How to Get Your Writing Noticed by a Publisher

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Get your writing noticed by a publisher image 1The odds make it seem impossible.

Everyone tells you it’s hopeless.

Secretly, you fear they’re right.

“Getting your writing noticed by a publisher is a pipe dream,” they say.

But still, you spend countless hours at the keyboard, carefully crafting your powerful story, ferociously self-editing your work.

Because in your heart, you know you were made to do this.

Only problem is, when you do finish, most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.

How are you supposed to get your writing noticed if publishers won’t even look at it?

Even the few publishers who do accept unsolicited manuscripts relegate them to first readers, often interns. Their job is to get through this “slush pile,” as editors call it, and see if there’s even one manuscript worthy of recommending to the publishing board.

I’m told that a good first-reader can often determine within the first page or two whether a manuscript is worthy even of further reading, let alone potentially publishable.

That sounds terrible, and unfair, after all the time and effort you put into the writing. But it’s a reality of publishing.

However, there is a way to get a publisher’s attention without wasting your time or theirs. But learning how to do that requires you to look at things from the publisher’s point of view.

Why Publishers Don’t Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts (and Why That’s Actually a Good Thing)

Publishers get manuscripts by the thousands. Even if they could review them all, the cost of that would not justify finding the one in a thousand that might be worthy of sending on to an editor.

Sad but true, it’s that rare for an unsolicited manuscript to get a look from a real decision maker at a publishing house.

They key, obviously, is to get your manuscript solicited so that when it arrives, it goes to an acquisitions editor and stays out of that colossal slush pile.

You do this with a query letter and a proposal (for a nonfiction book) or a synopsis (for a novel).

While proposals and/or synopses require a great deal of work, they save both you and the publisher a lot of time.

Why spend up to a year writing a book, only to have it languish in the slush pile, when you could get an idea whether a publisher likes the idea first?

What if they like it but want it written from a different perspective, in a different voice, or have ideas on a whole different angle? Better to know this before writing the whole manuscript, right?

What if it simply doesn’t ring their bell? No sense writing it until you find a publisher eager to see it.

How to Use This to Your Advantage

(especially from first time writers), naturally your goal is to get invited to send yours. Start by giving them exactly what they want—a proposal and/or synopsis.

Get a publisher to solicit your manuscript and you’ll increase your chances of getting your work noticed—and potentially sold.

The Competition Is Stiff, But You Can Still Get Your Writing Noticed

Landing a contract from a traditional publisher—getting paid to be published as opposed to paying to be printed—is hard, but not impossible.

Sure, if you’re a first-time author you will then likely be asked if you can send a complete manuscript before they make a final decision. But you’re still miles ahead of the slush pile. Your manuscript will have been solicited.

What’s been your experience with publishers? Let me know in the comments.

 

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  • I’ve only pitched one book, and it was to an agent. He gave me great advice.

    As an unknown writer, I’m not planning to pitch directly to a publisher, although someone like Terry Whalin may be an exception. I’m thinking an agent would give me a better chance of getting my book in the door since he would have the ear of numerous publishers.

    Since you’ve seen it from all sides, do you think new authors should go directly to publishers or start with an agent?

    • Glenda

      Great question, Rebekah!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Sorry if this is a dupe, Rebekah (I tried to answer via iPhone, but I don’t think it transmitted.

      Yes, so many publisher require coming to them via an agent, that that is the preferred way to go. They’re just as hard to land as a publisher, btw.

      Terry is a friend and a good guy, but he does not represent a traditional publisher. If you go that route, you’d be paying some of the costs.

      • Oh! I sure appreciate learning that. I heard a great webinar on book proposals by Mr. Whalin, and I thought his was just a new publishing house.

        I agree he’s a terrific person. I also agree that I have a lot of learning to do, since I’d prefer the traditional route. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Peggy Engbrecht House

    Even though I’ve previously published
    traditionally, my experience with publishers has still been a no reply policy. That’s been the case even when I’ve sent exact specifications. More often than not I’m not even offered the courtesy of a reply saying the manuscript arrived safely. Is it ever ok to re-submit after a lapse of time?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      No, I wouldn’t resubmit if you got no response the first time. More and more publishers and agents are so swamped with stuff that they stipulate in their guidelines that if you don’t hear back in due time, consider it a rejection. I hate that discourtesy, but I wouldn’t reward it by resubmitting.

  • Theodore Frank

    My only experience with a publisher has to do with a worship song I wrote in 1987. It was picked up by The Vineyard. To my shock, it was also recorded by several artists. A pastor in Montana told me he heard the song in China. Shows what a publisher can do for you. That was a long time ago. Things have changed. I doubt I would be able to do that now. I love “words” so thought I would give’r a try in the short story category, based on several meaningful “pictures” that have stayed with me over the years. Thnx, Jerry, for all your tips and holding us accountable for good work.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Theodore.

  • Karen Crider

    Some good, some not so good. I have won a contest or two, which resulted in a check, and the publisher complimenting my “unique style.” Right now, I am knee deep in a screen play. I’ve yet to even think of sending it out. Though, I will be expected to before I finish this course. I love to do kid stuff,and even my screen play is a kid’s play. I have a ball with metaphor, and I have an imagination that is MIA, (missing in action) inside the world of ducks, geese, a turkey, giants, blizzards and hunters, oh my! I have more fun than the reader, but it has also been hard work. So if it’s rejected by publishers, I can handle it. Because I’m experienced with handling rejection. But disappointment is always off set by passion, for what’s next. This keeps me viable; this keeps me coming back for more.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great attitude, Karen.

  • I have five (5) books on amazon. They’re selling. I’d just like to see them selling more.

    My experience with publishers has been one of no responses.

    My main topic in my books is political and cultural Islam. My books do NOT show that I am buying Islamic hate based lies and efforts to colonize America. Accordingly, I am on the Moslem Brotherhood’s radar as an enemy of Islam.

    Islamists have purchased stock in publishers – enough to get their lackeys in many of publisher boardrooms, and they will ensure that my book submissions never see the light of day, as is done with other counter-jihadis who write the truths and facts about Islam.

    When the publishing industry censors a growing number of anti-Islam writers, we all have a problem.

  • Barbara Higby

    At a writers’ conference this summer I was invited to submit my manuscript to two publishers. I did so in September. How long should I wait before following up? And when I do, how should I open?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You’ve waited long enough. Just be cordial and ask when you might expect to hear back. (You might first check their submissions guidelines to be sure they don’t stipulate that a non-answer should be considered a rejection. I hate that, but many are doing it now.)

  • I tried to get published traditionally ten years ago but it didn’t work out so I went the self-publishing route and tried to make a name for myself. I did not make money but right now I have gained enough traction to get noticed by a big publisher in my country and they are negotiating to publish my books. And now we are discussing terms, no longer me begging to have my manuscript accepted. I think as with all things, we need to be persistent until we see the success we desire with our writing.

    It’s been a long journey for me and it’s not over yet but I’m glad I kept at because whichever way you look at it, traditional publishing is still a better way to go.

    • Carolyn Phillips

      Congratulations!! Good for you!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I agree, Elsie, and congratulations!

  • Rhonda Steffey Dippon

    My experience is that “no unsolicited ms.” means they won’t look at your letter either. I’ve received letters back from publishers simply saying “We take nothing unsolicited.” I’m wondering about getting an agent.

    • Good idea. Too many publishers require an agent, and if you have landed one, that tells the publisher you or your work have already been deemed worthy by a professional. So, an agent if you can get one. They are as hard to impress as publishers. :)

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    Great post. I have a query letter out to a publisher at this moment. Patiently waiting, but in the meantime I’m on to writing short stories and working on a trilogy, :) Thank you, Jerry for all your help at the Guild.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Judy.

  • Lawrence Hebb

    Jerry
    I haven’t gone this way. Instead I went the way of the self publishing through Amazon, it was hard work, and some mistakes were made, but at the same time it was gratifying to see the final outcome.
    The next novel is almost finished, and with what I learned the first time round I’m hoping it’ll improve on the first one (Which I am proud of!)
    However, I’m not planning to quit my ‘day job’ just yet.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I urge you to exhaust all efforts to be paid to be published rather than paying to be printed.

      • Lawrence Hebb

        Jerry
        With. Amazon, I only ‘pay’ if I buy the book! The royalties are three times what a normal publisher gives, the only drawback is I’m the one does the marketing!
        For me, life’s too short to sit around hoping for a book deal ‘one day’ when I can write, publish and friends/contacts can enjoy the stories today!

  • writebrainrd

    Hi Jerry. I’ve been writing for seven years. I had Dennis Hensley edit my first novel, which he said had real publishing potential. I tried finding an agent (confess, but could not connect. I signed with Tate Publishing for my first novel. For my second novel, the second in a series, I had the interest of Penguin, but because Tate does not own your rights, I kept with Tate. Tate no longer charges me for publishing my novels, but I have toyed with self-publishing, as it seems the bookstores and the publisher make most of the profit.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You had the interest of one of the biggest traditional publishers in the world and didn’t go that route? In traditional publishing, the publisher makes about the same as the author after taking all the risks and shouldering all the expenses.

  • Frances Wilson

    This reminds me of the question: “which comes first, the chicken, or the egg?” Didn’t established writers begin with unsolicited manuscripts? I do, however, understand, and agree that my manuscript must be publisher ready.
    Most publishers did not even respond, but conveyed much: “Forget it”, which was easy to do.
    I, however decided to persevere, and self published my first book, by error. While I received some
    encouragement, It offered no satisfaction, so I am determined to dive in discipline’s deep end,
    do some weeding, and honing, and write with integrity.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s all you can do, Frances. Hang in there.

    • Peggy Engbrecht House

      Frances, I agree. I self-published my first book too, before publishing traditionally the second time around. There is no comparison. The traditional publishing route was a HUGE learning experience I would not trade for the world. And, it validates you.

  • Carolyn Phillips

    I had some real success in the 1980s – 90s with two different publishers and six books released. One of those was a YA novel, but 30-some years later I still consider myself a first-time novelist. The good news is that people I am not related to tell me my novels are worth the read. But here’s my problem.

    In March at a Christian Writer’s Conference I was told by an acquisitions editor to send a synopsis and the first three chapters of a novel when it was ready. I worked hard on the chapters and the dreaded synopsis, and In October it was ready. Hoping to avoid the bottomless slush pile, I contacted her by email to let her know it was coming, and to confirm her preferred email address. She responded the next day saying she was looking forward to seeing what I sent. She gave me the address and instructions to send it. And three months later I have heard nothing from her. The company accepts unsolicited and unagented submissions, and their guidelines instruct you to send a reminder email if you haven’t heard back in 12-14 weeks.

    Looks like her direct invitation to submit didn’t count for much after all. I’d hoped the editor’s personal invitation to send this might help me avoid the never-ending process that leaves the writer sitting in the dark for months. But, no such luck. What would you suggest I do next?

    Why are writers so low on the consideration scale? If I knew how NOT to write, how to stop this overwhelming conviction that this is who I have always been meant to be, I would take up plumbing or some other occupation where people who want what you offer are glad when you arrive. Or at least something that puts food on the table regularly. It breaks my heart to be so discounted in an industry that would have nothing to sell without what we write. I simply don’t understand.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Frankly, I don’t either and think it should be easy, in this day of handy technology, to simply keep writers warm. Why not an easily-generated email to say, “Got it, hang tight.”?

      SInce they say to nudge them at the 12-14 week mark, do that. Sad that you have to, but…

      • Carolyn Phillips

        Appreciate your response, Jerry. I’ll contact her this week and will let you know what follows.

      • Carolyn Phillips

        Took your advice, Jerry, and nudged the editor by email. She responded within the hour apologizing for the unintentional delay. Turns out a proposal from another writer she’d spoken with at the same conference came in at almost the same time as mine arrived. She mixed them up somehow, and thought she was finished when she responded to the other author. In this case, my reminder literally saved my proposal. She’s found it and assures me she’ll be back in touch quickly. So I guess not all silence means rejection. Hopefully my next note will be to tell you there’s a contract in the making. Thanks for your encouragement.

    • Peggy Engbrecht House

      My experience exactly Carolyn. Sent the manuscript at the invitation of an editor from a Christian publishing house (whom I’d meet later at a SCBWI conference). She critiqued it, gave it back to me at the conference, and I revised according to her expectations. She invited me to send the full manuscript which I did. One year later, I’ve heard nothing. I too write only what I cannot, not write, because of a statement I remember hearing at a writers conference: If God has called and you feel mpelled you to write, HE has a way of making publishing possible. Still waiting.

      • Carolyn Phillips

        You’ve heard nothing from them during that time? That’s just cruel. Seems reasonable that if they’re going to take their sweet time deciding, that we should at least be “allowed” to make multiple submissions. We need to create some competition for them and not be black-marked for submitting to more than one publisher at a time. Seems like all the rules are in their favor. But wait… Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team?

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Simultaneous submissions are the order of the day, though it is necessary to indicate when you’re doing this. Simply labeling your work “A simultaneous submission” tells them what they need to know.

  • Glenda

    Having zero experience with publishers, this article and comments seem to suggest that a book proposal/synopsis is the best place to start. I know you have two examples on the incredible Jerry Jenkins Writer’s Guild, Mr. Jenkins, so… time to revisit them and write one for my memoir. Thanks! :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good idea, Glenda, and all the best with it.

  • My only experience with book publishers was a dare bet I took at age 15 to send a manuscript to a publisher. The whole thing was hilarious. First of all the book I wrote, at 15, was a parody of teen problem/romance/school novels, and was fully as bad as I thought most of those were at the time. Then instead of simply returning it as unpublishable (which it was) the publisher mixed it up with not one, but two, different submissions from different sources, so I got my manuscript back in two parts from one publisher (other than the one I’d chosen to annoy, to win the bet) and one agent. The craziest thing was that the agent received the part where I’d described the boy through the girl’s eyes, and although my goal had been to make it clear that this was a funny-looking, pimply teen-troll viewed through a hormone fog, the agent seriously thought I ought to write for the then-new line of Silhouette Romances. Hoot! My parents wouldn’t even let me *read* those yet.

    As an adult I’ve not tried to repeat this caper, and don’t plan to until I’m invited. (And if I do write a book it won’t be a Silhouette Romance…I read a few, and yes they really were that bad.)

  • Terry Thompson

    I’m enjoying and benefiting from your emails, Jerry. My question is, with the tight publishing market, do you recommend acquiring a literary agent?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I do, Terry. They are about as hard to engage as a publisher, but if you do, you have an immediate endorsement by a professional.

  • Amanda Farmer

    My desire to to published devotionals. I am at the first steps of trying to get published and have no experiences with publishers at this point. I have been blogging for several years and was recently contacted about submitting a series of devotionals for women on our denomination’s website. This was unsolicited by me and an encouragement to begin pursuing the possibility of more.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Congrats, Amanda!

  • I have 5 books on Amazon Kindle and in print, all nonfiction Christian. In the past 3 years I have earned over $20,000. Price is 2.99 for a Kindle. Would never even get the attention of a publisher because I am not a big name preacher or PHD college professor. Four of the books are on Bible prophecy and frequently rank in the top 10 in Christian / Prophecy. THey are from PreWrath yet Post-Trib point of view, with lots of other differences.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Where can I see one of your titles on Kindle, Michael? What name do you write under?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I’m not a preacher or degreed either. Have you tried to publish traditionally?

      • Years ago I tried and that is how I learned the reality of traditional publishing. Then Amazon came along.

        And now having done it myself, I do not know if I would be persuaded to publish traditionally. If I need to add another paragraph to explain something better, I just upload the revised files with “Version 1.7” or whatever it is in the front.

        I have uploaded many slight revisions, thus making the books better as things go along. I do not have a “tribe” following, so I still would not get the notice of a major publisher.

        Also, I could sell many more, but I am not a very good speaker. With some experience I could get better, but I am not good at pulling words out of my head when speaking with my mouth. A major problem when one wants to promote books and the best way to do it is on radio and TV.

        God does not call people to do things they can do easily, but only with God’s help, as many Bible teachers teach. Giving examples from Moses and many others. Anyway, that is my dilemma. I am very grateful for the sales I have, considering the limited reach of my website.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Good thinking, Michael. We all have to do what is best with our gifts, don’t we?

  • Perfect! Wouldn’t change a word of this, Jerry. I will point out an agent, a really good one like Steve Laube or Chip MacGregor or Rachelle Gardner (to name a few) really help a writer bring his or her A-game to publishers. Ironic that I just blogged about this today. But as already noted, as tough if not tougher to get than a publisher.

    But here’s the other thing all ye whom want to be noticed by a publisher, and there’s no getting past this. Getting a publisher to notice your writing does NOT guarantee your book will sell. It’s only the beginning and it’s very important to remember this. But you CAN do it. Others break through every day. Do your homework and subscribe to the Christian Writers Market Guide at https://christianwritersmarketguide.com/.

    Study these materials carefully and listen to instruction from experienced authors like Jerry. Subscribing to a blog like this is already a head start. Perseverance sprinkled with a dash of realism and LOTS of practice will get you noticed. Yes, you have to write. And prayer for your calling doesn’t hurt either! ;)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks so much, Jon.

  • I’m still on the fence about traditional publishers. In this digital age, it is possible to publish in both digital and print formats at no cost. While I may not have the distribution of a publishing house, my book can be garnering sales while another writer is still submitting queries. If what I have read is accurate, there have been some books by independent authors which have hit various bestseller lists, and even authors like J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman have published some books independently (again, if what I have read is credible).

    On the other hand, a publisher will handle a lot of things I’d rather not, such as designing a book cover, choosing fonts, getting copies of my book into brick-and-mortar stores, etc.

    I’ve never worked with a publisher before. I’m not very business savvy, so I’m not sure I would enjoy the experience, although I could potentially like the outcome.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Self-publishing is paying to be printed; no one vets the quality but you. Traditional is being paid to be published and enjoying the imprimatur of a publisher tacitly endorsing you by taking all the financial risks.

      In the end, after expenses, you make about the same money per sale either way, but trad publishers have all the advantages in the marketplace. The self-publishing “success” stories are extremely rare.

      • 1) I had to chuckle to myself when I read “imprimatur” and realized I am not in the same league as yourself. Yes, I had to look it up. I’m not sure I’ll have enough opportunities to use the word so that it becomes a part of my vocabulary.

        2) Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t writer success stories extremely rare regardless of how they are published?

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Good point, but there are at least a hundred times more self-published titles every year than traditional. That makes those success stories even rarer.

          As you may know, I’m not totally closed to self-publishing. I have self-published my father’s poetry and my grandmother-in-law’s memoir, because I knew they would be of interest to only a few hundred people. And there are other occasions when it only makes sense.

  • As always, I appreciated the information in your post, Jerry.

    As far as my experience with traditional publishers. Years ago I had an agent. I did not think it was a good fit, but she still tried to get my manuscript seen. Eventually we parted ways on good terms.

    They had asked to see the manuscript I felt most passionate about. I chickened out and sent a lesser one. I received valuable feedback, but I knew I had lost out by not taking the risk.

    I’ve done great with publishing articles. CT, Today’s Christian Woman, and more recently I contribute to Crosswalk, but I can’t seem to develop the following that would cause a traditional publisher to be interested in me. That’s my take on it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Take the risk. Your writing is at the level where you can compete in the traditional marketplace.

      • But will they be interested without the large following?

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          It’ll be a tougher climb, of course, but good ideas and good writing trump the rest, and those are in very short supply.

          • Okay, then my next question. Can you give me some suggestions on how I can best secure an agent?

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            Study the lists in the Christian Writers Market Guide 2017, and send them your single best book idea, about which you’re absolutely the most passionate.

  • Mary Englund Murphy

    Jerry, thank you for your blog and the encouragement you give to us. You wouldn’t remember, but a few years ago we sat at the same table at the AWSA Golden Scrolls Awards.

    My publishing contacts were made at writers’ conferences. Expensive, but worth it. I was a nervous wreck as I presented my pitch to numerous editors. With each conference, I gained more confidence and valuable connections. I ended up self-publishing my first book along with the accompanying workbook. I did not use a vanity press. I literally self-published myself with the help of one of those very valuable contacts, an acquisitions editor from a well known publishing house who believed in my book. He brought it before the team but it didn’t pass through. He helped me get a reputable editor, cover designer, etc. because he and his wife believed in the book. Mostly, I sell the books at speaking engagements, as well as some on Amazon. Not a best-seller, but I’ve more than made back my money.

    My next book was a Bible study. It was published by a traditional publisher (again, because of the contacts I made at conferences). It was published in 2011 and won The BRMCWC Best Bible Study of the Year and the Book Club Network Book of the Year. I get a royalty check twice a year. I’m not getting rich, but my husband and I can go out for a nice meal! :)

    I’ve only written a few articles and devotionals since that time, partly because of my commitments as a pastor’s wife, partly because of taking care of my mother (just passed to glory at 102), but mostly because I’m terrified to write the novel that is on my heart!

    Anyway, all that to say I’m a huge fan of writers’ conferences, listening, learning, persistence, patience, praying, and being gracious and grateful to those who help you on your journey.

    Because of your blog, I started yesterday! Thanks, Jerry.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Mary, for yet another great testimonial re conferences.

      Congrats on your journey. Now THAT’s the way to self-publish.

      (My wife’s grandmother lived to be 101, and I self-published her little memoir.)

      Terrified is the perfect posture from which to write a novel. All the best with it.

  • Jan Parys

    Going to and meeting editors at writers’ conferences is a great inroad. Carolyn below gives experience along the same line that I’ve suffered through. I met an editor and sent her my first three chapters. She replied inside a month with a great deal of feedback. I had the same experience with another editor who asked me to write it from a boy’s point of view and then with a holiday twist. After a month of editing & correspondence on the short story he said he had a similar story from his “stable” of writers and would use it. The latter was a Christian and the former was from a secular editor. Her list was so long I felt overwhelmed and didn’t follow all of the suggestions but she was very kind.
    I still believe in conferences and meet many writers and editors who are now friends on Facebook at least.
    The Lord is our best guide and can even warm the hearts of editors. His will be done.
    Blessings!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good testimonial to the value of conferences, Jan.

  • John Gardiner

    I have finished my book and I am now at the stage of, what´s next? One big problem I have is translating it into German and another is finding a Publisher in an english speaking Country, as I live in Austria. I think my best bet would be to self publish it. What do you think.
    Have a nice day.
    John Gardiner.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Congrats, John. I would urge you not to pay to be printed if you can be paid to be published. Check market guides and start shopping it to appropriate publishers.