Here’s a quickie but a goodie, since there are lots and lots of magazines, small presses, contests and other opportunities to get some writing credits and book sales under your belt. Cara asks:
Would getting a book or two published with a small press such as a religious press hurt your chances in getting an agent?
Writing Credits with a Small Press
Getting published with a small press won’t hurt your chances at getting an agent, as long as it’s not a small press that you, yourself, founded to be your self publishing or vanity project. It won’t necessarily increase your chances, though, either, because some small presses have looser quality controls than the larger publishers do, and a published book from one of them might sometimes hold less clout than a book from the Big Six. But everybody starts somewhere, and not only are small presses accessible to beginning writers, they also provide opportunities and take unagented submissions. If you do include work published with a small press, be honest and accurate about book sales. Check out my post on how to pitch a book for more info.
The above advice about listing writing credits and book sales holds true for magazines and contests, too. Unless you’ve been published in a really, really prestigious magazine or have won a really prestigious contest (magazines that come to mind: Highlights, Cricket, any glossy available on national newsstands; literary magazines that impress: Glimmertrain, Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker; contests that are good to win: anything held by one of the large publishers themselves, where you won a publishing contract, Pushcart Prize, had your work selected for a The Best American… anthology (Nonrequired Reading is my favorite), etc.), then you aren’t really catching my eye either way.
Be Selective About Which Writing Credits You List
You can list your writing credits and book sales, sure. Do realize, though, that some places that publish writers have lower standards than others, and that’s just a fact of life. So if you win the $10 Olive Garden Gift Certificate Grand Prize at the Podunk Literary Festival, you could list it, of course, but it will not get my attention the way a clip from Highlights will. The competition at a larger national magazine or contest is much more fierce and editors can seek out the best of the best, not just pick the most “readable” entry out of a slow drizzle of submissions.
Self Publishing Writing Credits
Now, I did bring up something in my first paragraph that lots of writers are curious about: self publishing. It’s something agents think a lot about, since new “alternative publishing” methods and models are cropping up all the time. It’s not something I’m ready to tackle on the blog just yet, though, because it is such a controversial issue and because it’s still very much in flux.
At every conference I go to, there’s at least one question about self publishing, whether it comes up in person or on an agent panel. If you are lucky enough to see me during this moment in a live situation, when I’m actually forced to talk about self publishing to a crowd of conference-goers, you will see the elusive… the hilarious… “I’m-Reading-Something-Bad Face of Awkwardness” that I discussed earlier. But since this is my blog and nobody is staring at me, eager for answers, I’m going to gracefully tiptoe around the issue until I have the perfect post on it.
When you hire me as your query letter editor, I’ll help you determine which, if any, of your writing credits you should include in your query letter.