How To Create A Publication History

Written by Emily Harstone | June 23, 2016

One of the complaints I so often hear from new authors or authors that are new to publishing is that every agent and editor they submit their manuscript to wants to see a history of publication. It is one of the most important elements of the query letter that you send agents and /or editors.

This can be very frustrating. After all how can a writer ever create a publication history, if an editor or an agent doesn’t help them publish their first work? Particularly, since most editors and agents don’t take self published work seriously unless the author has already sold thousands of copies.

The system that relies on publication history seems to rely on flawed logic. But your publication history doesn’t have to include a full length book. The real substance that fills most authors publication histories is not novels, or books of any kind.

Instead, the foundation most publication histories are built on are literary journals.

Literary journal are magazines, some are online, some are print, that publish literature. Sometimes they publish a variety of work, sometimes only poetry, or only creative non-fiction, or only short stories. Some literary journals are very respected while others accept almost everything that is submitted to them.

The issue most novelists find themselves facing is the fact that most literary journals do not publish novel excerpts (although there are exceptions). This just means that novelists should write a few short stories, or poems, or creative non-fiction pieces to be submitted to journals.

Agents do not care if the work that you have previously published is in a different genre. Several agents have explicitly told me that. My poems have been widely published in literary journals, yet I write novels that are very mainstream, and in no way literary. Still agents have stressed the importance of my publication history to me.

The other way that writers build a publication history prior to publishing a manuscript is through anthologies. An anthology is a published collection of writing, usually on a theme. Some anthologies are published by major publishers and others by small presses. Often anthologies have a much longer shelf life than literary journals, but there are also far fewer anthologies than literary journals published each year.

I am noticing more and more books being promoted as debut novels written by authors who have been publishing work for decades. I recently read a book that was being heavily promoted as a “debut novel.” It was a great book, so I looked up the author. He had been publishing his work in literary journals for over a decade and had already published a collection of short stories with a major publisher.

This is becoming more common, not less. So make sure that your work is being seriously considered by building a strong history of publication. Unsure of where to start in terms of submitting to literary journals? This article on good literary journals for unpublished authors, is very helpful.

Remember a publication history is not built overnight, but it might take less time than you think. After all some literary journals respond to submissions within a month.