A senior in college wrote to me asking for career advice in publishing. Perhaps a few thoughts I shared then might be of help to you.
As your letter indicates, publishing offers many options. The ones you are focused on, rightly, are finding employment with a traditional publishing house, preferably one of the Big Five, and writing books. Many publishing professionals pursue this path with success. I hope you can be one of them.
My experience is with Christian publishing, so my career trajectory is likely to be different than yours. If you enter my name on Amazon, you will see that in the past I wrote many books to successful publication and recognition. The novellas listed as current are publisher repackages. Like all working authors in traditional publishing, I wrote based on the requirements of individual contracts. As a literary agent, I work on commission.
As for writing books, I recommend pursuing the representation of a literary agent if you want to break into traditional publishing. You had mentioned being concerned about education. Some of my authors hold MFA degrees, but others hold unrelated degrees. In the realm of fiction, the reader is less concerned about degrees and more concerned about a great read. I will say that an MFA degree shows in an author’s work, and I am confident your education will be evident in your work as well.
As a literary agent, I would ask any author basic questions, including but not limited to:
- How many manuscripts have you completed? As a new writer, you would want to submit your complete book for evaluation.
- If you have completed one manuscript, what are your plans for a continuing series?
- What is your genre?
- Who your target audience?
Since a thorough, professional proposal is critical to an author’s success, I’m sure your professors covered book-proposal writing in one or more of your classes. You may find additional tips through my series of ten blog posts about how to write proposals. Those posts apply to a writer pursuing all publishers. If you haven’t already, you can find it by visiting our agency site. The agency president, Steve Laube, has posted many other helpful resources as well that could be of benefit to you.
I have found that connecting with authors on a personal level works well. Attending conferences is instrumental in meeting agents and editors. At large meetings, where I often serve on faculty, authors find an array of helpful workshops, practicums, and continuing courses that benefit the working author. I will say that though attending conferences is valuable, being a conferee isn’t essential to landing a book contract. Writing a fantastic book is critical.
You would also benefit from joining a professional organization that offers critique groups and author fellowship, as well as industry news.
Without reviewing your proposal and manuscript, it’s hard for me to give you more specific advice. In the meantime, I hope what I have offered here has been helpful. Feel free to keep in touch.