So you’ve written your masterpiece – fiction or non-fiction – and now you want to get it “out there”. Of course, you realise it’s going to be hard: only celebrities get six-figure advances these days, and there are plenty of stories of even the most famous writers being turned down dozens of times before they got a break. What you need is confidence, determination, and a strategy.
First, make sure your book is perfect. I can help you with that! Before you contact any agents or publishers, or self-publish, you’ll want your manuscript to be the best it can be: good quality writing with no silly typos. You’ll also need to make sure it’s in the right format for the agent or publisher you want to approach. I can help you with that, too.
Second, make a plan. Think about your options, do your research, and decide where to start. Always have a plan B. And a plan C.
Publishing – the options
These are the big companies, the household names like Penguin and Faber & Faber. As you can imagine, they receive hundreds – thousands – of unsolicited submissions from unpublished writers, and however great your work, you’re unlikely to get much of a response if you just “cold call” them. If you want to aim for a major publisher, you’d be well advised to find yourself an agent first.
An agent will take a percentage of the royalties (your income) from book sales, but the agent will approach publishers for you, promote your work, and negotiate a contract for you.
Of course, getting an agent isn’t in itself easy – an agent will only take you on if they think you’re a marketable commodity – so you’ll need to put together a pitch to attract an agent. Search literary agents’ websites; read them carefully and choose an agent who specialises in books like yours – there’s no point in sending your horror novel to an agent who only works with children’s picture books. Check carefully the agent’s submission procedure – most agents only want to see a synopsis of your book and the first three chapters – and comply with their rules. Finally, compose a covering email that will grab their attention: keep it short and punchy, and make your book sound amazing. And then wait… some agents take weeks to make a decision. And be prepared for a no. Pick yourself up, and try someone else.
There are a lot of small publishers out there who you can approach without an agent; indeed, small publishers often don’t want to work with agents and would prefer to hear from you directly. A small publisher won’t get you the sales you’d get with a big player, but you’ll probably get more control over your book and a more personal relationship. I often work with New Haven, who are very friendly and energetic.
Do your research. Small publishers often specialise in a particular genre of fiction or subject for non-fiction, so find a company that suits your work. Then check their website for submission guidelines, and make sure you comply with them.
If you do get an offer of a publishing contract, read it carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be too hard-headed though: small publishers can’t afford to give advances and they don’t have massive advertising budgets. Be realistic, and work on building a good working relationship.
At one time, self-publishing was called “vanity publishing”, and widely sneered at, but nowadays, in the era of Youtube and influencers, self-publishing seems a natural and practical way to get your writing out there. Plus, of course, there’s the option of digital publishing, so you don’t have to pay for expensive printing.
If you do want to put out a physical paper version of your book, you’ll need to do some careful research. There are a lot of self-publishing companies eager to take your money; for a substantial fee they’ll print hundreds of copies of your book, typesetting for you and even designing the cover – make sure you’re getting value for money. And remember that you’ll have to promote and distribute the book yourself. You’ll need to approach this as a proper business venture, with a costed plan. Otherwise you’ll just have paid a lot of money for a big pile of books in your spare room.
The digital option is cheaper and less risky. Again, do your research; if you’re good with technology, you can probably set up the formatting yourself, and put your book out on a platform like Amazon at very little cost. Promoting and selling is still an issue though, and you’ll have to put some effort into marketing yourself and your work.