In other articles we talk about self publishing, but today we’re going to look at how to find a publisher in the traditional sense – a publisher who will pay you royalties and bring out your book in paper and hard covers.
Fiction writing is an extremely competitive market if you take the traditional route. The advantage is that the publisher will do a lot for you – printing, distribution, publicity – they may want some input on that last one, but on the first two, they have access to sources and methods that you as an individual simply don’t. Except for a little tweeting or the odd appearance in a book store, you just have to receive the royalty checks and write your next book.
The downside of course is that it’s not easy to get a publisher to even read your book, let alone sign you up. They make most of their money from repeat books by authors who are already successful. Therefore, they’re also going to be spending most of their time liaising with those authors. They don’t have time to wade through all of the submissions they receive, or even to read the snopsis, in most cases.
Start With An Agent
So what to do? The answer is – start by finding yourself an agent. Once you do that, the question of how to find a publisher is placed firmly in the agent’s hands. They have access to publishers, often knowing them personally; and since an agent only makes money if your book is published (they get a percentage of your royalties) the publisher knows that the agent wouldn’t be wasting his or her time trying to sell your book unless they thought it would be profitable. So agents act as a kind of free professional reader, for the publishers.
In fact, the majority of traditional publishers now won’t even consider a book if it comes to them direct from the author. They’ll only look at books arriving in their inbox with an agent’s recommendation.
The result, of course, is that finding an agent is now the big question, instead of how to find a publisher. And the same rules applied that always did – the main one being, find out what they want and give it to them.
This means several things. First, it means don’t send your 1000-page history of ancient China to an agent that specializes in children’s picture books – an extreme example, but you see what we mean. You can find out about agents’ specialties from Writers Market (or the Writers and Artists Yearbook in the UK). Or look at the websites of some authors who write books like yours – they’ll often list their agent on the contact page. If not, they might thank them in the acknowledgements inside the book itself.
Second, submit your manuscript in whatever form they want. Some will want an email with a one-page synopsis and the first 30 pages; others will want a 200-word outline in an email and nothing else; etc. Whatever it is, give it to them. Yes, it means you may have to write your synopsis several times to fit the different requirements, but it’s worthwhile.
And while we on the subject of synopses or plot summaries, remember – this is the whole plot. Including the ending. You’re not writing a teaser blurb here – the agent needs to know how the book ends.
If you are not the best at spelling or grammar, consider having your book professionally edited before you submit it. At least have a couple of people read it who are good proofreaders. And watch out for spelling errors in your covering email, too. That’s the kind of thing that will make an agent click away without reading any more.
Try to sound enthusiastic about your book without writing a whole sales pitch for it. For example, tell them (briefly) why the subject excited you in the first place, and maybe what kind of readers will like it.
The Next Step
If you succeed in getting an agent, congratulations. You have taken an important first step in getting your book published. Keep in mind, however, that there are no guarantees. Despite their best efforts, your agent may not succeed in finding a publisher for you.
The best thing to do is leave it in their hands. Don’t waste time fantasizing or checking your email 100 times a day. Forget about that book for right now – and start on the next!