July 29, 2008 at 8:56 AM

    >A very important comment by Pam. There are so many things in this industry to discourage us. Remember ‘commit your works unto the Lord, and your plans will be established’, Proverbs 16:3

    In Stepping Stones Magazine for Writers, I have two articles on Platform Building that may give some insight on the ‘how to’ of building a platform even if you are not published. If you establish a platform now, you will have it in place when you are ready to market a first novel.

    I had three novels pod published
    at a time when it had first started
    and I did not know how this form of
    publication would be viewed. So, I’m considered unpublished. However, I am submitting another novel and I have a platform for marketing my book already in place.

  13. Sheri Boeyink on July 29, 2008 at 8:55 AM

    >Right on Pam!
    I went back and read the Fiction Platform blog. It was most helpful, along with Megan’s comments to yesterday’s post. Really, it seems that it just comes down to the fact that you, as the author, have to work to sell your project. It’s not just “write the book and let the publisher sell it.”
    It’s exciting to hear how others have succeeded at this–so, I know it’s possible and that I can do it.
    I feel so passionately about what I write that I’m excited about any chance I get to talk about it.
    So, bring it on.

  14. Pam Halter on July 29, 2008 at 7:34 AM

    >We also need to remember not to leave God out of the process. If He’s called me to write, then I have to trust Him with how and when my stuff gets picked up.

    That doesn’t negate my responsibility, though. I have to continue to learn, network and perservere.

    It’s that simple and that hard.