I field a lot of questions from new and aspiring writers who get the jitters when they finish their drafts and think it’s time to release their debut novels to the world. They stutter to a halt and wonder what to do next. Will people like their books? How will people find their books? Their anxiety builds and they seek guidance. Candor more often than not serves their interests better than flattery, even if it’s not what they want to hear.
If you’re one of those authors, set your fear aside. Someone won’t like your book, probably lots of someones. So what? You can’t please everyone. Now …
Regarding traditional publishing:
- Remember that no publisher is obligated to buy your manuscript. (Neither is any agent obligated to represent your manuscript.)
- Some publishers don’t accept unagented manuscripts. Refer to the publisher’s author guidelines to make sure.
- Target those publishers and/or agents who actually handle books like yours and are accepting submissions.
- If you’ve edited your work to the best of your ability, then make sure to format your manuscript, synopsis, etc., per the publisher’s or agent’s submission requirements.
In other words, do your homework. (Just for the record, “doing your own homework” doesn’t mean pestering others to pick their brains.)
Because I’m not entirely heartless, I do have some references for you. The Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace are both venerable and reliable sources of solid information about and guidance to the publishing industry. You’ll find a proliferation of other sources online, too. If you can’t afford to purchase a printed copy or online subscription, then hie thee to your local public library’s reference section for free access.
Once you’ve narrowed down the publisher and/or agents to whom you want to submit your work, head to their websites to determine whetherhie
they’re even accepting manuscripts. If so, find the person who handles your work–it’s always better to direct your submission to a specific person than to a department in general–and follow the submission guidelines.
I cannot stress that enough: follow the submission guidelines. Agents and publishers don’t want to work with authors who can’t follow direction.
Most submission guidelines will request manuscripts or the first 50 pages or first three chapters of a manuscript and an outline or synopsis. The manuscript should be formatted in standard manuscript format. This is important. Again, you’ll find myriad sources online that provide instructions on how to write a proper synopsis and on this specific type of document formatting. I like the classic formatting explained by William Shunn. Standard manuscript formatting is a holdover from typewriter days when the standard format enabled an editor to quickly estimate with astonishing accuracy a manuscript’s word count. Editors continue to specify it.
Your submission to the agent or publisher will include a query letter. Again, Google and the aforementioned resources are your friends.
- Remember, if you’re publishing your own book, then you are responsible for all the work that a traditional publisher would do to produce a book that meets industry standards for professionalism.
- I strongly advise writers who publish their own work to hire professionals for editing, document formatting, cover design, and even marketing. (f you want to know what services I provide, go to my SERVICES page.)
- No, no one will care about your book. With over 1 million titles published every year, the competition for readers is overwhelming. Don’t count on being a unicorn. You must invest time, effort, and probably money in marketing, advertising, and promotion to sell your book. You might consider hiring a marketing professional to assist with this, too.
Book publishing is a business and running a successful business takes money and reliance upon experts. Don’t expect people to invest in your work if you won’t.
Finally, if you self-publish your book, do not expect a traditional publisher to pick it up. Except for extremely rare circumstances, that never happens.
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