So now you’re “pre-published”?

April 11th, 2012 • Kate

I prefer to think of myself as pre-publishedI’ve been working on getting caught up on my massive query pile, and in one I read today, I came across the term “pre-published.” Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this particular phrase, but it needled my craw today. For one thing, the querying writer used this to describe themselves, as if the term “aspiring author” or heaven forbid, “unpublished writer” was too negative. As I said on Twitter in polling my fellow agents about this particular phrase, it strikes me as a little too close to every kid on the team getting a trophy just for showing up.

Looks, guys, I get it: you’re certain you’re going to make it big one day. You’re gonna be a star, baby, a STAR! And maybe that’s true.

But calling yourself fancy names as if to hide the fact that you haven’t made it yet just feels disingenuous.

If we must permit the phrase “pre-published” to be used, save it for the author whose debut novel has been acquired, but is yet to be released.

Thoughts? Comments? Counter-arguments?

Filed Under: Slushpile

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41 Responses to “So now you’re “pre-published”?”

  1. Janet Marie Says:

    What is the world coming too? If you are pre-published you can self-publish and be, well, published. I'm pre-pubished too, in my head, but until I have a contract, or better yet and agent. I'm just a writer trying to perfect my craft. On that note, I hate labels.

  2. octodad Says:

    Janet Marie, better yet an agent? Huh? The agent is (once in a while) a pathway (maybe) to a publishing contract, not a prize in itself. That's the sort of thinking that has derailed a lot of promising careers (including mine, I regret to say), assuming that getting an agent was essential and sticking with an agent who wasn't doing me any good because, you know, you need an agent! A good agent might be worthwhile (just ask JKR), but an agent isn't as good as a contract.

  3. Janet Marie Says:

    I agree, but it is a pathway to being published. It is not the end all be all. I am a fledgling in this vicious circle, so cool ya jets. I would think the best way is to cover all bases, and go both routes. (Seek a contract and an agent). I would love to know the ratio of contracts with an agent and without, that would be interesting. While we hear the success stories of those without (JKR) just how often does that happen. But, that's just simply my thoughts. No offense meant.

  4. OliviaW Says:

    I read pre-published and assumed it meant they had a contract to be published but it hadn't actually come out yet.
    That's my situation- my query letter just says something like "wrote xyz due to be published by DFTBA Records" – even though it's been over a year now and I haven't heard about any progress on that front. At least Alan paid me upfront.

    Oh, but question: if I've won contests on various sites (Novel Novice's Harris Burdick flash fiction thing, and Figment's chosen something of mine for an anthology), do I put that in a query? How much weight do those things actually have?

  5. DaphneUn Says:

    Contest wins definitely show you have talent, and are worth mentioning. Not everyone who reads about a win may know the weight of it, but I do think it's something you should enjoy being able to say.

  6. Sara Ryan Says:

    It reminds me of "pre-pregnant," a term I have encountered occasionally online. I'd bet it's intended to convey a similar concept, e.g. "I'm trying!"

  7. DaphneUn Says:

    Oh, those wannabe mommy blogs, those are even worse! Did you see the Jezebel article I linked on Twitter the other day, with all their crazy acronyms?

  8. wthirskgaskill Says:

    My ambition is still to publish a whole book written by me, rather than appearing in an anthology, which is the most I have managed so far. I don't mind whether it is a printed book or an e-book, as long as people are willing to pay for it.

    I get conflicting messages about "raising one's profile" (which militates in favour of a lot of blogging, social networking, and generally giving away IPR as if there were no tomorrow) and literary salesmanship, which is what seems more becoming when dealing with those venerable institutions which still only accept submissions on paper (still about 80 per cent of the industry, in my UK-based experience).

    From an analytic philosophical, and linguistic, point of view, I would much rather that we (as we say in England) called a spade a spade (i.e. not an "agricultural substrate-agitation implement"). If "pre-published" means "not published", then let us have "not published" instead.

  9. @runningnekkid Says:

    In that case, am I a pre-published author of a pre-written novel? Three years ago, was I a pre-married person? Where in all heck does this sort of stuff end?

    Also, I just don't understand why there is any sort of negative connotation around the phrase unpublished. It is a perfectly functional word and people already know what it means. I mean, why make things more complicated than they have to be? Sheesh.

  10. Anne Says:

    I agree the phrase doesn't belong in a query, but can we still wear the t-shirt? πŸ˜›

  11. DaphneUn Says:

    I wouldn't have included the link if I didn't like it (just a little!).

  12. Janet Marie Says:

    Oh, a tee shirt, I like that thought!

  13. Paloma Says:

    first of all, I'd never heard that term before and am stunned. Second, I was wondering how backed up the query pile is?

  14. DaphneUn Says:

    About a month, but getting closer to less than that!

  15. Terry Spear Says:

    I've never heard that term before, but heck, that's what I was once! Contracted for 2 books, received the advances and was prepublished! Until the book publisher decided not to publish the YA line. Prior to this, she assured us to consider ourselves published authors. Ha! So we were to be published…ie, pre-published, then in one fell swoop…unpublished. Again.

  16. Adam Heine Says:

    I might call myself pre-published on my blog, if I was writing a post about all the rejections I got and trying to make the point that I was sucking in my gut, dusting myself off, and trying again. (And I probably wouldn't use it often. It gets old.)

    But in a query? That feels unprofessional.

  17. LL Muir Says:

    Don't you guys remember those days of being told which phrases were acceptable, and which were not? It's a bumpy field filled with landmines and anyone who is brave enough to reach for the other side shouldn't be mocked for using the stupid terms someone else convinced them constituted the secret handshake of the day.

  18. Mitzi Flyte Says:

    Ll Muir said it best.
    Why diss people who are trying?
    I wouldn't mock anyone who's attempting to be traditionally published. It's a difficult road.
    Of course, if in mocking someone means they drop out of the race and that's your goal….well…then you're the one with the problem.

    Mitzi Flyte

  19. Carolyn Hughey Says:

    How very arrogant of you, ma'am! If you're trying to win some points Ms Agent by mocking those individuals who have sweated over that manuscript and are jumping through hoops to get your attention, well you've lost mine!

  20. Al Stone Says:

    Wow…the arrogance of agents never ceases to amaze me, especially when many are foaming at the mouth to acquire new writers in this amazing indie boom. Who needs an agent when you can make 70%? This reminds me of a jackass agent I met at a writer's conference once. I had a meeting with him. I offered him my business card which of course contained all my contact info. on it. He waved it away and told me this, "Don't even try that." Try what? Try to give you my contact information? What secret code of agent conduct did I break? Thou shalt not think thou are important enough to exchange contact information with another human being if that human being is an Agent God. WTF ever.

  21. Mariah C. Says:

    So true!!!!!! I have seen agents act just awful at conferences, trying to hide who they are so no one dares approach them, and sit together in their little cliques and make fun of the writers there (will not name names but I have heard some shocking comments made by prominent agents!!!!!!! ) Do they not need writers to keep them afloat???? Apparently not!

  22. Al Stone Says:

    (Continued from Al…long post) BTW, I'm previously published at three houses and recently acquired the rights back to all my books. I've re-released six of them with three more to go. I'm making boat loads more money without a snotty agent. You just made yourself look like the ultimate snob. Do you realize how many writers out there see you agents as wannabe writers who make money off those with all the talent? Do you also realize that your stupid blog post is plastered all over writing loops to warn other writers to stay away from you? I have to go now so I can throw up.

  23. Krista V. Says:

    Another point to consider is that when a querying writer calls himself or herself pre-published, that takes something away from the writers who actually ARE pre-published–that is, writers whose books have sold but haven't yet come out. The truth is, I've never even called myself an author, since, in my mind, an author is someone who's actually made money off of his or her books.

    Is all of this a matter of semantics? Maybe. And I've never been one for titles and labels, anyway. I think the point Kate's trying to make is that the word choice comes across as a little unprofessional in what is supposed to be a professional business letter. And professionalism goes a long way.

  24. Carolyn Hughey Says:

    Krista, Are you saying Ms Agent's mocking WAS professional?

  25. Krista V. Says:

    I would have chosen different words, but I do think she has a point.

  26. petrae Says:

    You sure get annoyed at trivial things. Life's too short. You're going to annoy yourself into hypertension.

    The agent's disease, I suppose!

  27. petrae Says:

    Al, yes, I had to laugh, because back when I actually cared about getting an agent (I've had a half-dozen, so that was a lot of years), I used to wonder if they actually envied us for our talent and imagination. But they had so much power back then. No longer, and won't be missed. That sort of "mean girls-ish" cliquish behavior seems kind of sad and desperate now. I kind of feel sorry for them with their Manhattan rents to pay.

  28. strategerie Says:

    I'm wondering what's more disingenuous – an author calling him or herself "pre-published", or an agent using a blog to take yet another shot at those who continue to work towards publication. Authors (even the aspiring ones,) work for six months to a year on their own dime to complete a manuscript, submit it to you in hopes of garnering representation, and hopefully a sale to a publishing house. In other words, if they're not submitting, you're out of business.

    The short version of your comments? You're not open for submissions. Why not be truthful about it?

  29. Stephanie M. Says:

    I've honestly never heard that term used. It really doesn't make much sense to me. Either you've been offered (and accepted) publication or you haven't. There really isn't a "pre" the way I see it.

    Given the context in which you said it was used, I can see why someone might use it, though. I do not have a collage degree, nor have I won any awards for my novel (I just barely completed it), and it is easy to feel insecure when so many other's have a bachelor's in this and a master's in that. Oh, and they minored in this other thing too.

    I truthfully don't really delve into myself unless the agent submission page specifically requests you share something about yourself, in which I tell them that I run a bridal business.

  30. Stephanie M. Says:

    Too bad I can't change that "collage." LOL!

  31. Fiona Paul Says:


    Second: I just wanted to say I realize you have a choice about how you spend your time. You have a career and a family and yet you still find time to blog–to educate, to inform, to share your opinions (which often probably mirror the opinions of other agents) about all things publishing.

    I have an agent and a book deal, but I still read this blog regularly because it is well-written and informative. Also, I like shoes πŸ™‚ Thanks for your time and effort. Congrats on all your success!

  32. Lia Says:

    I've heard writers in my local writers group use this term, but they don't use it as a way to try to hide the fact that they're unpublished. They use it as a way to motivate themselves and remain optimistic that, yes, some day they will be published. I wouldn't look at this as a bad thing. These are the writers who actually WILL be published one day. They're the tough ones who'll persevere… This is a rough business, and I think it takes an optimistic (stubborn!) attitude to be successful. So kudos to the writer of this query letter.

  33. Morgan Says:

    Um, has this agent ever heard of a majorly successful book called THE SECRET? Has she ever heard about putting your energy into your dreams to manifest them? This is probably one of the most enlightening agent comments because it reveals the utmost snootiness that has surrounded the agenting profession for ages. At the end of the day, an agent is a sales person; that's it. But a bit different from a used car salesman b/c unlike the used car salesman, the agent makes money off the talent of others. So kudos to the writer for putting his or her positive energy into her dreams! And shame on the agent for this offensive post. I seriously can't even believe she would publically post such an ignorant statement.

  34. Stephanie M. Says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I didn't think in reading this that she was putting down the author, simply giving her opinion on a term being used. She didn't call the author worthless and an idiot. I'm just curious, for all those who essentially don't need an agent because you are too good for them, why are you following their blogs?

  35. Amy Says:

    Here, here Stephanie! Your question rings loud and clear with me. πŸ™‚

  36. kimberwrite Says:

    This is like an ob/gyn telling women who are endeavoring to conceive that it's stupid to call themselves 'pre-pregnant'.
    Chosing a doctor to deliver your baby might very well be based on generosity of spirit.

  37. Morgan Says:

    Hi Stephanie M. I, for one, don't think I'm too good for an agent. I don't think I'm too good for anything, actually. What I do want to do with my life is support others in the pursuit of their dreams. What I took offense at was the mocking tone of the agent's comment, "You’re gonna be a star, baby, a STAR!" To me, that is just the opposite of what I stand for…helping and supporting others as opposed to knocking them down with snide, obnoxious comments such as this one. The thing with dreams is you've got to believe in yourself! Or else you'll never make it and making positive statements before it's happened is a huge part of putting positive energy into your dream. Maybe you ought to try watching Joel Osteen…he was talking about this just last week that you have to speak it before it happens.

    Or maybe you're not into positive energy? Whatever the case, anyone with a dream should high-tail it away from people who are negative because they aren't worth it.

    Also, I hope the agent realizes what bad karma this is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Stephanie M. Says:


    Thank you for your thoughts. I do agree that the statement you made mention of was somewhat snide. Unfortunately, we do all make snide comments from time to time, often without realizing it. If I took offense at every person that ever made a snide comment to me, I would be perpetually bitter, and I would resent everyone. I am, however, the kind of person that reacts, and my mother-in-law gave me the best advice in regards to that years ago: it easiest to not take the offense in the first place than it is to let it go after you've already taken it in.

    I also do not believe in things like honing positive energy and karma. I'm not really into mythology, myself.

  39. Morgan Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Stephanie. I agree with your mother-in-law's statement; she sounds like a wise woman. I would add one additional tid bit to her wisdom. If the snide comment wasn't made in the first place, then there would be no need for upset on anyone's end. Upset can also include denying one's feelings (thinking they are not reacting) and that internalization can lead to ill health.

    You ought to give mythology a try though…there have been a lot of fabulous stories based on it!!

    As for positive energy…I'm definitely sending some your way πŸ™‚ Enjoy your weekend!

  40. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    I wonder if part of why this phrase in the query needled Kate was that it doesn't have to be there at all. An important rule of querying is brevity–with the focus on the manuscript. If you have publishing credits, great. If none are listed, the agent will know you are unpublished. There's no need to spend a sentence pointing it out.

  41. KimberlyAfe Says:

    I never knew what this meant either. I just figured it was exactly what you said at the end, its a writer who has a book coming out soon. πŸ™‚