by Glen C. Strathy
Getting published is the goal of every book writer. For older writers, publishing that first book may be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. For young writers, it can be an achievement that launches a career as a professional writer.
Either way, that first sale is a big deal. It's a milestone that establishes you as a serious writer. Let's face it, most of us who love to write spent a lot of our youth dreaming of getting our books published. Authors have prestige. They are romantic figures. A few of them even make a lot of money. While there are plenty of other types of writing at which a competent, if not brilliant, writer can make a living – such as copywriting, technical writing, speech writing, or grant writing – none of these are romantic or prestigious occupations. How many high school English classrooms have portraits of famous technical writers on their walls? How many famous copywriters can you name?
These days, you have more options for getting published, such as ebooks, self-publishing, and print-on-demand, which may be commercially successful, but often are not. If you have an idea for a good book, but you are just starting out, you are probably better off going the traditional route.
The traditional route to getting published involves certain basic steps The articles below cover some of these in more detail, but here is a brief outline:
For novels, you begin process of getting published by writing a finished and polished manuscript. While it is possible to start shopping for a publisher with nothing more than an outline and a few chapters written, it is better to complete a novel first, so that you are prepared when a publisher asks to see it. Otherwise you may be in the position of having to complete the manuscript in a very short time when the request comes, and that is no easy task. There are plenty of problems that can arise when writing a novel, so it is best to solve them when you are not under such pressure.
If you are writing a non-fiction book, you can skip this step.
Once upon a time, the process of getting published meant sending
copies of a complete manuscript to various publishers along with a cover
letter introducing yourself and explaining your desire to have them
publish your book. Today, most publishers refuse to look at unsolicited
manuscripts (i.e. manuscripts they have not asked to see). So your
task is to get a publisher to request to see your manuscript. The way
you do this is to first prepare a proposal and a
Here's where novelists have things a little easier. A proposal for a novel consists primarily of the first three chapters. These give publishers the opportunity to see how well you write, the style of the book, and how skilled you are at developing your plot and characters. Some publishers will also want a brief outline or Synopsis (which is much easier to write if you have finished the novel – see above).
Non-fiction proposals can be a little more complex. While publishers generally know a lot about the people who buy novels and what sort of novels tend to sell, they may not know as much about the audience for your non-fiction book, especially if you are writing to a narrow niche. So in addition to providing one sample chapter (which can be any chapter from the book, not necessarily the first chapter), you may need to provide them with ...
- information about the audience for your book, including its size
- examples of similar books that sold well (to prove there's a market)
- a summary of what makes your book a unique contribution to the field
- your unique qualifications to write the book
In addition, you will need to provide a detailed outline, including a table of contents and summaries of each chapter.
Armed with your proposal, you then try to...
You send your proposal, along with appropriate query letters, to agents asking if they would be willing to represent you in selling your book to a publisher.
True, you could query publishers directly. Some publishers will look at unagented books, especially if they fall into one of the niche categories that agents generally do not touch. (Agents are only interested in books with the potential of selling enough copies such that the agent's commission compensates her for her time and effort. So if you are writing, for instance, a book of poetry that will only appeal to a very small audience, agents won't be interested in representing you.) In that case, you can move on to the next step.
However, for books with the potential for commercial success, your chances of getting published are better if you have an agent. Agents can get your proposal looked at much faster. Agents can generally negotiate bigger advances. This means more money for you upfront. It also means the publishing house will be more likely to promote your book – so it can earn back the money it gave you.
It's best to meet an agent face to face, perhaps at a conference, but it's a lot easier to develop a list of agents to target by researching online. Some good sites to look at are...
The last one is particularly useful, since it identifies who the less reputable agents are.
Try to find agents who are looking for works in your genre.
You can submit to more than one agent at once, even if some of them say they don't want simultaneous submissions. Just don't tell them you're doing it. Otherwise, if you submit to only one agent at a time, it could take months, if not years, before you find one who will take you on.
If you get an agent, he or she will present your proposal to publishers.
If you don't have an agent, you will want to send your proposal to many publishers at once, even if they say they don't want simultaneous submissions. The reason is simple. A publisher can take six months to a year to get back to you, and you may have to go through dozens of publishers before you sell your book. Are you willing to spend 24 years getting published? Better to let many publishers look at your proposal at the same time.
For non-fiction books: a publisher may offer you a contract based on your proposal.
For novels, a good proposal should eventually result in publishers inviting you to ...
Publishers will want to see a complete manuscript of a novel before they make you an offer, just to be sure you can actually bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
If you get an offer from one publisher, it would be polite to let the others you have submitted to know about it – just in case they want to make an offer themselves. You can only accept one offer, after all.
And that, in a nutshell, is the process. If you are persistent, and have a good book to market, getting published will be the result.
Don't be discouraged if getting published takes a while. There are an awful lot of writers trying to get publishers to read their manuscripts. Even assuming your book is terrific, every publisher and agent receives thousands of proposals and manuscripts each year. Even though most of these are of poor quality or not what publishers are looking for, your terrific manuscript is a needle in a haystack, so it will take publishers time to find it.
You may paper your office wall with rejection letters before it happens. That is just par for the course. Just keep making queries and submitting proposals until you find the right publisher for your book.
For more information, check out the following articles...
How to Write a Book Proposal for Non Fiction
The basics of proposal writing for non-fiction authors.
Manuscript Format for Novels The correct manuscript format to please editors and agents
Manuscript Evaluation: A useful precursor to getting published Improve your chances of selling your book by soliciting a manuscript evaluation first.
Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing Discover the advantages and disadvantages of self publishing versus working with traditional publishers.
How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel A common mistake when writing a synopsis is to omit the emotional twists and turns. Here's how to write a synopsis of your novel that includes that includes both plot and character.
How to Write a Query Letter Writing a query letter that addresses the needs of agents and editors will improve your chances of selling your book.
Backdoor Ways to Find a Publisher Find a publisher for your book faster by exploring ways to get a publisher's attention other than the query process.
Get Published Using Online Slushpiles Learn how authors may get published through new online slushpiles faster than the traditional route.
Follow Glen on Twitter...
"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards
"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus
"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.
"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman
"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of
knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I
truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me
successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins
"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash