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years, I have seen many of my writing buddies go from being unpublished to the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
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.