Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What if I Haven't Published Anything Yet?

Your dreams are as big as the sky. Your book. In print.

One roadblock.

Publishers are asking where you’ve been published previously. But how do I get published when you keep sending me rejection letters? you wonder. Is this a cruel secret sorority where I have to find the location of my own hazing?

The good news is that getting published is not as hard as it sounds. You don’t have to start with a book – in fact, you probably shouldn’t. And even if have a favorite national magazine you’ve always dreamed of submitting to, I recommend you start even smaller than that.

Take a look at your local newspaper if you live in a small town. Chances are, reporters are stretched for time and ideas. Cover a sporting or social event from the perspective of a local citizen. Or do a profile of an outstanding person in the community (think unsung hero). Be willing to do all this for free if necessary.

Once you’ve published in a smaller facet, you have one foot in the proverbial publishing door. You can add more local publications to your list of credits while also targeting national or international publications.

This process is how I drew the attention of my agent. Since I looked young, the agent thought I was 17 when I first approached her at a conference. She told me she didn’t take me seriously until I noted that I’d been published over 50 times in various local and international publications. Three days and one book proposal later she offered me a contract.

If all of this seems unnecessary to you, think about it from the publisher’s or agent’s perspective. You are proving two things to them by building your writing credits:

1) Your writing doesn’t stink.
2) You are building an audience through frequently publishing articles.

Does this make sense? Too much information? Too little? I’d love to hear your feedback because we’re here to help you!

B.J. Hamrick writes for you and for teens at Real Teen Faith.


  1. Thanks for the great advice!

  2. Very good advice, lady. I think you're right, sometimes

    we think we have to have this detailed, super impressive resume of giant accomplished goals in order to show a publishing history. Not true!

    Okay, so you need more than a thank-you note or holiday poem in your church bulletin, but you're right - you don't have to have a book! :)

  3. How do you get ideas for articles?

  4. Savannah, I would say it just depends on the magazine/newspaper you are targeting. I freelance for my local newspaper, and they sent me assignments I can choose to take or not. When it comes to magazines, you typically would go to that mag's website, pull up their submission guidelines, and create a piece based on what they want. Mom magazines, teen magazines, faith magazines - obviously the content of the article would be different each time.

    When it comes to books, we're taught to write what we want/love/know and then try to find a publisher for that story. When it comes to magazines/articles, its basically the opposite. Write to their market, write what they want.

  5. Thanks Betsy! Do you notice a difference writing a YA than romance? That's something I struggle with, whether to write YA or womans fiction
    Oh another question ;) I struggle with ideas & was wondering if it's ok to look at the one sentence synopisis (or w/e it's called) of books and movies & try to see the twist I can put on it- see if it spurs and ideas? Is that to close to plagiarism?

  6. No prob Savannah!

    I write both YA and contemporary adult romance and there is a HUGE difference for me, but it's fun because it IS so different.

    My YA is in first person and my character is snarky and fun and honest. However, my romances are in third person and include the hero's POV too, and the characters are typically more adult/conservative as that's what the line prefers. So it's fun to mix it up a little :)

    The definition of plagarism is: the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.

    Looking at other people's work for inspiration isn't stealing. If you copied a sentence verbatim or almost verbatim, that's stealing. If you copied their summary or tag-line, that's stealing. If you used the summary or tag line to think of your idea and how you could change it and make it YOU - that's not. :)