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 ©iStockphoto.com/dougallg, Image #5182627

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/dougallg

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.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Jeanine Tillman

    Thank you for the helpful information, I have been procrastinating regarding several books I have this compulsion to write. This has help me greatly. God bless you!

  • Jeanine Tillman

    Thank you for the helpful information, I have been procrastinating regarding several books I have this compulsion to write. This has help me greatly. God bless you!

  • lrhodes@bak.rr.com

    I have self published a children's book – based on a true event in our family. "The True Drummer Boy" is so well received, friends and readers tell me it should be published by a real published so that it can be shared more widely. Any advice?

    Before I did this I did send many queries and found absolutely no respnse. I decided you must have to "have an in" or be "somebody" in order to be looked at or listened to.
    Thanks.

  • lrhodes@bak.rr.com

    I have self published a children's book – based on a true event in our family. "The True Drummer Boy" is so well received, friends and readers tell me it should be published by a real published so that it can be shared more widely. Any advice?

    Before I did this I did send many queries and found absolutely no respnse. I decided you must have to "have an in" or be "somebody" in order to be looked at or listened to.
    Thanks.

  • Raquel

    This was amazingly helpful. I just checked out the blogs and found a wealth of great advice. Thanks!

  • Raquel

    This was amazingly helpful. I just checked out the blogs and found a wealth of great advice. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Time to recommit - Staff Blog - The Writer Magazine Online Community

  • Beatrice McClearn

    Thank you. You have encouraged me deeply to press on.

  • Beatrice McClearn

    Thank you. You have encouraged me deeply to press on.

  • Lisa Walker Thomas

    Thank you for creating this site and for the list of Christian Agents, after receiving numerous rejections with the line, "this project isn't right for us" it's good to have a list of agents who have published Christian literature. It can be very discouraging, however I'm persistent and I believe God gives writers a story to tell because many people around the world need to hear that story. Thank you again, I wait expectantly to meet the literary agent who will establish a relationship with me. Thank you and blessings to you and yours.

  • Lisa Walker Thomas

    Thank you for creating this site and for the list of Christian Agents, after receiving numerous rejections with the line, "this project isn't right for us" it's good to have a list of agents who have published Christian literature. It can be very discouraging, however I'm persistent and I believe God gives writers a story to tell because many people around the world need to hear that story. Thank you again, I wait expectantly to meet the literary agent who will establish a relationship with me. Thank you and blessings to you and yours.

  • Nicolas Brown

    I found this information very helpful, thanks for the incredibly article Mike! I'm an aspiring author, and it's great to stumble across something this vital before even reaching this step. I will definitely be sure to go through the necessary steps. Hopefully I will be fully prepared for the publishing process once I have finished my education and the main portions of my attempted works.

  • Nicolas Brown

    I found this information very helpful, thanks for the incredibly article Mike! I'm an aspiring author, and it's great to stumble across something this vital before even reaching this step. I will definitely be sure to go through the necessary steps. Hopefully I will be fully prepared for the publishing process once I have finished my education and the main portions of my attempted works.

  • Lori A. Moore

    Having released my first book less than 2 months ago, I am learning a lot about being a first time author. Two major things stiand out to me.

    1. Authors have to be prepared to market their books and be an active, proactive participant in their marketing strategies.
    2. Authors have to understand that selling books is more about building relationships than having booksignings.

  • Lori A. Moore

    Having released my first book less than 2 months ago, I am learning a lot about being a first time author. Two major things stiand out to me.

    1. Authors have to be prepared to market their books and be an active, proactive participant in their marketing strategies.
    2. Authors have to understand that selling books is more about building relationships than having booksignings.

  • Pingback: 33 Things: The Week’s Amusing and Intriguing Links — Evangelical Outpost

  • http://www.londonwriterssociety.com/ Clyo Beck

    Great post. I intend to put a link to it in the next electronic newsletter I send out to my subscribers.

    I also love your two remarkable posts about digging deep and creating a "wow" experience for the reader.

    My readers should know about your blog and I will make sure they do.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.londonwriterssociety.com Clyo Beck

    Great post. I intend to put a link to it in the next electronic newsletter I send out to my subscribers.

    I also love your two remarkable posts about digging deep and creating a "wow" experience for the reader.

    My readers should know about your blog and I will make sure they do.

    Thanks!

  • Sharon Piatt

    Thank you so much for the advice. I have known for a long time that God has gifted me to write. I know He works all things together… and now has me in a new season in life; the time is right. I feel a glimmer of hope and direction after reading this post.

  • Sharon Piatt

    Thank you so much for the advice. I have known for a long time that God has gifted me to write. I know He works all things together… and now has me in a new season in life; the time is right. I feel a glimmer of hope and direction after reading this post.

  • Sajad Eskandari

    Hi

    I have a poetry book in Persian language , and want to publish it by Multilanguage .
    I wrote these poem in Hafez and Sa-adi ( the famous poet ) base but by temporary pen ,is possible for you to publish this book?
    if possible for your group I ll be glad to work with you .

    with the bests
    Eskandari from Iran

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Joe_Sewell Joe Sewell

    Thanks for the reality check. I had thought God had called me to write a book or two while working a full-time job. Your post here, along with the "good advice" from others in comments, makes me realize I simply don't have the time, money, or energy to get it into the system.

  • Susan Grottke

    Now I know why I love writing childrens books and spiritual poems. Its in my blood!!!!- Susan Grottke

  • Rich Quin

    I am not an author (yet) but I dream of being one. I have somehow managed to convince myself that becoming a published writer is a significant aspect of my purpose in life.

    That is why I greatly benefit from the generous advice offered in your blog and your sincere desire to help those "would-be writers" like me.

    Thanks.

    Rich

  • Pingback: 1 Year Anniversary | Laurinda On Leadership

  • Pingback: Writer’s Thoughts 8/12/10 « The Moving Word

  • http://www.tipphealthshoppe.webs.com Carla

    I found this post very helpful. For years I have said "one day I'm going to write a book." And of course I write as much to "vent' as to actually create something worth thinking about. But I never go beyond that and have not taken the time (was I afraid?) to educate myself in the down and dirty details of what it could take. Thanks for making lists and links. Now on to get educated! Who knows????

  • Gary Hardaway

    You recommend Natasha Kern as an agent worth contacting. I have sent her two substantive messages over the past five weeks, sketching a potentially viable proposal to Thomas Nelson. She has completely ignored both. My potential proposal concerns a biography of Richard John Neuhaus, which I am well qualified to write, having done my doctoral dissertation on him. I recommend you delete Kern from your list of worthwhile contacts.

    I also recommend that you or somebody allow me to discuss this idea with Nelson.

    Thank you.

    Gary Hardaway
    P. S. You can read many of my columns on Amy Internet Syndicate

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Gary, as I state in the post, “this list does not constitute my recommendation.” It is a listing, that’s all. It is up to you to get the agent’s attention. I would suggest sending simultaneous submissions to several agents.

      I’m sorry, but we only accept proposals from agents. As I also state in the post, we don’t have the resources to review unsolicited proposals.

      Hang in there. This is what every author goes through to get published. I don’t know of any shortcuts unless you want to self-publish.

      Thanks.

  • Pingback: Why Public Speaking Is So Important for Authors

  • Marcia

    Where can I find an advocate for a new writer from CAlif. who is frustrated by a P.O.D. in Fla.?
    It's been 6 months of lack of cooperation. They have my money. Manipulate, stall and accusation represent their approach, instead of honoring our agreement to format and produce and fullfill orders.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I would hire an attorney to write a letter.

  • Richard McClatchey

    I'm a new author and really I'm serious about publishing. Thank you, Michael for your post. It helps me to understand the reality for people like me who are just trying to get their foot in the door. Basically, I'm very motivated to get this book off the ground, have it more widely known and am willing to accept being rejected. However, I know that's not the end of it and will try again until I get accepted. As you meant, don't get discouraged which sadly happens in the author world today. It's uplifting to read the facts, not some pie-in-the-sky magical theory that an author will be accepted and receive royalties within a few months. So, thanks for your down-to-earth truths about the publishing market.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome, Richard.

  • Terrell

    Is there any publisher or agent interested in fresh material with a strong biblical meaning? I write science fiction animation, fantasy which competes against strong secular animation and movies. I don’t believe in giving a little, but as much as I can give. I focus on the story, characters and world which relate to everyday people in every angle. I also understand this important law of being a Christian Writer, who serves the Lord Jesus Christ. When facing him that day I’ll always remember that I will not be judged by how I wrote, but what I wrote.

    P.S. It's time for Christian Writers to do new and better things. We have to be more creative in how we bring people to Christ and not be afraid to use our gifts. I remember what the Lord told me, "The gift I gave you is for me"

    So why limit ourselves as Christians. There are Christian Writers who can make the next big Star Wars, or the next big Superman. The characters in which we create do not exist, but it's what we put inside them that will determine the outcome to whether or not the audience understands. I am not a passive writer who serves a small God. How can a story end if it doesn’t begin?

  • Bill Walters

    It's refreshing to find a site such as this with a man like Mr. Hyatt advising aspiring authors from a prominent position within the industry. I know my book will eventually be published – one way or the other. I didn't write it for fame and fortune, but for myself, my children and to please God. If it sells, that will be icing on the cake. Finding this website gives me hope. Thank-you, Michael. May God reward your good heart.

  • http://bit.ly/bestsellerbook lightman

    I was able to hit the Amazon best seller list for 2 of my books after following EVERY step to the T in "The Best Seller Secret". Pretty amazing stuff and all very easy to do if you put in the time. http://bit.ly/bestsellerbook

  • Mark Mabrie

    Hi Michael,

    It is nice knowing you in advance. I heard about Thomas Nelson Publishers, when I was reading “Put Your Dream to the Test” by John C. Maxwell. I truly feel that once I fully commit myself to following the proper steps and through the power of prayer that we will soon become acquainted. Remember my name, my destine agent will be submitting my manuscript to you in the near future.

  • http://katykauffmanadventurewriter.blogspot.com Katy Kauffman

    I appreciate the encouragement as well. I recommend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference. It got me and my family going. We've been three years in a row, and now the dream is slowly coming true. As a new writer, I want to take in all the advice I can get, and share this…
    Write something your heart is in. All of the rejections, the hurdles, the writer's block can be conquered if we believe in what we're doing. We can make a difference with words, with our lives, for God and His kingdom. I hope not to stop short of that. So thank you for your wisdom. I think it would be awesome to hear you speak on leadership and writing. Thanks!

  • http://www.noxbox.blogspot.com Johan M

    Thank you Mr Hyatt. Is there any special thing a first time latinamerican author should consider?

  • http://www.larawilliams.org lara

    As my proposal now sits in the hands of yet another publisher, I find your words very encouraging. God put that writer’s seed within me when I was very young. And it was with purpose. As John Piper says, He raises up writers for every generation. So I press on and believe that He will complete that which He began. Thanks again.

    • Pamela

      Good Morning Lara
      I find your words very encouraging and I encourage you to,”Stand Still and
      See the Salvation of the Lord.”

  • http:meditationsfromzion.wordpress.com Irm Brown

    So many literary agent blogs to follow. . . thanks for identifying these three.

  • T. Mallory

    As a published author of 9 novels, and a writing workshop teacher, I do have a little advice for aspiring writers, because I know how frustrating it is to want so badly to reach that elusive star! So here’s my top 12!

    1. Do your own research. Read Mr. Hyatt’s advice in the article above and follow it, then search the Internet for more information on getting published.

    2. Read every book you can find on Writing, especially books written by authors.

    3. Join local writers groups and national groups that represent the genre you want to write for; take advantage of their combined knowledge and available resources.

    4. Take workshops taught by published authors. I didn’t really understand what was wrong with my writing until I took a class from SF writer, Warren Norwood. He changed my life!

    5. FINISH your book before you even start thinking about submitting to agents. You can’t submit a query to an agent or editor until you have a finished manuscript in hand, at least for your first sale. Very rarely a new writer may sell on the basis of a proposal (three chapters and a synopsis) but that is highly unusual. Instead of worrying about how you’re going to find an agent, concentrate on finishing your book and making it as polished and great as you possibly can-—then do the necessary research to find an agent.

    6. Join a good critique group, one that is supportive, yet honest. Be careful not to fall prey to groups that are all about tearing down the writer, not helping him/her become better.

    7. GO TO CONFERENCES! I can’t emphasize this enough. Every state has writing organizations that hold conferences every year. This is the ideal place to be able to meet agents and editors in person, and even make a pitch for your book. But don’t just go for this reason. Go to learn from the workshops and improve your writing so you can FINISH that book!

    8. Write every day no matter what. If you’ve been working on the same book for ten years, it’s time to either put it away, or finish it. You can never succeed in publishing if it takes ten years to write one book. Every published author must produce on a regular basis.

    9. Seek to learn how to improve your writing instead of just wanting to be published. Seek out people with experience who will help you to improve. Surrounding yourself with people who pat you on the back and tell you you’re great, when you really need to develop your writing, only guarantees that you won’t be published.

    10. Realize that publishers want books that they can “slot” into their established lines. Research those lines. Write a book that will fit one of those lines. This in no way limits your creativity. It will still be your own original and very amazing creation — but it will be more likely to find a home than an undefinable manuscript that is neither fish nor fowl. That rule, of course, is meant to be broken, but usually you have to find your way into the publishing business before you can start cracking the glass!

    11. An SF writer, Robert Vardeman once gave me the best advice of my life. He said “Be stupidly determined.” Sometimes trying to get published feels like you’re beating your head against a brick wall and feels, well, stupid. That’s okay. Be stupidly determined to get published all the way to the bank! If you FINISH what you write and do the research needed to navigate the waters of publishing, and seek to improve with every new thing you write, and follow the rules of submitting to agents and editors, you most likely WILL be published one day.

    12. Getting published is not an impossible star. Stop treating it like fantasy and treat it as a very viable and possible reality. Then get to work—it’s not easy. It’s a long, hard road and it won’t happen overnight. Are you ready to persevere and give it your best shot?

    And finally Lucky 13 –

    If you’ve done all of this and you’re still not published, don’t despair. The truth is that until you get your manuscript in front of the right agent or editor who finds your story/style/voice amazing, you won’t sell. But that can happen! There are so many agents out there–you just have to keep trying until you find the right one. Also — if you have followed all of these suggestions and aren’t published, consider that you need to take a fresh look at the book you’re submitting. I know so many writers who can’t sell a book but they spend literally YEARS shopping it around, trying to sell it. I understand why. You’ve spent so much time, energy, blood, sweat and tears on this book. But move on. Write another book. Learn from any mistakes you’ve made. Get more input from other writers. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. Submit. Submit. Submit. Write. Write. Write. Keep persevering and being stupidly determined!!

  • T. Mallory

    My comment posted twice!! Don’t know why! Sorry!

  • Pingback: Using Email Templates to Say “No” with Grace

  • Melissa

    Mike,

    Your blog was recommended by the RZIM team when I wrote them about my book idea. I was very thankful that they were kind enough to reply to me and point me to such a wonderful site. Thank you for taking the time to make a writers dream more possible.

    I would like to order your e- book “Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal” but I do not have an e-reader device. Will I be able to view it on my personal computer?

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    I was surprised to see that you didn’t include the importance of establishing a platform. I’ve never published a book, but all my friends who have tell me that the best way to catch a publisher’s eye is to have an existing platform (whether it be online, on the radio, a newspaper column, TV, or another medium). Why didn’t you include that, Michael?

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    Advice I have for first-time authors?

    - Write daily.
    - Write about what you are passionate about, not what you believe is popular.
    - Have others review your writing and ask for constructive feedback, then listen.
    - Tell more stories than actual ideas.
    - Build a platform any way you can.
    - Blog daily, because it will keep your writing skills sharp.

    Just a few I’ve learned personally.

  • http://www.debgallardo.com/virtuoso/1862/story-ideas-writers-are-like-pomegranates/ Debgallardo

    Michael,

    Do you happen to have a bare-bones, “Cliff Notes” (free) version of your killer book proposal ebooks?

    Just wondering.

    Deb Gallardo

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Actually, the ebooks themselves are pretty condensed!

      • Elizabeth

        Hi Mike-

        What sort of proposal do you suggest for writing a memoir? I submitted a non-fiction one based right off of your sample- publisher loved it (thank you for that ;) But they now believe the story is more powerful and want me to write it as a memoir- and resubmit a memoir proposal. I can not seem to find a sample Memoir Book Proposal online…can you help? Love some direction and a great example.. Thanks- Elizabeth

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I would suggest thinking of it more as a fiction format. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a format for that. Thanks.

          • Efisher

            Wow- thank you for your quick response– You suggest framing it as a fiction proposal, do you guys have a sample of that online? The non-fiction sample you have is amazing– it got me to the top of an agent’s pile and directly in with a publisher. I would love to keep following your example! If you have a fiction sample, can you share? :) The imparting of your knowledge is priceless– THANK YOU!

          • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

            I’m afraid the only thing I have is what is in my fiction proposal e-book. I don’t know of any memoir proposals online. Thanks.

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    Great post. I’ve always dreamed of writing a book and am trying to take intentional steps towards that dream this year. One question: Do you have a post on when the right time to write a book is? Part of my concern about even beginning the process outlined above is a question of mixed motives and whether or not it’s “time.” Am I being too mystical or afraid, or is there a legitimate “right time” to write a book? I’ve heard some authors say, “You just know…”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t know the answer to this question. While I think it is good to be aware of your motives, I don’t think you will ever get to the point where you are confident your motives are 100% pure. You will know a tree by it’s fruit; in this case, a book. Just write the book and let the work speak for itself.

    • Jay Clark

      Hi!  I have found in my experience that the “right time” is usually some time when the idea takes root.  I jot down some ideas for the direction I feel the book should go.  Then I just start to write.  Great writing or not, just let the words come and see where you end up.  I did this and the book I started with this formula is one of the best pieces I have ever come up with.  In addition, you should also ask for God’s guidence in the process.  I hope this helps.  In Christ, Jay Clark

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Thanks, Jay!

  • Pingback: Top Posts and Commenters for March 2011

  • Pingback: Top Posts and Commenters for April 2011

  • Pingback: Tweetly News with the Mad Hatter | A Writer In Wonderland