How to get a publisher
Like many authors, I’ve been writing books for years. So long in fact, that it’s easy to forget how mystifying the industry can be to those who are starting out.
Someone collared me outside the school gates a while back (a very nice someone, just to add), asking if I had any tips for publication for their friend. It soon transpired that this friend believed that it was as simple as mailing off their manuscript then signing on the dotted line… if only!
However, it doesn’t have to be needlessly complicated or stressful either. Here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way.
Getting a publisher – the process
There are basically two ways of getting a publisher:
- Through a literary agent
- Going direct to the publisher
Of course, some people find their publishers via winning competitions and the like, but we won’t focus on that for now.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll zoom in on the second option. Finding a literary agent is an art-form, and not one I ever mastered – at present, I am unrepresented! However, I would recommend exploring the option of getting a good literary agent, as they can make a real difference.
How to find the right publisher
Before anything else, you need to:
- Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be
- Find the right publisher
This means rolling up your sleeves and doing your research. Don’t settle for a simple Google search. Identify books that are similar to yours and find out who’s publishing them. Follow publishers on Twitter and get a vibe for what they’re looking for. Talk to publishers on social media – they’re often happy to respond to the occasional question.
A key point to keep in mind – there’s no point sending your amazing children’s book to a publisher that publishes adult literary fiction. If it’s not in their remit, they probably won’t even read your submission.
Check them out
There are some freaking amazing publishers out there; both large and small. However, there are a few bad eggs in the business, and you don’t want to fall foul of them.
Sites like Absolute Write and QueryTracker are useful for checking out a publisher’s credentials. Also, you’ll want to make sure they’re a traditional publisher. That means that the money flows to you, not the other way around.
Of course, it’s totally your choice – but be aware that some companies ask for thousands to publish your book, and most authors never see that money again. A traditional publisher will cover everything (though they might ask you to help with marketing – unpaid, not paid!).
Polish your submission
Make sure your submission is sparkling. Read their requirements carefully. If they ask for the first three chapters, don’t send over the first four. If they want it in Times New Roman, 12pt, then Calibri 11pt isn’t any good.
Don’t waffle on either (something I am SO guilty of myself). Keep it concise. They don’t need to know that you won that writing prize back at school. But they may well be interested to hear about the national prize you were shortlisted for recently.
If you can find an individual to address your submission to, all the better. Then, be prepared to wait. Publishers sometimes get back within a month or so, but some can take as long as six months. Some may never respond at all.
Review that contract
When a publisher says they want to publish your book, it’s the best feeling in the world. I can still remember when Amberjack told me – I nearly cried!
However, don’t let your happiness and excitement cloud your business acumen. When that contract comes through, it’ll need reviewing. A good traditional publisher won’t mind if you show it to a legal expert (and this is very much where a literary agent is worth their weight in gold).
Don’t be afraid to ask for clauses to be changed. This is all part of the negotiating process. As long as it’s handled politely and sensibly, it won’t do you any harm.
The Author’s Guild (US) and Writer’s Guild (UK) are both great for helping with contracts. You’ll need to be a paid member, but the fee is well worth their assistance.
I got lucky (considering how green I was at the start). I found a publisher that were supportive, keen to grow, and always so positive about my books – which was lovely.
Be prepared for it to take time though. Here’s a rough guide to timelines:
- I submitted the first few chapters of the first Dr Ribero book
- I heard back after six weeks or so, with a request to read the full manuscript
- They then got back to me after three months or so, saying they’d like to publish it
- Then, it went through an intensive editing process, which took around eight months
- It was finally published about eighteen months after my initial submission
In simple terms – be prepared to wait!
Amberjack have since been sold to Chicago Review Press, who have a solid reputation behind them. It’ll be interesting to see where the next phase of this journey takes me!
The last book published with Amberjack as a ‘solo entity’ was The Hanged Man and the Fortune Teller – which is now out on Kindle, in hardback, and soon via Audible.
(Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost can be found here (US) or here (UK); and the other two in the series are also available on Amazon and from all good book-stores.)