Rosena wrote in with a very familiar question a few days ago:
I have a query regarding the never ending circular line I seem to have stepped on to! I have written several short stories (children’s picture book types) and just finished penning a child novel and I am stuck because if I write to a publisher they won’t read my manuscripts unless I have an agent and almost all of the agents will not read my manuscripts because I have not yet had anything published. Could you offer me any advice on securing a read by one or the other?
This is a perceived problem that some writers have. Let me explain why I say “perceived.” It’s understandable thinking but I’d love to put this “I can’t get published unless I’m published” thing to rest for good.
First things first: we need writers to do our jobs. Most agents, at my agency and at others, are constantly on the lookout for new talent. We read unsolicited submissions from rank amateurs, we go to conferences, we blog, we reach out, all in the hopes of getting quality material sent our way. There are agents who are not accepting submissions or only working with referrals, sure, but they are in the minority. My inbox is full of mail from writers at all stages of their journeys. I don’t really care if they’re unpublished or published in the Podunk Literary Journal that I’ve never heard of. I’ll maybe take notice if they’ve had previous books published by a traditional publisher (not self-published or published with a vanity press) but I’m really evaluating the submission, first and foremost. The writing and story premise are all that matter, and I think that the vast majority of agents will agree with me on that point.
In terms of publishers, most major houses will not accept unagented submissions, that’s true. There are, however, houses that still take submissions directly from writers. Each of these houses has bought at least one manuscript that came from the slush, guaranteed, just like every agent has taken on a successful client from the slush. Houses that accept unagented children’s books are easy to find online. In terms of agents, I vehemently disagree with the statement “almost all of the agents will not read my manuscripts because I have not yet had anything published.” It’s just not true.
Don’t believe me and want to see for yourself? There are many, many of ways to find agents online. My favorite is Agent Query. Head over to the site. Click “Full Search” in the left-hand toolbar. Check the genres you want to write in. When you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see one additional dropbox: “Are you looking for an agent who is actively seeking new clients?” Click the dropbox and select “Yes.” Click “Search.”
When I did this search for you just now, I checked the “Children’s” and “Middle Grade” boxes under the Fiction category. (I’m assuming middle grade is what you mean when you say “child novel.” You might want to find out what category you’re writing in, as “child novel” is not a widely-used term.) With those three criteria (1- Children’s fiction, 2-Middle Grade, 3-Yes, looking for new clients), I returned over ten pages of agents. That’s about a hundred agents who you can query and who will read your submission.
Now, that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically offer representation, of course. The submission has to be excellent. If you’re reaching out to agents who are accepting new clients (most of us) and still getting form rejections or no responses at all, it isn’t your “unpublished” status that’s hurting you…it’s the quality of the submission. But keep trying. Every published author was unpublished at one point. Everyone has to start somewhere.
I’d love to stick a stake in this publishing myth and call it a day but writers are going to keep believing this anyway. Oh well. I just hope they stumble across this post at some point.