Talented, but Unknown: Leaping the Hurdles

Greetings, She Writers!

It's a new year and one of my umpteen pledges to myself is to start participating more in the SheWrites community.  That includes blogging here!

So this is what's been on my mind lately: the plight of the talented-but-unknown writer.

First, a bit of background.  In addition to writing myself, I help other writers as a coach, ghost, and editor for hire.  In recent years I've found myself working with first-time novelists who are naturally talented and have produced publishable works I'm sure readers and critics would enjoy.


In addition to helping them hone their manuscripts, I'm often asked for assistance with the next steps: finding agents, writing query letters, etc.  And that's where I get frustrated on their behalf. 


Because it's not enough anymore to be a talented unknown, waiting to be "discovered." In today's publishing world, agents and publishers want to know that the person they sign has training as a writer, has been published previously, and has a platform and a following of some kind.  In essence, a quality piece of work can no longer stand on its own.


(I’m not speaking of marketing and publicity after publication, but getting published in the first place.)


Example: My client Jill Kross, who's been writing all her life but has no formal training, works a day job as an Amtrak conductor.  She wrote a fun, terrific thriller set on a train.  It was optioned for film, and she landed a veteran New York agent. Everyone who read her novel praised it.  But ultimately – as she told journalists who interviewed her for local media -- she published with Amazon Kindle because her lack of formal credentials scared conventional publishers away. 


A woman I'm working with now is in a similar boat: Talented but with no formal training, she's written her first novel, a fine work of literary fiction based on aspects of her own life. As I assist her in trying to get an agent, I am at a loss of what to tell her about positioning herself, and can only hope someone sees the book’s merit on its own and takes it on as a passion project.


Of course, I encourage everyone I work with to consider publishing with She Writes Press.  But for those aiming to sign with a traditional publisher, what can they do to enhance their credibility, once their book is in top shape? Having a blog is necessary, but not sufficient. 


Any tips out there from those working in publishing? Are YOU a talented-but-unknown, first-time novelist with no formal training who’s overcome this hurdle? What did you say in your query, and how otherwise did you do it ?



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