Any experienced writer will tell you that the key to having your writing discovered is building an impressive publishing platform. A publishing platform is a collection of your previously published work, education, or applicable work field that solidifies your reputation as a writer. Agents and publishing houses are more likely to work with an author who has been published, proving that someone has already “taken a chance” on you. This platform displays experience in your field, your commitment to your craft, and will help you acquire representation. More importantly, it expands your skill set as a writer and prepares you for the difficulties and obstacles inherent in the publishing process.
The world of publishing creates a double standard: a writer must have published work to obtain an agent or a publishing contract, but he or she also needs an agent to get published. To combat this catch-22, TBL specializes in unsolicited works (works that do not already have an agent), helping new writers gain publishing credit. Luckily, we are not the only journal that caters new writers. There are scores of outlets to publish great short fiction, memoirs, poetry, and graphic stories (just to list a few). Being published in online magazines, literary journals, school magazines, and local newspapers all qualify as publishing credit (see “How to Submit to Literary Journals”). Contests are also an excellent way to gain publishing credit while also earning the winner a little extra cash (see our “Up-to-date Contest List” for current competitions).
When you begin the rather daunting task of building your platform, remember to stay organized and motivated. We recommend creating a spreadsheet showing each story you’ve written, where you’ve submitted it, and when you can plan on hearing back. Since many contests charge a reading fee, make sure you budget a certain amount of money per month to dedicate toward submission costs. Also pay careful attention to when journals have open reading sessions (usually only a couple months out of the year). Below is an example of a typical writing spreadsheet (download a blank sheet here). Make sure you draw attention to works that have won or have been published. This will help you overcome the rejections and keep submitting.
It is also important to keep generating new work while submitting to journals and contests because it will often be months before you hear back.
In summation, a stock of published works makes you more appealing to agents. If you’ve published work in the past, it makes an agent’s job easier and allows them to focus on landing you a contract with a publishing house.
Other Publishing Credit:
While published work will make you reputable to an agent or house, proving that you are the best person to write your book will guarantee publication. Are you an expert about your chosen subject? For example, many authors who write historical fiction have studied their chosen time period extensively, usually in the academy.
Another way to prove your writing prowess is to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts. This advanced learning degree is undertaken after the undergraduate degree and is usually achieved in two years (read information about MFA Programs):
In addition to studying the craft, a new writer must consider how exposed his or her work is. If you’ve gone to great lengths to gain a readership, it shows agents and publishers that you are serious about making yourself known in the publishing world. Blogging, working for a literary journal, and taking part in writing groups can greatly enhance your exposure:
What makes you different? Usually, in realistic fiction, what can set you apart is writing from experience. For example, Tethered Tidings featured author, Jacques Strauss, was able to write the story of an eleven-year-old boy growing up in apartheid Johannesburg because he grew up in South Africa himself. However, often the most powerful distinction is simply a fresh idea or a new angle on an older story. When querying, make sure you make it very clear how your story is different from the works that fall in a similar genre (read more in “Writing a Query Letter”).
Another appealing trait to have when presenting yourself as a published author is to mention your ability to self-market. Any network connections, fan bases you may have garnished, or easy ways you have to market your work are all added bonuses that an agent looks for in potential clients. You’re more likely to be published at a larger house if you have strong publishing credit under your belt. This also enhances your chances for a larger advance upon signing.
A common question we get from our members is when to start building a platform. The simple answer is: as soon as possible. New writers often dedicate years to a novel, and when it’s finished, they don’t have the platfrom needed to query for an agent. Thus, they then have to spend the next year publishing shorter works before they can seek representation.
If you have started work on a larger work like a novel, novella, or nonfiction book, take a pause to work on your platfrom. Since many journals take up to six months to even reply about your submission, make sure you start the process early.
Here at TBL, we would also advise working on your platform early for the sake of your craft. By producing short works, you are able to perfect your style and story archs in a much more managable size and timeframe. That way you can fix problems with your technique early (before you make the same mistakes in a 300-page novel) and you will learn more about the publsihing industry, preparing yourself for the next step into major publication.