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6 Tips for Getting Your Book Published by a Traditional Publishing House
The traditional publishing process generates the vast majority of books that are read by large audiences. Every novel you see listed on the New York Times bestseller list was issued by a traditional publisher. You don’t have to be a bestselling novelist like Dan Brown or David Baldacci to score a publishing deal. Writers with far more modest book sales still can land deals with prominent publishers like Random House, Penguin, Knopf, Riverhead, and others. Here are seven ways to make inroads with such publishing companies:
- Identify a target audience. Although you’ve personally poured your heart and soul into your book, publishing companies see the industry in a more transactional light. They evaluate books not only on their literary merits but also on their commercial potential. Within the publishing industry, certain genres hold more appeal than others. In the world of literary fiction, these include children’s books, young adult novels, science fiction, fantasy, various thriller genres, and romance novels. Needless to say, a great book can be written in any genre, but these are simply the genres with the most reliable audiences.
- Get your work in front of a literary agent. The traditional publishing process runs through literary agents. These professionals are the gatekeepers to the publishing world—and if you land a meeting, you’ll want to make sure you’ve mastered your pitch. With the support of a well-connected agent, a great book can reach the most prestigious publishers in the world. Publishers have been known to offer publishing deals to writers who lack agents, but the process is considerably harder. The annual Writer’s Market publication compiles a list of all working agents.
- Prepare a submission packet. Most literary agents do not want you to send an entire novel as part of a cold call. Here are some things they likely will want: a query letter, a 1-5 sentence blurb, a 1-2 page synopsis of the entire novel, and 1-5 sample chapters. These combined elements form your book proposal. Some agents have specific submission guidelines, and you absolutely must follow them if you aim to start a mutually respectful relationship. It’s safe to assume almost none will accept a full manuscript unsolicited.
- Submit directly to a publisher. If you don’t have an agent, you can sometimes submit directly to a publisher—just know your odds of acceptance are very slim. In the vast majority of cases, publishers will only consider a novel submitted by a reputable literary agent; an unsolicited manuscript is almost sure to be returned unread. The exceptions to this rule are if you are submitting a niche novel to a niche publishing house or if you have a personal connection to an editor who’d be willing to read you on account of that relationship.
- Embrace non-fiction. Many first time authors are fiction writers, but traditional book publishers know that the majority of bestselling titles are non-fiction. A non-fiction book can be in any number of genres—biography, autobiography, memoir, history, self-help, cookbooks, economics, political science, hard science—and collectively these genres generate more book sales than fiction titles. As such, it can be easier to get a publishing contract for a non-fiction proposal than for a fully completed novel.
- Accept that short stories and poetry do not sell. Although short stories and poetry are wonderful genres from a literary standpoint, they don’t sell a lot of print books. Major book publishers rarely issue deals (especially not deals with upfront money) to authors pitching poetry and short story anthologies. Those who do get such book deals are almost always previously published authors. New authors who specialize in these genres should look to indie publishers, university publishing services, and the self-publishing route.
5 Tips for Self-Publishing Your Book
Self-published authors eschew publishing houses and get their novel out into the world on their own. They do this by making the book available for print-on-demand, as an ebook, as an audiobook, or by printing and selling copies of the book themselves.
Here are some tips for getting your creative writing into the world via the self-publishing process:
- Prepare yourself for the responsibility. As a self-publishing author, you will be responsible for more than just a great book. You will also be responsible for proofreading, book cover design, publicity, and researching self-publishing methods. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources to help you in this endeavor. Entire self-publishing companies have sprung up to help new authors, whether they’re writing fiction, writing non-fiction, or even compiling anthologies. Kobo Writing Life is an author platform that is popular among self-publishers. So, too, is Createspace. Make the time to do your research to find the best platform for your work.
- Print-on-demand is an economical option. Perhaps the lowest risk publication method in the publishing world is print-on-demand, where copies of a book are only printed when someone orders one. First-time fiction writers often enlist companies like Amazon for print-on-demand novels.
- Ebooks are increasingly popular. Issuing digital copies of a book is even easier than print-on-demand, as it requires no paper and no printing apparatus. Once again, Amazon might be a useful resource, given its dedicated consumer base of Kindle readers.
- Self-printing is expensive but closer to the traditional route. You can self-print books in advance of publication and hope they will sell later. This is sometimes pejoratively called vanity publishing. Some small bookshops will stock self-published books by local authors, but larger chains (the few that remain) typically will not. If your book catches on, you will happily sell through your self-published copies. If it fails to find an audience, you could be stuck with stacks of your book gathering cobwebs in your home.
- Don’t forget audiobooks. Today’s audiences frequently consume novels as audiobooks. Much like printed novels, audiobooks can be issued by a traditional publisher or by the author themselves. In either scenario, you will require a narrator, who may be called upon to record dozens of hours of prose narration. Be advised that if you have a great book idea, it rarely makes sense to go directly to the audiobook stage. Essentially, every successful audiobook is a reading of a previously published book.
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