You spend months, perhaps years writing your novel, perfecting the plot, and revealing your characters. You know that you have the perfect novel, but how do you convince the reading world that this is true? How do you get your prized novel before thousands of readers, whom you are certain will rush to buy thousands of copies?
When I thought my first novel was ready to publish, I had no idea what to do next. One of my patients mentioned that she had an agent and was preparing to publish an historical fiction novel. She gave me some hints about how to get started and I took the bait. Today the methods are slightly different, but the principles remain.
No matter what method is used for publishing, the critical ingredient is to make your book the best you can, before you send excerpts or manuscripts out. Assuming you have done this what is next?
As a novice author, there is an uphill battle to find a publisher. We all have “comfort zones,” and publishers are no different. Authors who are proven best sellers are more attractive to them. Nevertheless, they also look for new blood. A well written, unique idea may spark the interest of a publisher. My recommendation is to begin with “Writer’s Market” or similar publication. Now, both a book, and a subscription service, this resource lists most of the publishers in North America. There are variations of the basic resource that focus upon specific genres as well. Publishers are listed alphabetically with a great deal of detail. This contains information necessary for submissions by authors. In particular one can find out whether a publisher accepts manuscripts from new authors. Specific genres are indicated, and the publisher’s website is available for even more detailed information.
Step 1: Make a List
Make a list of publishers who accept new authors, publish your genre, and meet any other criteria you may have. I like to rank them. You may have your own idea of criteria. I chose small to medium sized companies which focused upon fiction and literature. I ranked geographically nearby companies higher (though this didn’t pan out). Often the royalty rate is listed and is typically about 8%. Time to printing may be included (it may take up to 2 years for your book to go to print).
Step 2: Do Your Homework
From the publishers’ websites glean what is required for submission. Often there is a web form to fill out with specific requirements. Expect the following as a minimum:
Query Letter (a letter with a short description of the book, a brief bio, the title and genre of the book, why your book should be considered)
Synopsis – a longer description of the book, like what might be included on a back cover
Author Bio – promote yourself
Book Excerpt - from a few chapters to the entire manuscript (usually via email, but some still require printed manuscripts)
Social Media Platform – today the greater your presence the better
The publisher will want to know, to whom your book should be directed? Who is your audience?
Some publishers expect you to do marketing of your book. They may ask for your marketing plan.
I used Writer’s Market, online searches, and The Christian Writer’s Market to search out different publishers. I found many who were not even accepting new authors and the bigger ones only work with agents. Each submission takes a lot of time, but I eventually sent out about 30 submissions.
Step 3: Consider Hiring an Agent
Consider obtaining a literary agent. There are many reasons to consider this option:
They are paid a portion of the royalties as their compensation. Beware agents who require a large upfront fee. I tried to find an agent, but after about twenty enquiries I gave up. I received no responses.
Step 4: Create a Timeline
Choose a reasonable timeline. If you don’t hear back from any agents or publishers within 6 months consider Plan B (though 6 months is not unusual).
In the meantime, keep writing. Perhaps start on the next book. Blog, build up your social media presence, drum up support from family and acquaintances.
Plan B may be to consider self-publishing. My timeline looked like this:
Total - 3 ½ years from putting “pen to paper” to a printed paperback
I was more patient than I can believe. My first reply was a poorly copied form letter thanking me for my submission, but “no thanks.” I heard back from less than 50% of the publishers to whom I sent submissions. I was about to give up and explore self-publishing when, after 1 full year, I received a letter from Comfort Publishing, a small company in North Carolina, indicating that they were interested. The sent me a contract, I signed the contract and I worked with them to get my book published.
Step 5: Sign the Contract
What happens when you get the call? Once a publisher has decided they like your book they will offer you a contract. Some things to expect:
My experience with the publisher is the subject of a longer discussion. My publisher did a great job of helping me get the book into top-notch shape. However, once it was published it was very difficult to get information. It took 1 year from the signing of the contract until my book was in print. They had a marketing person, but I received little information about what was done or expected for marketing. It was a thrill to have a publisher. I had my books on the shelves of several bookstores and in the libraries throughout my state. I received an 8% royalty, but the payments were sporadic and I was given no details or statistics about sales. Publishers can make your life easier, but they are in this to make themselves look good. They did not pick up my next novel, so my last two novels have been self-published.