Why Is it So Difficult to Get Traditionally Published? by Kristen Stieffel

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Kristen Stieffel

Several years ago I was at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference and met Kristen. We sat in Eva Marie Everson’s mentoring class. Eva taught us how to critique each other’s wips using the WORD WEAVER’S method. (I will write about this awesome approach to critiques in another post.)

During our critique session, I was instantly impressed with Kristen’s writing and editing skills. This year I saw Kristen again at the conference and asked her if she’d guest post for us.

Please welcome Kristen and check out her blog and editing services HERE.

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Why Is It So Difficult to Get Traditionally Published

Anyone who’s been at this writing gig for more than a couple of years has discovered that the traditional route to publication is incredibly difficult. First you have to get picked by an agent. Then you have to get picked by a publisher. The net is full of stories about writers who collected appalling numbers of rejections before breaking in, including Kathryn Stockett, author of the bestseller The Help, who collected rejection letters from 60 agents. HERE.

That makes for 60 agents who must feel pretty foolish today. They are right up there with the guys who rejected Fred Astaire and The Beatles.

What leads sensible businesspeople to deal out so much rejection?

Publishing, like movies and music, is a gamble. Publishers invest money in books, hoping for a payoff, but they rarely get a sure thing. Word has it that only 30 percent of books published earn out their advance—that is, sell more copies than the publisher has anticipated and paid the author for. The 30 percent that exceed expectations make up for the 70 percent that don’t. It’s a risky business model.

So agents and editors are exceptionally choosy about what projects they take on. They are playing it safe. And who can blame them?

Our job as writers is to produce books good enough to win over agents and editors. We must also be persistent.

At the ACFW conference last fall, I was comparing submission notes with someone who writes in the same genre I do. We had submitted our manuscripts to the same publisher, OakTara, but after two and a half years, I had given up on ever hearing back from them. He suggested I follow up to see whether the manuscript had been received. So I sent an e-mail reminding the editor of our meeting and asking whether she wanted to see the new, improved version.

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After I sent my follow-up, she gave the story another look, and e-mailed me last month saying yes, she was interested and would like to see the new version and synopses for the sequels. So I sent all that over and she came back with a four-book contract.

Persistence and follow-up are as important to our success as craft.

Improve continually, and never give up.

Kristen Stieffel is a writing coach, helping writers polish and nonwriters write. Most of her clients are businesspeople, but Kristen is a novelist and is trained as a fiction editor. Her fantasy novel Alara’s Call has been contracted by OakTara

How many rejection letters have you collected? How has persistence paid off for you?


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  1. Excellent post. I have wondered if some of those proposals just slip into a black hole, never to surface until 2-3 years down the road! So thankful for pubs and agents who are still willing to look beyond “what’s selling” to “what’s quality?”

    • Hi Heather,
      We never know, do we? I just received a rejection letter (although it was nice) from a publisher we’d submitted a proposal to fourteen months ago. I had no idea they were still contemplating my work. The best thing we can do is keep writing.
      Have a great writing week!

  2. Tom Crepeau says:

    I sure hope you write and tell us about the Word Weaving method soon, Michelle. I’m very much looking forward to it, so I’m buying a copy of Word Weaving in the hopes of learning more (a used copy, as apparently Word Weaving is no longer in print).

    • Hi Tom –
      Here’s the link for the book: http://www.amazon.com/Word-Weavers-Eva-Marie-Everson/dp/1414110677
      It’s called WORD WEAVERS. It’s a great way to get your work critiqued. Where do you live? Check your state for local groups. I live in Indiana and I haven’t found any groups here, but the group in Michigan said I could SKYPE into their meetings. Thanks for reminding me to blog about these affective critique sessions and how they work. I’ll do that soon.

  3. Lauren says:

    Kristen, thanks for the great article and congratulations on your contract. Your bio states you are “trained as a fiction editor.” I am wondering if I could learn to be a fiction editor, and I am wondering where one goes for such training. Can you tell us something about where you received training and what it consisted of? Thanks!

    • Hi, Lauren —

      I belong to two professional associations, both of which provide editor training:

      Editorial Freelancers Association, http://www.the-efa.org/
      where I learned Developmental Editing
      The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, http://www.thechristianpen.com
      where I learned more about editing fiction.

      The EFA’s Developmental Editing course is a five-week course that covers the major aspects of book-length works in both fiction and nonfiction. The PEN course is 20 weeks and covers every aspect of novel writing and editing. If you’re interested in fiction editing, I highly recommend the PEN fiction editing course, even if you don’t write for the Christian submarket.

      Another source for editorial training is http://www.authoreditorclinic.com/

      The main qualities needed to be a fiction editor are a strong command of grammar and sentence structure, attention to detail, and a desire to help others achieve their best possible results. You also need self-restraint, to avoid imposing your own personality on someone else’s work. Good editors help writers shine, while remaining invisible themselves.


  1. […] When I guest blogged at Random Writing Rants the other day, a commenter asked about how one gets trained as a fiction editor. Here’s an expanded version of my answer. […]

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