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We are currently in the process of writing a debut novel. Although we are still in the early stages of writing, we both feel we have the creativity and perseverance to see this through.

What we don't have however, are any kind of qualifications or experience in this industry. We both left school with a 'C' grade in English (for those who don't know the UK grading guidelines, 'C' basically means crap, but not quite a fail). We have never attended any creative writing courses or seminars, nor do we possess the vast vocabulary that many seasoned writers seem to naturally possess.

I suppose the question is a simple and straightforward;

Forgetting about how good the book actually is, will our lack of experience and knowledge in the industry be a hindrance when it comes to publishing, and if so, how do 'newbies' get around this?

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4 Answers

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You're looking at the wrong sort of qualifications.

A publisher does not care what grades you got in school. While I ended up self-publishing, I have talked to a couple of traditional publishers, and had one contract (that ultimately fell through, but whatever), and no one ever, ever asked to see a copy of my high school report card.

And for a simple reason: They want to see the text that you write. If your writing is clear and readable and interesting and coherent, they don't care whether you learned that in school or later, or whether you were a great writer in school but your teachers were idiots, or whatever. It doesn't matter.

If you're writing non-fiction, they care about credentials in the field. Like if you're writing a book about, I don't know, the oil industry say, then they're very interested in whether you have any experience working in that industry, or have worked for government agencies overseeing the industry, etc. If your answer is, "No, but I've thought a lot about it and I read a magazine article about it, well, I looked at the pictures" then you're going to have a hard time selling.

I've never tried to write a novel so I suspect that experience in any particular field doesn't matter as much. If you are writing a novel set in feudal Japan and you are some sort of expert on feudal Japanese culture that would probably help, but I doubt it would be a big issue.

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Thanks Jay, it's good to hear this shouldn't be a stumbling block. –  KD Novels Oct 1 '13 at 21:20
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The easy answer is...it depends. I'd say if you were a computer science expert but flunked out of English consistently (and this is by no means a reflection of most technical backgrounds; most of my friends who are programmers tend to also be very logical and strong writers), it wouldn't matter because the content of what you're writing is technical.

If you're a short story novelist and never did well in writing, well, it's still not an indicator of future success. You could have written books that your teachers didn't enjoy. Or you could have really improved writing years later.

But I think what you're actually asking isn't about writing ability but whether you can get published if you don't have connections and no prior publication experience (i.e. you've never written a book before and never worked as a journalist, for example, where you publish regularly). Yes, it's possible. Do you know people in the publishing industry? Are you writing a novel that will have a strong following? There are plenty of books in niche areas that have become hits and their writers weren't famous, e.g. JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, etc. But they have a specific audience.

My coworkers who just published their books are reputable journalists but never wrote a book so they partnered with other famous in their field to publish a book with 12 authors cooperating. Perhaps this strategy can help you find the connections and publishing houses you need.

Again, always look into ebook self-publishing. It is becoming more and more legitimate, and you can grow a following from there.

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My suggestion would be to find an agent.

The agent will have the experience, knowledge, and connections which you don't, and may be able to steer you towards publishing houses which are more generous. Also, the agent may give you feedback on your work to improve its chances of publication.

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Lack of qualifications is not as much of a hindrance as lack of ability, I'd say. If you get to the stage of a publisher starting to read your manuscript then your spelling and grammar had best be impeccable.

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