Advice to First-Time Authors

As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, I receive a lot of email from would-be authors who are trying to get published. Because I make my email address public, it’s pretty easy to get to me.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5182627

Photo courtesy of ©

However, by the time I hear from people, they are usually frustrated. They can’t get anyone in the book publishing world to respond, and they are convinced that they have a killer-idea. “If only someone would just read my manuscript,” they plead.The problem is that most publishers will not review unsolicited proposals or manuscripts. When I worked at Thomas Nelson, I personally received hundreds of proposals each year; my staff received thousands. Publishers simply don’t have the resources to review these. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.

So as an author, what do you do? Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Educate yourself. If you want to publish with a general market publisher, read 2012 Writer’s Market by Robert Lee Brewer. If you want to write for the Christian Market, read The Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2012 by Jerry Jenkins. Both books include writer’s guidelines and submission procedures for publishing houses. These books will give you a good overview of the literary marketplace.
  2. Follow publishing blogs. You can get some incredibly helpful advice and straight-talk from people who work in the industry. I recommend you start with these four:

    There are other blogs, but I have found these to be the most useful.

  3. Write a killer book proposal. If you want to write (or have written) a book, I recommend you read one of my e-Books, Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal or Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal. These eBooks will tell you exactly what publishers want in a proposal. They are used by numerous literary agents and publishers alike.
  4. Have someone review your proposal. If you have a friend who teaches English or is a professional editor, ask them to review your proposal. You might even barter something with them. In addition, the Editorial Services section of 2012 Writer’s Market, lists over 500 entries, many of which provide some kind of critique service.
  5. Find a literary agent to represent you. This is usually the only way to get in the door with a publishing company. Most publishers do not accept unsolicited proposals or manuscripts. Instead, publishers let the literary agents do the filtering. If you want a list of general market agents, you can buy 2012 Guide to Literary Agents. I have also compiled a list of agents who represent Christian authors. This is the only list of Christian agents I have been able to find. (This list does not constitute an endorsement, nor do I recommend specific agents.)
  6. Consider self-publishing. It’s not right for everyone, but it no longer has the stigma it once had. It can be a legitimate—and strategically smart—decision for some authors. It all depends on your goals, your circumstances, and your resources. I wrote a post about this when Thomas Nelson launched WestBow Press, its self-publishing division.

Finally, don’t lose heart. This is probably the most important thing I can say to you. Yes, you will be rejected. I had over 29 publishers reject my first book proposal. However, it went on to be a New York Times bestseller. I know scores of authors with similar stories.

Like many things in life, nothing worthwhile comes easily. But if you have a great idea and are persistent, you will eventually succeed.

By the way, I have just published by new audio course, Everything You Need to Know to Get Published. It consists of twenty-one audio sessions on every aspect of publishing. It is literally everything I have learned about publishing in thirty years. It is a great “next step” in your publishing journey.

Question: What advice do you have for first-time authors? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Helen Betz

    Recently I have found myself scouring Mr Google for information relating to book publishing, Christian publishing firms and literary agents. Unfortunately, every time I search and land at what seems to be a possible lead, it ends up at a dead end.

    Being a wife, mother, pastor, missionary, artist and teacher I was beginning to think my best option was to find a reputable literary agent, only to find many focus one representing previously published authors or those residing in Canada or the USA. Living in Australia and merely having some unpublished files on my PC apparently puts a formidable x against my name before I even begin the process.

    Another option was self publishing but I already know that is not my style or a feasible option, for whilst creative I lack the necessary marketing skills to make it work. ;)

    So I am wondering if anyone has some practical advice specific to this situation other than praying….

    Stuck Down Under

    • Reid A. Ashbaucher

      Hi Helen,

      Welcome to the world of the book industry. On this site Michael Hyatt has put together a list of book agents that you could contact. Michael’s book gives information on how to present your work to the book industry and gain an edge in you promotions.

      Personally I went the self-publishing route. Yes, a lot of work in the promotional area. I chose Innovo Publishing who only publishes Christian works, but has a second to non worldwide promotion connection. In my case my book is a print-on-demand product and if someone orders my book it can be printed in U.S., U.K. and Australia. Because Innovo is also a traditional publisher, if the book sells they most likely would pick up the book and promote it for you. They also have a co-publishing program which my be an option, and I don’t think Innovo cares that your in Australia.

      Again, no matter what route you take to get your book published its all time consuming, unless you have a book agent to do the work for you. If you have the money, Innovo can do it all from publishing to promotions, I have no regrets. You can find my work here: and Innovo Publishing here:

  • reva

    Mike your site has great influence and energy as it is very intentional to filter out the real class of people who are keen on good and professional articles
    it’s a Great support and God Bless you for this amazing contribution

  • Jennifer Jamison is a great E-Book publishing company. It’s worth checking out.

  • divakar

    Hai sir i am ready to publish my first novel..what should i do..

  • Je-Vohn Francis

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve just written a book and I am trying to weigh different alternatives of publishing. Self publishing has become so main stream that I think self publishing with companies like Kobo or Smashwords, or Lulu would be a good way to go to get my book on a high traffic market. But I would like to get my book into a brick and mirror establishment.

    Has anyone actually found financial success through self publishing?