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Building Publication Credits

If you’re a writer whose dream is to land a publishing contract with Random House and see your book in stores nationwide, consider creating a strong writing bio first. Building publication credits before querying a literary agent is a strategy that gets your foot in the door, and based on our years of experience preparing submissions, writers who can boast publication of shorter works tend to have an easier time getting an agent’s interest.

Build your publication credits by submitting short stories, poems, or essays to literary journals and magazines. Some folks believe it’s not important to have published any short works before approaching an agent. With a fantastic novel that can stand on its own, you may well be able to find an agent without any publication credentials at all, but there are a number of reasons publishing your shorter work can help you get ahead.

1. Being published shows agents that you can manage submission deadlines and guidelines and that you are a serious writer with serious goals. You establish yourself as savvy and in-touch by being published in smaller markets, and you lay the groundwork for a career in lengthier fiction.

2. If editors like publishing your short works, it means they believe their readers will enjoy your writing. When an agent sees that other people are getting excited about your writing, he or she will be more likely to want in on the action.

3. Having credentials in the small press market may help you get a leg up on the competition. Most agents are aware of how difficult it is to secure one single publishing credit. It may be enough to sway an agent into representing you. If an agent is offered two books of equal merit—with the only difference being that one author has a history of publishing short works and the other doesn’t—you can guess which book will get the contract.

4. Not only will publishing your shorter works make you a more interesting prospect, having those publications is emotionally rewarding. Acceptance letters from literary magazines go a long way toward keeping you motivated as you write your book. A short story can be written in less than a week, whereas the novel can take years. Keep your dream alive with smaller publications of short fiction.

5. Publishing in literary magazines might help you directly with getting an agent. A number of our clients have been approached by big New York agencies because an agent read a story in a literary magazine. Getting your work, your name, and your bio out there can get you noticed in the same way that a model might get noticed simply by hanging around at the hottest nightclubs. Add a blurb to your bio that you are “currently working on a novel,” and those who have enjoyed your work can be on the lookout for future projects.

At Writer’s Relief we help our clients build their portfolios as they work toward publishing a book. Some of our clients publish stand-alone works from within a larger book in order to show that their book is marketable. Others write stories that are entirely separate from their books.

Short story and essay collections are especially difficult to place for writers who have not published any of the works within the collection. Because collections are generally not considered as lucrative as other book-length forms, agents and editors like to be assured of an author’s potential for “popularity” by seeing some selections from the longer work published. 

There are literally thousands of journals and literary magazines out there, and it should not be an impossible task to find a home for one of your short stories or poems—provided your writing is strong and your submissions are targeted and professional. At Writer’s Relief we have an up-to-date database containing detailed information on hundreds of nationwide publications, their editors, and their guidelines, and we’ve helped hundreds of writers reach their publication goals. (Read How to Submit Poems to Literary Journals and Magazines.)

Here are some general tips for submission.

Research carefully. Find the perfect home for your work by submitting to magazines and journals that publish work like yours. Don’t waste your time (or an editor’s) by not doing your homework or blindly submitting to any old publication.

Start small and work your way up. Naturally, if you’re confident, feel free to go straight for the big guns, but most writers start with the smaller markets. You may have to forgo paying markets at this time in order to get your foot in the door.

Follow guidelines to the tee. If the magazine is looking for work under 4,000 words, do not submit 5,000 and hope that your work is good enough to be accepted despite the length; and do not assume that the editor will be willing to cut it down to size for you. Pay attention to submission dates, formats, seasonal themes, the genre and style the magazine accepts, and any other rules they set forth. Follow them carefully.

Submit to the proper person. Again, do your homework and make sure you have the most current editor’s name for your submission. Details like this go a long way in impressing an editor and can increase your chance of being noticed.

Call Writer’s Relief (or e-mail us at info@wrelief.com) if you’d like us to help you build up your publication credits. We’ve helped writers fine-tune their personal submission strategies since 1994. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

14 Responses to Building Publication Credits

  1. Christo, let’s look at the situation from the publishers point of view. He’s going to have a ‘slush’ pile (and yes, you’re there without a background to sell or a Lit Agent in your corner). The slush pile has 500 300-page novels that need to be read. What makes more sense, that he will take the time to read a great cover letter that intrigues him in both story and author, or having to wade thru all of these mundane submissions JUST to find your beauty.

    Remember, his time is just as valuable as yours. Let the writing of a creative and intriguing cover letter be the FIRST piece of writing that he sees to TELL him of your worth.

    To Jeffrey M. Kellen, to start, take your novel and break it into the appropriate length. Read that section. Is it stand alone? Does it leave the reader wanting more? If not, work it that way. Remember that Sherlock Holmes made Sit Arthur Conan Doyle a literary master, and his stories were published basically a chapter at a time — as a serial work. That could work for you as well.

    Hey, it’s worth a shot. You might find you love the challenge and might become a better writer for the effort.

  2. What I find discouraging is that agents and publishers will not look at what might be a fantastic manuscript if they are not impressed with the query letter. “What is writing about?” I ask myself. What sells . . . the query letter or the novel? Readers don’t get to see query letters, what they want is a good book with a riveting plot. In all the years that I have visited book stores did I never come across a display selling query letters. Did the author not work hard enough to write a story? I don’t say do away with pitch letters but please give the manuscript a fair chance!

  3. Robyn,

    If you can garner individual publication credits for nonfiction, it can help! You might not be able to send to creative lit mags, but pitching individual article ideas to commercial magazines in your field can help build your platform.

    Good luck!

    Writer’s Relief Staff

  4. Thanks for all the invaluable information. I wonder how this applies to self-help/non-fiction books? Could you comment on that?

    Thanks!
    Robyn

    PS — Website above is not yet mine and not yet ready but there it is for future viewing!

  5. Robert, we’re so glad you’re enjoying our site! Keep checking the main page for updates; Review Board will be open again before you know it!

  6. I am so lucky to have come across this site! I got easily lost in the world of online promotion and marketing, making a good living for many years, but it’s like I forgot why I was so good at marketing in first place.

    I love sharing a good story, and I think my particular story takes a detour back to a focus on good, strong writing. Perhaps you’ll be taking on clients soon, and I can beg your assistance as a client.

    Regardless: THANK YOU for this wonderful website. I can certainly tell that it is a labor of love an dedication to your work.

  7. Alyne, Congrats on writing out of your comfort zone. Some writers may not be natural short story writers or poets, but it’s always a good idea to push yourself–especially if doing so leads to publications! Kudos to you!

  8. This is why i stepped back and forced myself to learn to write short stories–it was very difficult after being in novel mode for so long. I struggled to write short but they kept turning into novellas. Finally I got my first 8,000 word story then my first 5,000 word story. Finally I actually wrote my first real pieces of flash fiction –for an editor who wants it to be longer!
    The reason I put myself through this is that all the great writers established their careers with short stories. Plus I really like them and read them a lot.

  9. I see it this way: The first part of the writer’s life is all about the creative process. It’s exciting, the art, the thing we do that we do because we do and don’t even care who cares that we do. Soon enough, though, we come to the harsh reality of the second stage of the writer’s life. This part requires an editor and we know who that editor must be. We become our own editor in most cases, I think, the day we reread our first fantastic novel six months in the making and realize standing over the wastebasket that it pretty much sucks. Indeed, it begins to increasingly suck as we flip the pages we no longer like into the trash. The editor knows when it’s still born and hopeless. What we thought to be great dialogue reads like the wood it was printed on. The main character is passive and uninteresting and with the plot at a dead end on page 33 and a whole new set of characters wandering aimlessly through from that page on, our editor knows we haven’t yet learned our craft.
    Some day at last a somewhat sensible story is completed. It may not be the work of genius we’d hoped for but it at least makes sense. Now comes the third part of the writing life. We need to become salesmen.And that’s even worse reality. That’s like a slap on the behind and you didn’t even ask to come out of the womb.

  10. This is a topic that I have been wondering about for quite some time. I have one manuscript that I have been marketing for over a year now (while working on my second) without any solid results. I fit the article’s description to a T. I have no prior publishing history whatsoever–I know I just want write and publish novels. So now I’m expected to come up with some short story ideas, work on getting them published, and THEN I MIGHT get published. Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to do whatever it takes (well, just about anything)to get published, but this is the first time I’ve seen in writing what I’ve been suspecting for quite a while now. Thanks for the tip, and wish me luck coming up with short story suggestions (and getting them published, as well…;))

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