Saturday 16 February 2013


Taking a break from the usual comedy to address a hot topic in my fiction writing classes:

Why it is hard to get published:

I have over 200 publications and won my first fiction award in 1989. In the years since, I’ve talked to several dozen editors. Here are some things they have said:
    1.  Your story must be original.
By that I mean, it must be a new fresh idea that publishers haven’t seen before.
This is tougher than you think. I have taught over 30 fiction writing classes since 1992. In almost every class, I have someone writing the ‘harvesting organs’ story. This has been done, I tell them. Every angle has been done, in my experience. I never want to see another one.

         2.  Your story must be extremely well written.
Let’s go beyond the spelling and good grammar. You better know how to open, how to conclude, how to generate conflict (goal/motivation/conflict) and all the other aspects of fiction writing that you learn in a good fiction writing class.  Yes, you had better take a class if you haven’t, otherwise you won’t know what is expected. 
      3.  Your story must be what the editor wants to buy.
Two things here:
a-     If your work is a short story, you must make sure that it is the right length and the right genre/subgenre for the market to which you are submitting.  Check their guidelines. Don’t send anything that doesn’t fit! They won’t take it.
b-     If your work is a novel, ditto about checking guidelines. Don’t send anything that the publisher doesn’t publish. They will not open a new line for your debut book.

4.  Your book must fit a hole in the publisher’s lineup.
Yes, this is the sad part. Your novel may be great. But if the publisher doesn’t have a space for it in his Fall 2015 release, he won’t buy.
Most publishers know two years in advance what they will need. So that brings me to point 5. 

5.  You are competing with currently published authors in the publisher’s stable.
Another sad fact.  Most of us published authors hope to have a book out every year or year and a half. We can easily fill our publisher’s slots. So there may not be many spaces for newcomers.
You have to look at it from the publisher’s point of view. In taking a book from an author they currently publish, they are assured of a few things:
a-     The author will make their due dates, and will be professional with respect to required edits.
b-     The author (probably) has a built in group of readers waiting for the next book.
Imagine how good your book is going to have to be to overcome these advantages.

Yet, many new authors get published every year. I’ll talk about that in a later blog.


  1. This is great advice. I'd like to add one little thing that I learned as a copy writer. Be that author who meets their deadlines and respects the editing process. Writing fiction is an art and a science, but once you start dealing with a publisher, it's business. Selling one book is no guarantee of selling a second.

    1. Also true. Especially your last line, which makes even the toughest of us feel chills.

  2. Melodie,
    All good points! Two things I'd like to add. In my experience, if a writer has a manuscript that meets all of the requirements you listed, the best way to get published is to meet a publisher IN PERSON! I would suggest attending conferences and any other venues where publishers from your area will be present. Face to face and local increase the odds of getting a contract.
    Secondly, develop an online presence BEFORE you go searching for a publisher. Publishers will Google you and, trust me, they'd better not come up with no hits for your name.

    1. Right on, Pat! These are things I'm going to talk about in the next blog about what to do to get published.

  3. All good point, Melodie, as Pat said. A lot of common sense here, telling us to do our homework: research the market, and submit wisely. I'd add one tip: keep a lot of stuff out there circulating. Your odds go up with bigger numbers.

  4. An excellent point, John! I also find that moving on to different projects helps me deal with rejection. My heart isn't so invested in the one story I have out to a publisher.

  5. Good points except publishers REALLY don't want "original," no matter what they say. In genre fiction, publishers want what had sold well before. That's why there's dozens of cooking, knitting, sewing, pet, craft, clothing, etc. cozies. My amateur sleuth character is totally original but almost nobody wanted him. If a mss. is too different, the publisher won't know how to promote it or want to change the current marketing system. That's what I've observed.

    1. Yes, it certainly has to fit their genre pigeon-hole, Sally. By the way, I'm reading your first Sandy Fairfax novel right now and am smiling big time. I was planning to save it for my vacation, but...

  6. You provided some great information, Melodie, and thank you! And after reading comments, it seems your readers added even more. Wonderful post!
    Marja McGraw