Ask The Lit Coach: "Should I Submit Queries To Publishers If My First Novel Isn't Finished?" and More


Certainly, successes in self and ePublishing have shaken the traditional publishing model. Having your work quickly realized as a book, bypassing agents and scores of rejection letters may appear alluring, however there are no short cuts when it comes to good craft. Good writing is still good writing and everything that follows in marketing, promoting and selling the work takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and persistence.  

Question from David K.

I am planning to submit queries (to hundreds) of publishers but my first fiction novel is not yet complete. I am a long-time published journalist but new to literature and publishing – would you recommend this tactic over self-publishing?

Great question, David.

There's no reason you shouldn't approach the traditional publishing world with your novel once it's complete and edited (I'm sure agents and editors will be delighted with your platform as a journalist). I would suggest you approach literary agents who are right for your novel with your query letters first. Once you have secured an agent, let them approach editors with your work on your behalf. Good literary agents, and there are many, build strong connections with editors at all the major, mid, small and independent publishing houses. They will know exactly the right editors who would love a novel like yours. Although many publishing companies accept unsolicited work, most editors won't accept unsolicited work; rather, the work will sit in a slush pile until an intern plucks it out to review. Better to let an agent hand pick the right editors for your work.

Although the trades are flush with mostly eBook self publishing success stories, there are countless more stories of eBook or print self-publishing efforts that have flopped miserably (they never get press). Self-publishing via Amazon or Barnes and Noble's ePublishing platforms or through a print self-publisher is something to consider only if you have the energy, time and wherewithal to vigorously market, publicize and sell your book and yourself as the author.

It's been said that self-publishing a novel is a major literary faux pas, but I disagree. It makes perfect sense for a genre writer (horror, mystery/thriller, erotica, sci-fi) and now even a few literary authors are finding success in the ring, though most of the successes have been in ePublishing. The success these authors are experiencing boils down to a few key elements: fantastic writing; great cover art; expert and exhaustive marketing and promotion campaigns. If you can accomplish those things on your own or hire a team to help you, well, there's no reason you shouldn't consider self-publishing. Don't consider self-publishing if you feel it's the easier route - it's not. 

Good luck, David!

Question from Rebecca W.

I enjoy creative writing and have folders full of my work. My writing ranges from poems, short stories, a finished novella, and an unfinished play. My question for you is how does an aspiring writer get published? My other question is what is the route to go when seeking publication?

Where does your heart lie? In fiction? Poetry? Theatre? It's wonderful to stretch your creative muscle between these disciplines but if your goal is publication, I would advise you to choose one form to study exhaustively and begin your work there. I'm afraid I don't know enough about the theatre world to offer you advice on the medium, but if you would like to publish a short story or poetry collection, an agent, editor and publisher are going to want to see a moderately impressive list of the short stories or poems you have successfully placed in literary journals and eZines. Because literary work and poetry is typically more difficult for publishers to sell, the competition is fierce. Writers with MFAs from the best writing programs in the country are usually considered first, however, good writing is good writing and editors make exceptions (less so with poets - they really want someone with a name). So, the point is, choose one discipline and learn the craft well. Write like hell, get your work seen and THEN start approaching agents with your work. That's not to say that you shouldn't dabble in the other forms, please do, but when it comes to publication it's best to focus.

As far as the best publishing route to follow, please see the above Q&A.

Good luck, Rebecca!

Here are some online resources to help you both with your literary agent search and publishing industry education. Take it in in small doses or better yet not at all until you're finished with your creative work and are ready to sell it.

Literary Agent Listings

Association of Authors' Representatives 

Poets and Writers (tools for writers)

Publishers Marketplace (requires a $20 a month fee, but well worth it when you're researching the market and the right agents for your work)

Thanks for your questions this week, writers. Now go do something worth writing about!

Erin Reel

Column by Erin Reel

Erin Reel is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies February 21, 2012 - 3:00pm

Great stuff, Erin.

And, Rebecca, if you want to go the short story route, I've got a column running here at LR that might help to explain the process. Five columns up so far, about Voice, Cover Letters, The Journey of "Rudy," Research at Duotrope, and Ideas.

Start with the first one, on voice, I think:

Good luck,

Dan's picture
Dan from Santa Monica, CA is reading Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk February 22, 2012 - 2:45pm

Amazing Erin.

We are so blessed to have you as part of LitReactor!

Erin's picture
Erin from Omaha is reading manuscripts... February 22, 2012 - 2:58pm

Thank you, Dan! 

And thanks, Richard, for pointing Rebecca toward your helpful resource.