This is less a problem now than it was when I first started submitting my work seriously in 1979…the reason for which should be obvious. I am a published writer with a variety of manuscripts that’re not reflected by the column to the right.
For example, I wrote the script for a Christmas musical called “Just In Time For Christmas” that had a…ahem…science fiction theme (ie, the characters used a time machine to go to various points in the past). I also had a hand in writing lyrics for a couple of the songs. At the same church, I wrote a narration for a compilation of sacred music. While the script focused on the Vietnam War, the music focused on hope.
Both of these were directed and performed, but technically are not published because no one can use them again. Besides, if I want to send Nathan Bransford my 110,000 word science fiction novel, I’m not going to use these as credits because THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH A HARD SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL WRITTEN FOR ADULTS. Instead, I mention that I’ve had three stories in ANALOG (a magazine that both publishes science fiction and has a long, verifiable and venerable reputation) and several other adult, hard science fiction publications.
But let’s say I’m going to send him my science fiction novel for teens, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH? I am actually going to do this sometime in the next six months (once I’m done editing and polishing the ms (=manuscript). In the cover letter, I will first mention my publication in CICADA (a magazine written for teens), then CRICKET (the first magazine is in the same family as this one, which has an unparalleled reputation for publishing literature for young people), and then I’ll mention ANALOG. I’ll probably throw in my two most current publications as well just to show I’m still “at it”.
Then is it “poof!” Nathan Bransford takes me on and I rocket into stardom?
*cough* *cough*…not quite.
In fact, Nathan Bransford points out: “The most important thing to remember about publishing credits big and small is the focus should be on the project you are querying about, not on your credits.” And if you have NO credits, don’t worry. Lots and lots of people have had their novels published without a single publishing credit – just lots of belief in themselves.
Keep in mind: even Stephen King and Robert Jordan had to write their first book or story. They did however, have to eventually write their first query letter. Once upon a time, no one knew who J.K. Rowling was, either…until she wrote a query letter and sent out a part of her ms.