Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, June 11, 2007

What To Do if You Don't Have Publishing Credits

First things first, a little late-Spring cleaning since the blog has been looking a little disheveled and dust bunnies have begun accumulating in the archives: Since I can no longer really expect someone to read all 110 posts on this blog (and God help you if you have), I now have a list of the "essential" posts listed on the front page. If you are thinking of submitting a query, please please please at the very least read these posts first, which will not only increase your chances of getting a partial request by approximately 1,000%, they may also save your life. (Yes, really..... Ok, not really)

Secondarily, in order to round out the essential posts, I'd like to devote one post to perhaps the most-asked question of all time: what do you put in the "publishing credits" section of the query letter if you don't have any publishing credits?

Are you ready?

Nothing. Just say it's your first novel. Don't apologize, don't beseech my pardon for not having placed a short story before, don't insist that you're a serious writer even though you're not published, don't reflect on the vagaries of the publishing industry and your frustration at not being a member of the holy publishing "club" (if there is a club I'm not getting the invitations). Just say it's your first novel -- I'm much more interested in your story, trust me.

Now, if you ARE listing publishing credits, there are things to keep in mind as well. You should not claim to be a "published writer" if you self-published your previous book(s), or if you've only had short stories published in journals. If you were actually published through traditional means, please be very specific about the year and the publisher.

Publishing credits won't guarantee a request for a partial, and a lack of publishing credits won't guarantee that you'll get rejected. Think of publishing credits like icing on a cake -- cake still tastes good even without icing on top.

There we are. Spring cleaning over. Now with a little dash of potpourri this blog should be good as new.


Therese said...

This looks like a great opportunity to confess: before my novel sold (at auction) last fall, I had ZERO publishing credits.

That's right. No short stories, no articles, no essays, no poems, nothing in the newspaper. Nada.

What agents and editors care about most (as Nathan has said) is whether the writing is decent and the story saleable.

I concentrated on becoming a novelist, for the most part to the exclusion of trying to publish anything else, and it has worked out very well. So don't sweat it if your pub credits are meager or nonexistent.

Just write well. :)

Liz said...

Nathan, thanks again for some common sense advice.

Totally off topic, saw an advert for "French at Heart" in the current issue of The New Yorker...her book is among some heavy hitters:) I'll bet she's thrilled with the publicity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much =D I have since went through and read all of the previous entries since I asked that question in the previous post, but the links are very helpful.

Anonymous said...

I've always heard not to put "this is my first novel," in the bio section, because, since first novels are rarely publishable anyway, the agent will automatically look at yours with suspicion.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, I don't think that's the case. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Ms. Clue-Gun said...

The Rejecter goes into more detail on her website about what are considered good credentials to list, and what aren't.

And she says that if you don't have credentials, don't say anything. Agents only care about your novel and if your writing is good or not.

Ms. Clue-Gun said...

To what Anon said,

Kristin Nelson has a sample query letter on her website:

Notice that her author wrote "Although this is my first novel, my writing experience ranges from..." The author didn't bemoan the fact that it was her first novel and lo and behold, Kristin took her novel and sold it!!!

Anonymous said...

Nathan, if a writer is involved in a critique group, should he or she mention this? Does it make a difference if the critique group includes published authors?

sylvia said...

What if you have a number of unrelated publications, for example non-fiction articles in magazines in a query for a novel?

On the one hand, I'm not sure how relevant they are. On the other hand, it's evidence that someone other than my mother likes the way I write.

Gabriele C. said...

I have a bit of the same problem. I write academic non fiction in German and novels in English, and I do have publishing credits in the former, but I don't think a novel publisher/agent will care about those.

On the other hand, it shows that I do know a bit about the business which might be something an agent would like to know. Would he, Nathan?

Nathan Bransford said...


No, I don't think you should mention a critique group. Just not sure that qualifies as a credit.


I wouldn't include unrelated publications, only publications that directly relate to your query. Fiction for fiction, nonfiction (in the subject area) for nonfiction.


I think the same goes for foreign language publications -- if it's in the subject area then I think it's worth mentioning, otherwise, I'd stick to the fiction query.

Anonymous said...


What if you're a teenaged author? Should you mention that anywhere in the query, because I know that causes a bit of extra work in the legal department, or is it irrelevant at that time?

Tom said...


What if the self-published novel was reviewed in one of the industry journals and sold a few thousand copies?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, you can mention you're a teenaged author.


Definitely mention that, but I still wouldn't call yourself "published." However, definitely say that you self-published a novel and describe your success.

John said...


How about this unique scenario: you self-publish successfully and a prominent agency takes you on. Then because of internal politics, your agent leaves just when you've finished your new novel. You're in limbo and searching again. Should you outline this in a query to a prospective agent?

As far-fetched as it sounds, this happened to me.

Nathan Bransford said...


I might mention it as briefly as possible without getting too much into the details. Leaving an agent can sometimes be seen as a red flag, but clearly your situation was out of your hands.

getitwritten_guy said...

Very helpful advice.

According to the definition given in the posting, I have no publishing credits.

On the other hand, If I've written journal articles or a column on subjects (Formula One racing, for instance)that are important to the plot of my novel, I'd like to mention them in a way that shows I have some pertinent background.

My instincts say it's fine to do that as long as I'm not representing it as being 'published'.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, you're right -- if it pertains to the work you're querying about it's definitely worth mentioning.

Wendy said...


If you've been published in magazines, should that be mentioned in your query letter? Do book publishers really care if you've been published in mags?

Jason Cook said...

Since the blogspot comment interface has a "Publish Your Comment" button, maybe someone should mention in a query to you, "Published commenter on the Nathan Bransford blog."

Double points for a noteworthy publication and the ultimate in kiss-assery, eh? Eh?

Dara said...

That's nice to know! It gives me hope :)

Anonymous said...

Are the only credentials Agents prefer published stories and novels? Or do blogs and Newsletters also count?

I would think depending on the type of blog and its quality, and also on the Agent his or her self

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