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Monday, May 11, 2015

Breaking Into the Major Leagues of Publishing

Posted by Michelle Griep
You can break into the writerly big leagues!
Want to find out what it takes to land a contract in the writerly big leagues? Then read on as author Dina Sleiman shares her experience . . .

I, like most authors, have faced the ultimate novelist’s conundrum. You can’t get published until you’ve established a platform, which usually requires being published. Ironic, yet to those in the trenches, not so funny. I remember the first time I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. I looked around the room and realized there were probably hundreds of writers who were ready to break into publication, and that only a handful of us would make it into the major league publishing houses each year.

That was 2010. Since then I have had two small press books published, as well as one ebook only release with a quickly defunct Zondervan line. Finally, this year, I feel like I am breaking into the major leagues with my Valiant Hearts Series from Bethany House Publishers. During those same five years, I have seen many of my writing buddies go from being unpublished to the minor, middle, or even major leagues as well. So I know it’s possible. And, as an added bonus, I work part-time as an acquisitions editor for a small press, WhiteFire Publishing, which gives me a unique perspective on the issue as well.

Here are some of the routes to the major league publishers.

Find a Major League Agent
Unless you sell tens of thousands of indie books, you will probably not be able to bypass this initial step. But note I said “major league” agent. Many very lovely, reputable agents still don’t land many major contracts. So if you want in with one of the top companies, do your research and find an agent who frequently works with them. Even then, you will probably need to add some of the techniques I mention below.

If you do well in a contest, an editor who judged your book might ask to see more. But even then, they will probably want you to have an agent. And in order to make it past a publishing committee, you will probably need to be utilizing one or more of the following tools.

I mention this one mainly because it has been effective in the past, and because it is helpful as a piece of your platform. But these days the blog-o-sphere is flooded, so blogging alone won’t do the trick. However, being part of a group blog can be especially helpful because the members support each other and create a great synergy for publishing, marketing, and even boosting creativity.

Meeting agents, editors, and other authors is a great boost to any writing career, and writers conferences are probably the easiest place to meet them. It is only human nature that we will show some preference to people who we have met and liked. Agents and editors will probably give a few extra priceless minutes to submissions with familiar names at the top. And authors are surprisingly happy to give their friends a leg up whenever possible. But make sure to be pleasant, kind, and supportive when meeting people. Otherwise this technique could quickly backfire.
Check out Dina's major league release!

Small Press Publishing
It is not as easy to break in with a small press as writers seem to think. However, small presses often take on writers with small platforms. I have heard rumors that major publishers look down on writers published with small presses, but I have never seen this play out. In addition to giving you some exposure, small presses give you the experience of working with editors and marketing your book, which will help prepare you for those major leagues. But make sure it is a real, royalty paying small press. While a small press might not pay you an advance, it should not charge you a penny! And make sure it turns out quality books and has a solid reputation. If you accidentally publish with a vanity press thinking it is a small press, you could indeed hurt your chances with a major publisher.

Shorter Fiction. 
Some of my friends have started their journeys by writing short stories and novellas that have been included in collections with previously published authors. This is a great way to gain both experience and exposure. And if an editor likes you, they might start asking for novel proposals. So if you are great at networking and making friends, this could be the perfect route for you. Often members of author networks or group blogs support each other in this way. Several of the ladies from my group blog, “Inkwell Inspirations,” took this route with great success.

Indie Publishing. 
While this is not my area of expertise, I am aware that it has helped some people break into the major leagues, whether on their own or as a route to finding publishers. But this method is far from fool proof. Success in indie publishing requires 1) great writing, 2) great editing, 3) a great cover, 4) great marketing, and 5) a little bit of serendipity. One of the best methods I’ve seen is when unpublished writers release indie books as part of a collection with a number of well-known published writers. However, if your indie book is a flop, poorly marketed, or just plain awful, then you will be worse off than the un-published writer, so approach this method with wisdom and caution.

A Stellar Idea that Fits the Market. 
Remember that I started this post with the assumption that the writer is already at a professional level. Sought after companies receive stacks of quality manuscripts from agents. Those stacks will include novels by plenty of authors who have utilized many of the techniques listed above. At that point it comes down to an awesome idea and an awesome voice. Awesome voice really can’t be taught. But by studying the market, knowing what’s out there, and finding that perfect balance of same but different—you just might stumble across a stellar idea.

In my case, I blog, have contest wins, small press books, experience in publishing, and an agent. Whew! Even all of that wasn’t enough while I kept turning out hard to market ideas. Finally, I was struck with that stellar idea. As I was pondering a similar but different approach to Melanie Dickerson’s successful YA medievals, I came up with the concept for my Valiant Hearts Series, which features strong young heroines in legendary male roles like Robin Hood and Lancelot.

Remember that it takes most authors five to ten years to get published once they get serious about their writing. And it can take much longer to break into the major leagues. But I hope this post will encourage you that it is possible and help you to discover some of the routes that just might take you there.

Author Dina Sleiman
Dina Sleiman writes stories of passion and grace. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Dauntless, book one in her Valiant Hearts Series with Bethany House Publishers, is now available and was a Library Journal pick of the month for April 2015. Dina also serves as an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing, and she loves to teach at writers conferences throughout the US. For more info visit her at her website.


  1. Dina,

    Thanks for the great tips. I'm pleased to see I'm doing at least a few things right!

    I'm especially encouraged by your comment that it takes most authors 5 to 10 years to get published once they get serious about their writing. I'm just beginning to get seriously serious (having been passively serious since 2008) about my writing. There is hope!

    And for that, I can't thank you enough.

    Great post and best wishes,


  2. Carrie, learning that simple fact made all the difference for me too :)

  3. These are great ideas, Dina! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks :) I should mention that I asked my blog mates for their suggestions when writing this. They were a big help.

  5. I love this. Thank you, Dina. And thank you for being a major part of my publishing journey. If you hadn't ask for my proposal for Paint Chips, my career wouldn't look the way it does now.

  6. It was such an honor, Susie. You know, I was thinking earlier that Roseanna, you, and I are all examples of authors who went the small presse route and later broke in with big publishers.

  7. great list, Dina! Story trumps all. Congrats again on the Valiant Hearts series!


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