Recently, I’ve had several people approach me with the fabulous news that they’ve written a book (congratulations!), and they’d like to look into publishing, but they don’t know what to do next.
I’ve been working on getting published for so long, that I sometimes forget that the things I’ve learned about how to get published aren’t always obvious. With so many people asking this same question, I thought it might be helpful to share this information with all of you.
I’m going to warn you, this will be a long post, but I hope it will be helpful.
First of all, before you do anything else, you should have someone who is not family read your book and comment on it. Then you should consider those comments, make changes, and repeat the process. I would recommend sharing it with at least three people at a minimum.
Finding people can be hard, but if you’re serious about it, you should be willing to exchange manuscripts with someone else. I actually find that critiquing someone else’s work can be really helpful in showing me what kind of improvements I could make in my own work.
Also, a great place to find critique partners is the Querytracker.net forum.
There are all kinds of discussion threads, including one called “Critique Group Central.”
Do you just want to see your book in print? Do you want to share your work with family? With a broad audience? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want an agent or would you rather submit to publishers on your own? Do you want to self-publish? Do you want control over every aspect, or would you rather pass some things off and just work on writing?
Here are some things to consider:
This option can get your book out there faster, but it can be a hard road, and there are steps that normally a publisher would do that you would need to take care of. For example, you would need to do things like editing and copy-editing. I would strongly recommend that you pay someone to do that for you, as outside eyes will catch things that you as the author will not.
You will need to design a cover and format the e-book (or pay someone to do it). Also, you would be in charge of all marketing to get your book known and out there. This can be really frustrating, and it can be hard to find an audience, but these are things you would be responsible for. One thing to consider is that it can cost a good chunk of money to self-publish (if you do it right), and that is not always earned back.
That said, there are many benefits to self-publishing. For example, you get a higher percentage of any sales. You have a lot more control over content, and cover, and marketing and promotions. Some people very much want that control.
To give some other perspectives, HERE is an article from Harold Underdown, who has worked in publishing a long time. He gives a lot of good information in this article.
And HERE is an article from Elana Johnson who has both traditionally and self-published.
So there are two options here. One, you search for a publisher on your own. And two, you work to get an agent, who will then submit to publishing houses.
For both of these options, I highly recommend using QueryTracker.Net. You can use it to search for agents and publishers who publish your genre. Whether you are looking for an editor or agent, you will need to research each agent or publishing house and find out what they are looking for and whether or not they are open to unsolicited submission/queries. QueryTracker provides links to many of these agents and publishers so they are easy to research. Certainly, there are other places to find this information. There are yearly books published, but I have found QueryTracker works for me.
Once you’ve done your research, make a list of those editors/agents you want to submit to. Once you know who you want to submit to, you need to write what is called a query letter. A query letter is a letter asking the editor or agent if they would be interested in considering your work.
For good information on how to write one, here are some sites to check out:
HERE is Nathan Bransford’s post on writing query letters.
Rachelle Gardner breaks down what to include in a query letter HERE.
Janet Reid’s Query Shark is a place to see real-time improvement on query letters. You can see exactly what an agent is thinking as she reads a query letter. I recommend reading through the archives to get a sense of what a query letter should look like.
Finally, HERE is an example of a successful query letter received by Andrea Somberg.
Reasons to search for a publisher on your own:
You don’t have to split your earnings with anyone. Also, many people don’t want to take the extra time to find an agent. It would be faster to go straight to the source.
Reasons to find an agent first:
(Caveat, this is the option I chose, so I might be biased.)
Many publishers are only open to submissions through agents. The reason for this is because it saves them time. Agents have vetted the work, often done rounds of revisions to get the book closer to being publication-ready.
Agents also help you with contract negotiations. They know what to look for, and they will help you avoid contracts that aren’t favorable to authors. This can be a big deal. BIG DEAL. Better to have no contract than a bad one. I’ve seen it.
Agents act as a go-between for you and your publisher. Agents will do the hard stuff like pushing back on a cover an author doesn’t like, or dealing with problems that may come up in the editing process. Or pushing for edit notes when they are long overdue. This allows the author to maintain a more open, less tension-filled relationship with the publisher and editor which is so needed throughout the revision process.
HERE is an article on what agents do and don’t do for writers:
Honestly, I can’t imagine trying to get published without one.
The process is long and arduous to get traditionally published, and I think it’s important that people understand that up front and know what they’re getting into.
All of these options can work. It mainly depends on what your personal goals are, what you are willing to put into the process, and what you hope to get out of it.
I hope this has been helpful for you, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.
My ten-year old got a Kindle for Christmas. I might be a tad jealous since I don’t even have one, but I guess Santa was feeling generous and understood just how much that kid loves to read. And encouraging reading? Well, it IS something I try to do.
One of my favorite things about the Kindle is watching how he chooses to spend his Amazon giftcards. At first, there were a couple of recently released books he was dying for (ones that were the latest in a series he’d been reading). The choices were easy. But with all the book suggestions from Amazon based on his buying history, he realized really fast that there were plenty of other books that cost a lot less than the $10 ones he’d been buying.
The kid’s good at math, so he figured out that he could get MORE books if he got the books in the $0.99 to $2.99 range. Unless it’s a deal, I found that this range usually means self-published. I know plenty of talented self-published authors who work really hard to make their books awesome, so I had no problem with this. But I tried to go through the reviews before buying, to vet his choices. Because let’s be honest . . . there’s self-published and then there’s self-published. Those who do it right, and those who . . . don’t.
There was one book in particular where I found quite a few less-than-complimentary reviews about the quality of the writing: ‘the characters are very one-dimensional’; ‘the plot meanders completely from where it started in the beginning’; ‘the story is very derivative’ . . . Big enough issues that were brought up in enough reviews that I strongly discouraged him from getting it. That said, I let him make the final choice (since, you know, it WAS his money).
Of course he got it. “It sounds really good, Mom!” And wouldn’t you know it, by the time he finished the book (later that day, I believe), he was RAVING about the thing. “This is my second-favorite book, ever!” And the kid reads A LOT of books.
This experience really made me stop. I’ve thought a lot about this. I mean, why do we kill ourselves to make our prose shine, when in the end, our younger readers haven’t yet learned to discern the difference between excellent and mediocre writing anyway? My son liked this book because it involved dragons (his favorite subject), it had lots of action, and it reminded him of other books he loved.
Isn’t that enough to strive for?
I have to conclude that it’s not. When I consider the power of a book–a well-written book–how can I settle for anything less than my best? And it’s not just about getting it right for the reader. The writing/revising of a book is a transcendent experience that I believe makes me better as a person. I learn to find empathy for the vilest of villains. I learn to consider ideas from all different points of view. I learn what’s important to me, and I solidify my beliefs as I spend hours and hours with my characters and their views.
I can’t help but think of J.K. Rowling. She wrote for middle grade readers, and she captured them with a fun and adventurous book. But her prose was so excellent, the ideas she tackled so relatable, that she didn’t only capture middle graders. She captured the world and caused a revolution in the world of books.
Yes, her story is rare, but isn’t that what we all strive for? To write something that leaves people (including ourselves) thinking well beyond the actual reading of it? How can we possibly hope for that if we don’t give it our all?
What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?