Getting an Advantage

*Update: Many thanks to agents Rachelle Gardner and Steve Laube for taking the time to leave comments on this post!*

Most of us agreed that the standards keep getting tougher for new writers. How can we possibly keep up with the ever increasing expectations?

If you're standing in the LONG line, waiting to get into the traditional publishing door, what are some ways to move ahead in the line? Are there any ways new writers can get an advantage?

Yesterday many of you may have read agent Steve Laube's interview over at Seekerville. He was asked: How many new authors do you take on each year? Are you interested in submissions from new authors? His answer: I won't say no unless I've seen it. But I say "No" about 99.99% of the time.

His answer depressed me! Now maybe not all agents are quite that limited in taking new authors, but the query-over-the-transom-into-the-slush-pile is definitely not an easy way to get into the traditional world of publishing.

One of my manuscripts has been sitting in the slush pile of an agent for months. I feel fortunate my query and sample chapter perked her attention and that she asked to see my full. But honestly, I've almost give up hope that she'll ever look at it.

What are ways new writers can get an advantage and move out of the slush pile? Of course it goes without saying that we have to master the craft of writing and be able to tell an incredible story.

But nowadays that's not enough. There are a lot of great writers who are telling great stories. So what else can we do to perk the attention of an agent/editor? Here are a few ideas I had:

  • Win a writing contest.
  • Find an incredible, fresh, never-been-touched story idea.
  • Look for an untapped niche in the genre market.
  • Meet an editor or agent at a writing conference and spark their interest.
  • Make regular comments on agent blogs (do you think this will really help?).
  • Hire the help of a professional editor.

Do you have any other ideas? Can new writers really find ways to get an advantage and cut ahead of all the others in line? Or should we patiently wait for our turn?

Thanks for sharing your ideas!


  1. Hi Jody! I get to be your first commenter! (Yes, I know, I cheated and got online this morning before work!) Sharing a cup of coffee with you here!

    I think all your suggestions are great and helpful. The more I read other's experiences and ideas, the more I think that we do what we can and let it fall into God's hands. He has it in his hands anyway.

    That's the way I have to think about it, because if I don't I would go CRAZY thinking I have to do more!!!

    Man, I got so wordy there, I may not be the first poster anymore!

  2. Good morning! I definitely agree with Sherrinda. I think we could make ourselves crazy trying to think of everything we should or could do. We do what we can, enjoy the journey, and trust God.

  3. I agree with most of your list, though I think commenting on agents' blogs will merely point us the right direction, maybe pique their interest, though it takes so much more than that.

    I don't think, however, hiring a pro editor is a good idea. (Just my opinion here.) We should already have all the skills necessary to edit our own work, and then be able to rely on betas and colleagues to help. I'd never spend money on editing, given I'm already a writer. You know?

  4. I agree with Janna on hiring an editor to work on our manuscript. I've been seeing more mention of that lately, almost a trend. If the writing needs work and we're professionals, it's up to us, in various ways. I also think it's important to really target specific agents who rep the genre we've written.

  5. Your list seems complete to me, though I'm not sure of the commenting on agent's blogs one unless you really connect with the post and want to share something valuable. I'm sure they can spot a brown-noser anywhere, and just want to discover a really awesome writer anyway.

    I think trying to do all this is good to a point. Don't let it take over your life. Just keep writing and praying for guidance.

  6. You'd move way up in line if you had an author acquaint. or friend hand your ms to their agent.

  7. Sherrinda: Of course you had to get on to check all those lovely comments on your interview! :) And I just knew you guys would encourage us to do what we can but leave the rest up to God! You guys are great!

    Katie: Ditto! You're so encouraging! We can only strive to do so much, then we just have to wait patiently, right?

    Janna: Actually I'm using a critique service for my current WIP. I went that route because I don't have the time to reciprocate for betas and colleagues (except for my one crit partner). I've seen more and more agents suggesting having our works professionally edited and I've begun to wonder if it will even get to the point someday where agents will require an edit before looking at a manuscript! Intersting thoughts, Janna!

    Joanne: I look at my paid critiquer as my beta reader and my objective help, which all writers need no matter how professional. In fact I've heard that even published authors pay editors to comb through their works. So, you're right, it's becoming a huge trend!

    Eileen: I know what you're saying about brown nosing on agent's blogs. I certainly think it's a great place for agents to become familiar with our names and faces, but I'm not sure at what point it becomes to much!

    Angie: Great point! Friendships can lead to wonderful opportunities, as long as we're working hard to be genuine!

  8. Jody: I saw that interview, and it depressed me, too, so I clicked the 'x' and went on to something else! I can't do negative and hope to believe this is going to work.

    I loved all your suggestions, and Angie's one about having a friend pass a ms. along.

    I do a lot of praying, too.

  9. Marlene Bagnuill commented last night at the Colorado Christian Writers' Conference that some of us are writing a story for a friend instead of for a publisher. We just don't know it yet.

  10. Hi Jody,
    I've felt much the same way as I've been taking these classes and listening to podcasts about the difficulty of becoming a published author. The way I deal with it is twofold: #1-think outside the box. This is a new era for publishing. If that means doing something a different way than I've always envisioned, I'll be flexible about it. #2-Never, ever, ever give up. The whole process is so subjective. It's a gamble every time we submit, the odds are against those who submit once or twice more than they are against someone who submits all the time. One writer I heard said plan on a minimum of 10 submissions per manuscript. Yikes!

  11. Jeanette: I'm glad I wasn't the only one depressed by it! I'll have to do what you did, just click it off and stay positive!

    Casey: What an excellent point! I'd like to think that I'm writing for publication, but only God truly knows his purposes for my writing!

    Niki: Great tips! Think outside the box!! I love it! You're so right, we have to be flexible in this changing writer's climate! And thank you for the encouragement to never, ever give up! That's hard to remember when we're discouraged!

  12. Share your writing widely. Blog, email articles to friends, write for the local paper, write for your church's bulletin or journal, etc. A friend of mine who did this without even thinking of a book had an editor tell him, "If you would write a book ..." He has now written about five. WB

  13. I did not see that article..and as I am just about to start querying, I think I'll steer clear of it!

    How much I wish I just had some good connections in my back pocket! But instead I am going to go take a number and wait in line with the best of them. (and you!)

    Really what it all boils down to is what God has planned for us. If he wants us to become published authors, it will happen. No amount of preparation and back pocket connections can change that ;D

  14. Warren: Those are excellent tips! We never know who's going to see our writing and whose attention it will spark!

    Marybeth: I wish I had some good connections in my pocket too! Maybe once you're published you'll end up being my connection! ;)

  15. Hi Jody,

    Not sure if this was mentioned, but I don't think so. I'm a believer in writing follow-up letters to your query letters. Usually the agent lists how long you can expect for them to get back. If it's close to or at that time, I think a polite and constructive letter is worth it.

    Also, sometimes I read agent blogs and think to myself, "Oh, they'd be so fun to hang out w/" & I have to remind myself I don't really know them. So I try to be authentic in my comments but not overwhelm or stalk them. :D

    ~ Wendy

  16. It will most likely have to be vice versa ;)

  17. Hi Jody! I have one more thing to add to your list. Consistently submitting new work. Editors and agents might not remember my name if I submit one book, get rejected, and never submit another. But if I submit a book, get rejected, and send another book--and keep on doing this--I would guess this will tell them I'm serious about getting published and I'm able to consistently write new books. Perseverance!

    And I think the professional editor is a great route. It's almost impossible to see our own mistakes and if you don't have time to get on the critique-ing bandwagon, you might as well get a professional's opinion.

  18. If it makes you feel better, Steve has been around a long time and probably doesn't have the room to take on a whole bunch of new authors. His stable is full. :-)

    The more I think about it, the more I feel that meeting editors and agents would be helpful. Because it's harder to reject a face, you know? If there are two manuscripts in their pile, similar in style, craft, and plot, who does the editor choose? Probably the author they remember laughing over dinner with.
    So I think that would help.
    Don't be discouraged though. Our time will come.
    And said agent told you May, right? So she still has a few weeks. :-) I haven't heard anything either.

  19. WOw--I think I have enjoyed reading the comments today more than ever before. I agree with waiting on the Lord, doing my best work, submitting and submitting and writing a great story. The rest of the worry can drive us nuts I think!

  20. Don't be discouraged, Jody. There are as many ways to get noticed as there are writers. What about publishing short stories? How about publishing with a small press, particularly a newer one, and building a following for your books? Consider serializing a novel and publishing it online, to draw attention to yourself as a writer. Volunteer to work a conference or workshop. Better yet, start one, and build a name for your event. You'll have to invite, and therefore meet, agents and editors.

  21. Wendy: A follow-up letter to a query is a great idea! It might be another way to put our name in front of the agent again.

    Marybeth: You are so sweet!!

    Jill: Tenacity! If editors see that we're constantly pushing forward, then hopefully they will start to take us seriously!

    Jessica: Glad that I'm not the only one waiting for a reply still from our dream agent! And thanks for sharing that about Steve--I feel better!

    Terri: I'm learning so much through everyone's comments too!

    Patricia: Thanks for your ideas! You've got some great ones! Since I really like meeting new people and helping, I think I might consider how I can help volunteer at a conference! It would be a fun way to make connections.

  22. I think you have some great ideas here, but one thing I'm afraid is true is that publishing is not a line. Some of us won't ever make it to the front of the line. It's not something that comes to everybody, it's something we make happen if we can.

    I like your list. I've won a contest and have an agent waiting for my work. I'm still not finished with it, but it's a great opportunity. If it doesn't work out, I'll move on and keep writing. I'm still trying to get that great new fresh idea!

    Thanks for a great post and congrats on your announcement up above. Good luck with polishing.

  23. Sorry that the statistic was depressing (rejecting 99.9% of what I see). But I'd rather be honest than lead a new writer down a path only to break their heart.

    The math speaks for itself. If I took only 1% of the proposals I see it would mean 20 new clients per year. That would make sense if I was just starting out, but it would also mean that less than half of those would find a publisher in a reasonable time.

    I prefer to look at it this way. We should demand excellence from each other because we are in the "business" of changing the world through our writing. The reading public is pretty savvy and usually sniffs out the dreck (not always, but usually). So if a writer is commited to a career they need to be better than the writer next to them.

    Therefore most agents are very picky. They should be. In a sense the agents and editors are a line of defense against mediocrity. I never intend to disappoint. But I try to be intentional about excellence.

    From your list I would pick #2. The idea. And then executing the idea in an excellent manner.

    Hope that helps,

    Steve Laube
    The Steve Laube Agency

  24. Wow! I can't believe he stopped by. That is SO cool!
    He's really nice. I met with him when I was such a newbie and even though my manuscript wasn't finished, he was super kind and gave stellar advice. And he was honest, but he did it in such a gentle way.

    I love reading your comment Steve. Thank you. I def. agree that excellence is important and something we should all strive for.

    Very cool, Jody! :-)

  25. Hi Steve,
    I'm really honored that you stopped by my blog and took the time to post a comment! I really appreciate your insights and frankness about the numbers of slots available to new writers.

    You've encouraged me to keep working as hard as I possibly can to excel in my writing and to look for the never-been-touched story idea!

    Thanks again!

    Jody Hedlund

  26. LOL

    Okay, this is SOOOO going to show the geeky math person in me. (I'm a payroll manager... I'm SUPPOSED to pay attention to numbers!)

    On seekerville the % quote was 99.99%... which IS depressing. That's like... .2 a year... or 1 every 5 years.

    99.9% is MUCH better. 2 a year... or 10 every five years.

    SEE how much .09% can change things! If you reverse that, it's like a 1000% increase (.2 x 1000% =2)


    I'm slinking back off to my geeky land now! I'm thinking that if I ever DO publish books... you how many authors have side business where they critique and things?? My side business is gonna be.. like... doing authors tax returns, or agent's payroll processing for them! *wiggles eyebrows*

    The sad thing about that comment is... it sounds kinda fun to me:-)

  27. Krista,
    Thanks for noticing that! I didn't realize what a big difference that made. *grin* My mind totally doesn't work the math! I have to ask my 6th grade son to help me solve math problems! I totally need a math WHIZ (you're not a geek!).

    Have a super duper weekend!

  28. Just to add my two cents... I'm a little surprised that any writer striving to be a professional would come down so hard against paying for editing or manuscript help. Many working writers with multiple book contracts work with editors on their books prior to delivering them to the publisher. This means those authors are paying out of their own pocket to get objective assistance and make sure they deliver their best possible work to their publisher.

    Of course, once you're contracted with a publisher, your publisher will spend literally thousands of dollars on getting your book edited. Editing is a valuable service that often makes the difference between having a good book a great book.

    Yes, it's true, we all should be working as hard as we can on learning how to edit our own work. But nothing can substitute for the objective eye of an outsider, someone who is skilled in bringing the best out of you. You can edit your book yourself until you're blue in the face; and then you'd be shocked at how many things an objective editor would find to improve.

    Now, I understand that finances play a huge role in our ability or inability to hire an editor. We need to make smart financial choices. But I'd recommend we avoid harboring some kind of ideological bias against paying for an editor. Most of us need editing!

    I'm pretty sure that Jody's use of a writing coach made the difference between a book that I want to love and one that I really DO love. (Well, actually TWO books that I love.)

  29. Hi Jody,

    I'm late to this thread but I really like your blog! Interesting comments all around.

    Though I am blessed to have a great agent, I still sometimes feel overwhelmed by how few slots are available for new authors and how much competition exists for those slots.

    However, I think writers willing to toil, learn, solicit honest feedback, write multiple books, and attend conferences have a much better chance of success; I don't think the playing field is necessarily even. That 99.9% of rejected writers probably includes those who send a 200,000 word epic novel about their pet gerbil and those who send a 20,000 word novel about their middle school experience. (Not that there's anything WRONG with that--write what you want. ;) But is it publishable?)

    I believe if you finish a novel in a recognizable genre, and have that work combed by paid or unpaid help, your odds begin to improve. Every step along the way improves the odds even more.

    Great blog, and great thread. Congrats on your Genesis finals from a fellow Michigander! ;)

  30. Congratulations on your Genesis final Jody.

    I have to say that while I lived on peanut butter and jelly for a while. Paying a former Pocket editor to review my single title manuscript was the single best career investment I have made.

    She looked at my manuscript in a way writers do not. She opened my eyes to looking at my manuscript in a new way. And the application moved all my writing projects up a notch.

    Thanks to her a published author referred that same manuscript (unsolicited by me) to her agent who then offered me a contract.

    Sometimes I think we exhausted our own methodology and we have to think outside what we know.

    Very thought provoking post.

    I hope we get to chat at ACFW--finally back in Denver.


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