If after reading “How to Publish Your Novel: A Primer on Traditional, Independent and University, and Self-Publishing” where I explore the key traits, pros, and cons of these three options for publishing your novel, you determined that you wish to publish your novel with a traditional “Big 5” publisher or an indie (independent or university) press, then read on to see what steps you need to take to get signed on.
How to Approach a Major Publishing House v. Independent or University Press
- If you wish to publish your novel with a large house such as Simon and Schuster or HarperCollins means you need to first get a literary agent who will broker the deal for you
- If you’d like to publish with an independent or university press you can contact them directly.
Beginning Your Agent & Indie Press Search with Research
A tactical approach for finding the right agent or independent or university press will serve you well and keep the process organized.
Begin by seeing who is out there, who is accepting manuscripts, and what’s involved for approaching each.
- The Writer’s Market is a seminal resource that covers the entire spectrum of publishing, including a comprehensive and updated list of respected literary agents, publishers (independent and university) and some self-publishers.
It also includes what materials you need to submit, with samples of cover letters, query letters, and synopses, protocols, and other important info about the industry.
The Writers Market is available as a print book (make sure to get the most current version as it is updated annually) or the online subscription, which is updated continuously.
Tip: The online version is preferable because by the time the current edition makes it to the marketplace, some of its information is already out of date.
Other good resources available for free on the web include:
- Authors Guild (USA)
- Association of Writers and Writing Programs
- The Writers’ Union of Canada (Canada)
- Poets and Writers
- Jane Friedman
or for a fee:
Because it is possible to submit your work to many parties at once, all of whom will have different requirements and response times, you will want to be highly organized about the submission process. A spreadsheet (Excel, Google sheet, or writing software like Evernote or Scrivener) is the perfect tool in this case.
Best is to use one page of the document (tab) for agents and a second page for independent publishers to stay organized. (You’ll find the tabs at the bottom of the doc.)
You’re very welcome to download my Literary Agent & Publisher Spreadsheet. It’s free and available to everyone. *Just make a copy to save it to your Google sheets account and you’re good to go!
Click to Access the FREE Spreadsheet (No Signing Up Necessary)
For further customization, check out how this author color codes her spreadsheets based on how applicable the agent is.
Seeking Representation: How Do You Find an Agent or Independent/University Press?
- After reading through the resources above, flag those agents/presses who accept manuscripts in your book’s genre
- Note whether the agent or press works with emerging writers or only those who have already published books
- Is their location important to you? Does the size of the agency or how many titles are acquired per year matter to you?
- Do some targeted sleuthing:
- For an agent: Read novels that are similar to yours or by authors whom you admire. In each, flip to the Acknowledgements section of the book, where the author will have invariably thanked their agent.
- For an indie press: read titles published by the specific presses you’re looking at. Note those that are similar to yours or that you loved.
The What and How of Submitting
Most agents and or indie/university presses will ask for a query letter, novel synopsis, and possibly sample chapters. You may also wish to start things off with a short and sweet cover letter.
- The query is a 1-page letter that describes the project.
- The synopsis is a 1-2 page summary of the novel.
*to see what each of these types of documents looks like as well as dos and don’ts, read Jane Friedman’s comprehensive blog on what each of these entails, complete with samples and instructions, the Writers’ Market, and any of the myriad blogs on the web that show examples.
- Make sure your submission materials are concise, error free, and gracious in tone.
- Suss out the exact editor to whom you’ll be addressing your materials. Sending to “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern” is the surest way for your package to end up rejected faster than you can say “Dear Edi …”Can’t find the info you need? Search harder. Call them. Get on Facebook into a writers’ group and ask around. (Try ours! The One Lit Place Writers Lounge on Facebook is a terrific resource as are many writing groups.)
- If you have a personal connection or loved one or more of the books or authors the agent or press has worked with, tell them! No need to gush, but the idea is that you are letting them know you are aware of the work they do and that you’ve done your homework. It shows them you are thorough and have targeted them because you feel you two would be a good fit.
- Pay close attention to their submission guidelines. If they say staple your materials, then for Pete’s sake, don’t paper clip. If they specify that you should send your materials in the body of an email and not as attachments, then please do not screw that up!
- Read your work aloud, every last syllable and also have it vetted by another writer or an editor. An agent or editor may overlooking a mis-used paper clip if they’re feeling magnanimous, but typos, lack of clarity, or wayward sentences will send your work to the bin.
Here is how you will find out your fate with each submission you make:
- Rejected (it will happen; it is not personal, nor does it mean you’re a bad writer. It simply means your work isn’t what the agent or publisher think will sell or is right for them to be the one to sell it. Simply mark the date and a “no” on your spreadsheet and move on).
- Rejected with a personal note (those are nice- pay close to attention to their feedback and/or whether they invite you to re-submit once you’ve made those changes)
- Accepted with instructions for how to proceed (crack the champagne!)
Writing the book was hard enough, so now as you enter “phase 2” what you will need most is deep breaths, staying hydrated with whatever darn drink works for you, keeping up your exercise routine, and patience.
Most importantly, this phase is long, wending, and emotionally draining, so lean on your writing coach and editor if you’ve got ‘em, (or reach out if you know you’d benefit from one!) spark up a new low-pressure writing project, and keep the faith. The good things- including publication and meeting your readership- will come.