It seems the biggest concern many of you have about this business is the difficulty of making the leap from being an unpublished novelist to being published.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.
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Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.