Publishing 101

We’ve had a few questions from people not familiar with the industry about our process: How do you get published?  Do you need an agent?  Why not self-publish?

We will attempt to answer these questions here.  There are also a lot of good resources out there; you just have to visit our good friend Google.

If you’re writing fiction, you HAVE to have a completed manuscript before you even start thinking about getting published.  Non-fiction authors have the advantage of being able to submit a proposal before completing their work.  Fiction authors, it’s advisable for you to find beta readers and/or join a critique group who will help you work out some of the kinks and make necessary revisions to your novel.  Your work should be as strong as possible before you start sending it out.  Pay attention to your first 10 pages (obviously not at the expense of the rest of your novel) since that is what you will usually send out to agents.  If your first 5 or 10 pages don’t hook your reader, REVISE!

Once your novel is written, revised, and edited, you have to decide whether you want to self-publish or go through an agent.  There are different pros and cons for each avenue.  Jackson Pearce has a nice summary of these pros and cons on her blog – Publishing: Square One.  While it is possible to get published by submitting your query and manuscript directly to publishing houses, it will probably be easier (and better) to go through an agent.  Yes, they take a portion of your money as their commission, but…

  1. they have relationships with editors who can help you revise your novel past what your beta readers and/or critique group were able to help with,
  2. they have relationships with publishers that you do not, and, if they’re located in NYC, they can drop in to meet with said publishers in person quite easily without having to make flight and hotel arrangements, and
  3. they will know how to fight to get you a fair contract with the publisher (since the more money you make, the more money they make).

Before you can write your query letter, you need to know what genre your novel occupies.  Actually, you should probably have that figured out before you even start writing your novel in the first place.  Agents usually represent specific genres, and it’s a waste of your time (and theirs) if you query a YA agent when you’ve written adult SciFi.  Since you need to mention in your query what genre your novel is, this is not something you can fudge or just plain avoid.  If you can’t figure out what genre you’ve written (or want to write), there’s always Google!

You have a complete, revised novel and you know what genre your novel fits into.  Now write your query letter.  This is probably the most painful part of the process (at least it has been for us).  Go to your good friend Google and search for examples of successful (and unsuccessful) queries.  Here are some resources we’ve found:

Writing your query is the hard part; now for the tedious part.  Find agents to submit to.  One resource we found suggested going to your personal bookshelf and to the local bookstore, finding books that fit within your genre, and going to the Acknowledgements page – authors will usually thank their agents on this page.  Tip from personal experience: authors will rarely say, “Thank you to my agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary who can be contacted at…”  You’re going to have to do your research – write down the names of the people who are thanked who aren’t obviously friends/family and Google them to find out (a) if they are an agent, and (b) how you can query them (if they are accepting queries).  There are also websites where you can find agents – some of them you have to pay for, which might be worth it if you have the financial resources.

Once you find your agents, make sure you go to their website and look at their submission guidelines – you’ll look like a rank amateur if you send them your full synopsis and all they want is your first 5 pages.  Make sure you personalize your query using information you found about the agent through Google so the agent you’re querying doesn’t feel like one of many.  Each agent is special – treat them as such!

Once you’re ready to actually send your query letter and other requested materials, send them!  It’s recommended to only query 3-5 agents at a time (we’ve been doing 4).  Don’t send out new queries until you get responses on the ones that you just sent (or you pass the window of “If we don’t reply in xx weeks we aren’t interested”).  If you don’t get any positive responses, you probably need to rework your query and, perhaps, whatever other materials you sent in (sample pages, synopsis, etc.).  Then send out another batch.  Keep going until you find success.  See Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered by (guess who?) Chuck Sambuchino on The Write Life for more tips on the process as a whole.

Well, we think that about covers it.  If you have any questions we didn’t answer, please post them below!  We’ll be happy to answer (if we can), or help you find the answer (if we can’t).

Jen is the Google Queen.

blair crown



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