Five Reasons Why You May Never Get Published

by Steve Laube


There are many factors that go into the acquisition, development, and sale of a new book. But the majority of ideas never get to that point. I thought it might be helpful to review some of the most common issues we’ve run into.

1. You Won’t Do the Work
Writing a novel, a non-fiction work, or even a short article isn’t a casual enterprise. It takes hard work to do it well. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, has made popular the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of work before finding success. While it isn’t an exact formula there is truth to this assertion. Do the math.

If you work at your writing craft for 2o hours a week for 50 weeks it will equal one thousand (1,000) hours x 10 and the calculation reveals nearly ten years of hard work to feel like you have a chance.

Unfortunately we run into writers who have dashed off something during a lunch break and think it is worth millions.

2. You are Hard of Hearing
In other words you won’t listen to critiques and suggestions and are unteachable. I cannot count the number of times I’ve made the effort to provide a few suggestions in a letter to a prospective author only to have them fire back with an angry missive  questioning my intelligence or my Christian faith. Or there are those who simply refuse to accept editorial input claiming that the editor is incompetent, or worse.

The other day a writer cold called me by phone and pitched their idea. I gently suggested the title needed help and they bristled a little. Then they unveiled more about their story and I had to suggest that is would be a tough sell to base a novel on a 6th century Egyptian copper scroll that claims that Jesus was married and had children. The writer got angry and begin defending the authenticity of this scroll and that I needed to open my mind. Let me suffice it to say that the call ended quickly thereafter.

3. You Aren’t Ready
I thought of titling this section as “You Aren’t Good Enough” but that wouldn’t be fair. See number one above. It is a frequent error to submit a book proposal and sample chapters before it is well crafted and critiqued.

This is a danger of taking a first time project to a writers conference and pitching it before it is ready. A “false positive” (an editor or agent saying to send the proposal after the conference) gives the impression that it is ready when the agent or editor is really offering the opportunity to look at it outside the pressure of a conference. It doesn’t mean they are offering a contract. That doesn’t mean you don’t attend that conference! Instead it means that you view your pitches as “practice” not as a “sales exercise.” At least not until you’ve “done the work.”

For a non-fiction author especially it can be that while the idea is good, the platform from which they speak and minister is not “big enough.” It takes time to build that visibility but the publishers aren’t going to wait in most cases.

4. Your Idea has Already Been Done
This can be painful. You may not realize that your story line is already in a forthcoming publisher’s catalog. Or your non-fiction idea which filled a niche, has just been published by a well known author.

For example, earlier this year I was looking at a marvelous proposal (well written from an author with a modest but relatively successful platform) on the topic of the Grace of God. That same week the new Publisher’s Weekly came out with a front cover ad for Max Lucado’s new book called Grace. That is what is called a “category-killer.” The popularity of Lucado makes it very hard for another book on that topic to come out for a while.

Or to refer to the example in #2 above…there was a novel called The DaVinci Code that made the same suggestions about Jesus. In other words, “It’s been done.”

5. Agents and Editors are Blind to Your Genius
I have readily admitted in earlier blogs that there are some that got away. This business is more an art than a science. We have to learn to trust our instincts. And most of the time those instincts are spot on. However, a few get away for whatever reason.

The bottom line is that if you do the work, have a teachable spirit, are fully prepared, and with a unique idea…number five on the list shouldn’t be a problem.

32 Responses to Five Reasons Why You May Never Get Published

  1. Avatar
    Nate November 5, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    Thanks. Some of us need all the help we can get and this article appropriately puts the help back on us working hard at what we believe.

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    Diana Harkness November 5, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    Thank you. The first point is one I try to use frequently in my writing group. Work, work, work, is the only way to get better at the craft. Second point, some of us take time to process criticism and our first reaction is defensive. Those people who are offensive, who make personal attacks are clearly out of line. But, being teachable does not mean that we won’t initially be defensive–at least until we have a chance to process the criticism.

    I’m not ready to publish. . . who is? Few novels are perfect when they reach the agent, are they? It’s all practice, and practice makes perfect, right? I have never reached the point where I was completely satisfied with anything I produced. (I produced film and multi-media projects earlier in my life). I do reach the place where I can say, “it’s good enough; time to release it.” I have been wrong about that before, however, and I will be wrong again. It’s the job of agents and publishers to tell us that our project’s not yet ready. Don’t hold back.

    I hope when you say, “it’s already been done,” you accompany that by saying, “but if you have a new twist or a new direction or a new voice there may be room for it.” If you told me that there was yet another book about a child dealing with his father’s death. I would be disinclined to read it. But if I hadn’t read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I would be the poorer for it.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube November 5, 2012 at 9:19 am #


      You are EXACTLY right. “If you have a new twist or a new direction or a new voice there may be room for it.” One of the challenges of a blog post is limitation in fully explaining every nuance.

      There are numerous examples of a niche book that is quite compelling and is perfect for the market.

      I fumbled in trying to express that. Unfortunately we see much of the opposite. Too often a writer comes up with an idea and doesn’t spend the time to research the market and thus creates a book that sounds like a copy-cat or a rip-off of a bestselling book. And when that is pointed out the writer exclaims, “But mine is better!” 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Jennifer Major @Jjumping November 5, 2012 at 6:07 am #

    1-If I had a dime for every hour I spent sitting at the computer ,either reading or writing, I could afford the physio-therapy needed for all the neck and back pain I’ve endured. 🙂
    2-It’s hard, but I know if someone with 40 novels under his/her belt gives me well laid out advice, I’d better suck it up and listen.
    3-Ummm, yes, I am. 😉
    4-Maaaaaaaaaybe the ‘formula’ has been touched upon, but not the tribe, historical event or location. Not in the CBA , at least.
    5-My crit partners and I would heartily agree to this statement. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube November 5, 2012 at 9:20 am #

      Check. Check. And check. Clever Jennifer!

      • Avatar
        Jennifer Major @Jjumping November 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

        Thanks. But, uhhh, was that “Clever Jennifer can tie her own shoes” or “Clever Jennifer can extrapolate pi”?
        I’m going with the whole pi thing.

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    Lisa November 5, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Thanks for these gentle reminders. They actually help me feel more motivated. I can put in the time and be patient. I am all about being teachable. These are very applicable to everyday life as well. Sometimes things don’t unfold in the timetable we wish, but God is always faithful.

    Really it comes down to the fact that publishable or not, I will never stop writing 🙂

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube November 5, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      So glad you see it this way Lisa. I don’t want this post to seem harsh or snarky. Instead as a reality check and a bit that one would hear if they attended a class I was teaching on the topic.

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    Nancy B. Kennedy November 5, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Another obstacle to getting published is having just one good book in you. Publishers (and agents?) want a career from you. You have to be as committed to being published over the long term as you are to writing, and give your all to both enterprises. Ten thousand hours go by in a flash!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube November 5, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      True. We like to say “we are in this for the long haul.”

      I had to laugh when someone asked, “How do you know so much about books and publishing?” Well, when you do something full-time…and average 50 hours or more a week at it…times 30 years…that is 75,000 hours. I BETTER know what I’m talking about!

    • Avatar
      Dawn November 10, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      Hello. I am a new writer working toward my first publication. I began writing, outside of journaling, about 5 years ago. I am currently working on my first book proposal. I appreciate the tips on this blog and the comments. It can be quit intimidating to see how many well known and really good authors have published books in the genre that I am working towards. But I have a unique technique that I am trying in my writing. These tips and comments are reassuring and helpful.

  6. Avatar
    Deborah Gambrel November 5, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    I find it funny that one of the main obstacles for publishing is overconfidence. I fall in the opposite direction. If there is one big obstacle for me, it’s fear. I know I dont have previous work published and I am also painfully aware of all the rules that make a work great. As I work on my fifth revision of my first book, the greatest accomplishment for me next would be to give it a go. I may receive my first rejection and I may fall in the category of you need more working hours but I would have reached a small personal accomplishment.

    Thanks always for the advice,


    • Avatar
      Steve Laube November 5, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      Rejection in the writing life is a badge of courage. You’ll never get rejected unless you send something to be read.

      I knew on writer who built her craft by writing short stories for Sunday School curriculum take-home papers. She would circulate up to 100 stories at a time across the spectrum off curriculum publishers. She said that at her peak she was getting more than ten rejection letters PER DAY. But she kept at it and made a modest income. After time her craft improved to where she was rejected less and less. And then she turned her hand to full length novels and ended up publishing more than 20 novels!

  7. Avatar
    Colleen Scott November 5, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Great post!

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    Meghan Carver November 5, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Thank you, Steve, for your kindness in these points. Number four is the most difficult news to accept, since there’s no way we could know what is forthcoming. We newbies can only know what is out there already. But that’s where we go back to numbers one and two and get back to work.

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    Robin Patchen November 5, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    What a great post, and so true. I tend to be more like Deborah–sure my work will never be good enough. Rather than pray for publication, I pray my writing will continually improve. I pray God will protect me from publishing anything that, in a few years’ time, I’ll look back on and wince. Putting in those 10,000 hours and more–that works. I look back at my first novel, and I can see I’m getting there. My latest novel is much improved.

    The biggest lesson I’ve learned on this writing journey is wrapped up in your #2 above. Without dear friends and critique partners coming alongside me, gently prodding me along, I would not improve. The pride in me wants to do it all by myself, but there’s only so much I can do alone. The Spirit in me tells me to listen and learn and even help others along on the road. And isn’t the journey that much better when shared with friends?

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    Karen Fisher-Alaniz November 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Great reminders! We have to jump over the hurdles put in our way and not just write, but also do all the things that make our book the best it can be.

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    Jeanne November 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    I appreciate your post, Steve. It seems like a number of these can be chalked up to being teachable and receptive to those “in the know.” I’m new enough at this that I don’t have the bigger picture clearly in mind. I appreciate anyone who will take the time to help my writing become better, my story more unique and marketable, and for those who may one day tell me that this isn’t the time for this story.

    Thanks for your insights. As always.

  12. Avatar
    Robin Caroll November 6, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Hmmm…define “teachable” lol

    • Avatar
      Jeanne November 6, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      It is a rather nebulous concept, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball November 6, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

      Actually, it’s not. Being “teachable” means:

      1. You understand that when an editor or agent makes suggestions on your book or craft, they’re not doing so because they’re great big meanies who want to see you cry. They’re doing it because they care about you and your craft, and because they believe in working toward excellence.
      2. You can look at your work with an honest eye, seeing places to improve and then doing the work that’s necessary.
      3. Understand that any critique/edit is a give-and-take situation. That suggestions for improvement are just that, suggestions. But editors/agents don’t make those suggestions just to kill time. If they make them, it’s because they believe something needs to be strengthened or refined. Now, you may see a better way to do that, and that’s fine. But don’t greet every comment/edit with a “How can they say that about my BABY??”
      4. You understand the value and truth of “Drown your darlings.”
      5. You see the agent/editor as part of your team, not an enemy looking to undermine your confidence.
      6. You hunger to learn and to just keep getting better.

      • Avatar
        Jeanne November 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

        Karen, I appreciate you showing “teachable” from an agent/editor viewpoint. I think my original thought was somewhat in the vein you just described with such eloquence. Thanks for clarifying what it looks like from your side of the table. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Samantha Means February 10, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

        On an additional note – if someone is willing to teach you, it means they see potential. That alone should be encouragement to take their advice and keep going!

  13. Avatar
    Yolanda Ramos March 10, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    I placed my first attempt at writing on a site for peer review.When they came the reviews were good, loved the concept, the writing, etc (albeit flawed) but I also received a fair amount of criticism, which I took under my belt and applied to my writing. I am thankful for those crits, if not for them, I would not have been able to learn, and improve. Criticism, (nicely done, of course) if we’re humble enough to accept it, I believe, enables writers to move forward.

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    Jennifer N. July 31, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    Thank you for your words of wisdom. I am author by no means, but I have been haunted by a dream for so long that I had to write about it. So, that is exactly what I have been doing. With God’s help I have been pealing away this mystery from my dreams. I have grown to love the characters from my mind and hope to one day bring their story to the world. I am a realist, so I am well aware that I will most likely not be a well known author. However, one can dream right?

  15. Avatar
    Alex Bricker April 1, 2016 at 5:20 am #

    Teachablitity with humility are key components. It takes a team to make something truly shine, and with that comes understanding other perspectives.

    I think we are specifically at this stage under reason #3: “For a non-fiction author especially it can be that while the idea is good, the platform from which they speak and minister is not “big enough.” It takes time to build that visibility but the publishers aren’t going to wait in most cases.”

    Our platform needs to grow. We have about 10 key organization leaders and senior pastors who love the book, but it seems we may need additional influencers down the road who can endorse the book.

    I enjoy your honesty and integrity with these posts Steve.

  16. Avatar
    Cynthia Mahoney August 5, 2016 at 3:36 am #

    Great points, all. I love to write and probably won’t stop–rejections or not. I’ve been sweating over my MS for a lot longer than I had hoped, but surprisingly, I see that in my critique group(s), I have (unknowingly) reached the Gospel to several continents. To the glory of God that I have gone unpublished!

    Frustrated at first with beginners’ craft, I forged on … and on (and still), until ready to pitch my computer through the window. BUT THEN, GOD. I love those words. I realized through all of the people that critiqued my work had to also critique the Gospel and the Word … some had never heard … some wanted more. I believe I had one Christian in my critique group, and mostly men who read action/spy/thrillers.

    So no matter, I will continue to spin my tales of flawed men and women, saved by grace … and who struggle with backsliding, doubt, and who wallow in shame. BUT THEN, GOD.

    When I finished the MS – I realized how God’s Word spoke to me, how my husband and I struggled through similar angst. I see writing as a hobby, yes, but more so, a vehicle to take the Word to those who don’t have a personal relationship with God, and a way to recognize the spiritual battle in our own day to day walk. To me … amazing things that God does. Having a work published is a perk.

    While I will always write, work in the circles of critique groups, I pray to have all five points lined up, my craft polished, and the MS to bring understanding in my characters struggles for those who face the same problems. What a gift God gives us, even if we aren’t published.

    Love the posts, Steve, they are very much appreciated. What agency does this? I haven’t found any other than the Steve Laube Agency!

  17. Avatar
    Claire/Cindy February 9, 2018 at 5:56 pm #

    Two years later …

    Teachable is the best word in the English language. If not for critique groups, beta circles, reading — a lot (and more), we’d never grow.

    I believe it’s important to switch critique groups from time to time. My reasoning with one group (this year) included a bash-stalker who hated the genre I wrote, and made certain that I should kill my characters. All of them, and made sure everyone knew that. That is not helpful, nor teaches one anything (other than reporting to the head honcho of the stalker issue).

    Currently, searching for a new critique group because my second novel is not ready for the beta group I joined. I love teaching that grabs me, shakes my writing like an ER disaster (if you know what I mean), and turns me on my head.

    A great post, always worth revisiting. Thank you!

  18. Avatar
    John Sweeting January 18, 2019 at 12:55 pm #

    I have been reading much of your web site and taking it all in. I have been reading Bob Hostetler’s expectations and about Book Proposals from Tamela Hancock Murray. There are many expectations wrapped around the requirement for brevity, clarity, and ease of the agent/publishers job.
    I will admit to being new to studying the industry so this is a question and not a complaint. But I am not seeing how to fit all of the expectations of the cover letter, proposal, and synopsis into the limited space specified and in the ‘hook’ and ‘catchy’ manner in which to elicit interest in reading the actual manuscript. Any further guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan January 18, 2019 at 1:38 pm #

      Hi John —

      I feel your angst, truly. I have been guilty of several of these. But the request on proposals, cover letter, synopsis can be found. Takes a bit, but Steve posted a great cover letter in one of his blogs above. Other things, I have to do research in books or the internet. What’s the best pitch? What’s the best logline? Writing the synopsis without committing or wanting to commit hari kari? What in heaven’s name really goes into a cover letter? I searched the internet over and again, put together a proposal such as Steve’s link, and prayed.

      My book has not been published. Yet. I pray for that. I have pitched and queried over the years, and the manuscript at one agency was ultimately rejected, however in comparison to my other double digit rejections, this was by far the best. Worthy of being printed and put on the wall.

      The proposal/cover letter/synopsis show you are capable of following instructions, your willingness to learn from books/internet research, and give the agent a sample of your ability to write.

      As a writer, I have little to offer in the proposal as far as my qualifications. Do I have other books traditionally published? No. Do I have experience in crime fighting? No. But your research, classes, interviews, webinars with experts will help (I think).

      I hope this helps.


  1. Five Reasons Why You May Never Get Published | The Steve Laube Agency | book publishing | - November 5, 2012

    […] by Steve Laube   There are many factors that go into the acquisition, development, and sale of a new book. But the majority of ideas never get to that point. I thought it might be helpful to review some of the most common issues we've run into.  […]

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