There are many more avenues to publish a book than in the past, but a writer must be committed to doing some of the legwork. It takes a lot of time and energy, but you can learn how to get your book out there on the market!
Book Publishing Tips
- Work with an independent editor who can help get your book into shape.
- Find an agent who has sold books in a similar genre.
- Don't ignore small presses.
- Be prepared to absorb some marketing costs.
- Hire a lawyer to look over contracts.
- Do you have the Great American Novel lying on your shelf? Would your life make a compelling memoir? Many people dream of getting a book published, and these days there are more publishing options than ever before. There are some important steps you need to take to get a book published, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, but when all is said and done, you'll be able to graduate from "talented amateur" to "published author."
Step 1: Research the Market
- Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction, you're going to want to do some research about the current market before submitting a proposal. The publishing industry is increasingly market-driven. Editors take into account potential book sales as much as they take into account the quality of the writing.
- There are a few ways to research the publishing market:
- Keep apprised of the New York Times bestseller list.New York Times: Bestseller Lists It's still the gold standard for ranking a book's success.
- Check out Amazon's top sellers.Amazon.com: Bestsellers in Books The top 100 books will overlap with the Times bestseller list, but there will be other books listed as well.
- Go to the bookstore and library and research similar books. This is a good process for improving your writing, regardless of market research.
- Read periodicals like Publishers Weekly to keep abreast of different trends in the industry.Publishers Weekly: Book News: Deals
- Read litblogs to see what books are being most discussed.The Complete Review: Literary Weblogs: An Overview
- The purpose of this research is not just to determine if your book project is sellable, but where to send a book proposal. Read the acknowledgments in a book to see if the writer thanks an agent. If he or she does not, you could research an author's agent online. Most literary agencies' websites list their stable of writers.
- Meeting other writers is an important component of finding an agent, editor or just refining your craft. There are several ways to network with people in the publishing industry:
- Workshopping the book in a writing program is useful to get feedback about a book's marketability. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs: Writing Programs
- A local writer's group. This is similar to a writer's program except it may be in a more informal atmosphere. SFWA: Writer's Groups
- You could also contact a popular writer directly to get a reference to an agent or a blurb for the book. This depends on the popularity of the writer, as well-known writers can field many of these requests.
- Attend a publishing convention. There are conventions throughout the year for different genres. The largest convention is BookExpo America. Official Site: BookExpo America
Step 2: Find an Editor
- It can be difficult to be objective about your own work. You can read the same page 100 times and not see a typo, grammatical mistake or factual error that an outside reader might see on the first try.
- You want your book project to be as polished as possible before it goes out to publishing professionals. While you can have a friend or relative read your book, it's sometimes helpful to have a professional editor review your work.SFWA: Independent Editors A paid editor is not only trained to make your material better, but he or she will ultimately be more objective in evaluating your book than a friend or family member will be.
- Before hiring an editor, it's important to know what you can expect from that person:
- Basic manuscript critique.
- Content editing: generally, an editor will flag problems and suggest corrections, rather than completely rewrite the text.
- Proofreading: checking for typos, spelling problems, grammar, etc.Capital Community College: Common Proofreading Symbols
- Possibly get the book into the hands of a qualified agent or acquisitions editor.Writers.net: Literary Agents DirectoryRight-Writing.com: What's an Acquisitions Editor? By no means is this a given, but it is a possibility.
- What an editor can't do:
- Guarantee publication of a book.
- Make a flawed book great.
- Automatically get the book in the hands of agents or editors.
- Make sure to work with an editor who has some experience working on books in your genre. Be sure to get some references of past writers and contact them. It's a good idea to find an editor based on another writer's recommendation.
- Most editors will charge on a per-page or per-word basis.
Step 3: Find an Agent
This step is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended. Many publishers will not look at unsolicited manuscripts submitted by writers without agents.
In the past, the Writer's Market was a mandatory resource for writers looking for representation.Amazon.com: Writer's Market It's still an enormously useful tool, but the same information about literary agents and publishers can often be found online via an agency or publisher's own website.Writers.net: Literary Agents Directory
- Once you've done your research and found an agent that represents authors similar to you, you'll want to query that agent.SFWA.org: The Complete Nobody's Guide to Query Letters Don't send a potential agent your entire manuscript. Start with a query letter instead. Your query letter should include:
- Your previous credits.
- A brief biography tailored to the subject of your book. Be sure your biography establishes you as an authority on the subject about which you've chosen to write.
- A brief summation of your book.
Additional Query Letter Tips
Read the guidelines. Every publisher or agent is going to want something different, so be sure to read that company's guidelines before assembling your query letter.
Be modest. Don't make grand proclamation such as, "This is the best literary work in the last 100 years." Literary agents can easily recognize overcompensation.
Write several drafts of your query letter. This letter is as important as the entire book.
Make sure you've done your research. When querying agents, make sure that he or she has sold similar books in the past. This will ensure that the agent has relationships with the right editors. Agents will sell fiction, non-fiction or both. It's not enough to find an agent who has sold fiction or non-fiction, but someone who is familiar with your type of work: memoir, science fiction, cookbooks, etc.
Do not pay to have your material read. Do not submit to an agent who charges fees upfront to look at your work.Wind Publications: How to Sniff Out Literary Scams
Be patient and professional. After your queries are sent out, you'll need to wait six weeks to three months for a reply. Keep all of your correspondence with agents and publishers professional and courteous.
Step 4: Contact Small Publishers
- If you want to bypass the larger publishers, you could go straight to small publishers, who very often do not require an agent for submission. Many agents will not even submit a book to a micro-press because these publishers do not pay a large advance, or any advance at all. 10% of $0.00 is not worth the agent's time. Because of this, submitting to small presses is in the author's hands.
- Approaching a small publisher is an option if:
- You were unable to secure an agent with your book project.
- Your agent was unable to sell your book.
- Your book is not widely marketable, but may be of interest to a niche group.
Small Publishing House Query Letters
- Contacting a small publisher is very similar to the process of querying an agent. In a query to a small publisher, you should include:
- Brief biography, including past credits.
- Synopsis of the book.Fiction Writer's Connection: Writing a Novel Synopsis
- Reviews of the book or blurbs, if available.New York Post: Right Book Can Make Book Sales Superb (May 28, 2008)
- Optional author photo.
- The first three chapters or 50 pages.
- Each publisher will have different requirements. Some publishers want chapters upfront, while other publishers just want a synopsis. Always ask what a publisher would like in a query before sending one.
Step 5: Self-Publishing
What happens if you've gone through the above process and still haven't gotten a bite? There's no reason for that book to gather dust on a shelf. Self-publishing is increasingly seen as a more legitimate form of publishing.
You can publish your book as a hardcover, softcover or electronic tome. Whether you go to a printer, use an online self-publishing service like Lulu or simply upload your book in an electronic format like PDF to a website is up to you and what you think would serve your target audience best.
To learn more about self-publishing alternatives, visit Mahalo's Guide to How to Self-Publish Your Book.
- Marketing is the hardest part of self-publishing, as the writer has to handle book promotion.Writing-World.com: Marketing Your Novel: Building the "Buzz" A small press may require writers to take on their own marketing as well. Marketing your book may required you to do one or more of the following:
- Get reviews.
- Get blurbs for the back cover.
- Set up interviews with blogs, newspaper and radio outlets.
- Organize a book tour or readings at your local book store.
- If you plan on marketing your own self-published book, you will want to set aside money for:
- Mailing books to reviewers: including buying additional copies of the book and postage.
- Paying travel expenses for a book tour.
- Advertising in print and online.
- Printing up advertising material, such as leaflets or postcards.
- Hiring an independent book publicist or PR firm.Writers Write: Hire The Publicist To Get The Publishing Deal
- Sometimes, even mainstream publishers do not provide a full marketing budget, so be prepared to do the legwork and foot the bill for marketing your book.
Step 6: Signing a Contract
- Whether you get picked up by a large or small publisher, or even decide to self-publish, you're going to have to sign a contract.Tara K. Harper: Book/Literary Contracts The same goes for signing on with a literary agency. It's a good idea to have a lawyer familiar with literary contracts take a look at the contract before you sign it.
- Things to take note of in a literary contract:
- The amount of the author advance.Foner Books: Negotiating Book Contract Terms and Royalties
- Who controls the rights to the book? In a common self-publishing agreement, you hold the rights of the book, so you can publish it elsewhere if you get an offer. The same may not be said of a traditional publisher's agreement.
- Movie rights. If the movie rights are sold, will you get a percentage of the profits? Other rights, such as e-book, book on tape or radio broadcast, will also be discussed.Writing-World.com: Selling All Rights: Right or Wrong?
- How royalties are set for book sales. In an agency contract, this will list how much the agent will charge upon sale of the book: normally between 10 and 15 percent.
- Who holds the copyright for the book.U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright FAQs
- Hardcover vs. paperback rights. Will the author be paid an additional advance for a paperback?
- Going out of print rights: what happens when the book goes out of print.
- Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, one thing is certain: your book is going to be rejected somewhere. Don't let it dishearten you. Harry Potter was rejected by five publishers before it was eventually accepted.Smirk Work Books: Surviving Rejection: How to Bounce Back, Stay Motivated & Keep Writing The more queries you make to both agents and publishers, the more likely it is that you'll find a willing reader eager to represent the book on your behalf.