Tips For Writers: How To Get A Book Published

An overview of how to find the right market for your first book.

Getting your first book published can be nearly as daunting as writing it in the first place. For those who want to see their work put in print by traditional publishers, the journey can often be a long and confusing one, especially if you're not represented by a professional agent. This overview provides tips on getting your book in the door as well as exploring alternative venues of putting it in front of readers.

MAJOR PUBLISHING HOUSES

If you are not represented by a literary agent, you have a lot of work cut out for you. Not the least of this work is in researching the best publishing house for pitching your project. Unfortunately, the combination of merging and corporate downsizing by large New York publishing houses has decreased the chances for entry by what are called "mid-list authors." Mid-list authors are neither the big names such as Danielle Steele and Tom Clancy nor the genre writers of paperback romances, science fiction, westerns, etc. Mid-list authors' work generally crosses multiple genres and, as such, is difficult for bookstores to know where to place on the shelf. Accordingly, major houses put the bulk of their promotional focus on the blockbusters and on subject matter that is easily categorized by their distributors. The exception to this rule tends to be non-fiction, whereby an author's status as an expert in his or her field or as an eyewitness to history or topical world events will distinguish their tales from the competition.

You need to identify those publishers who have produced works similar in content and scope to yours. How? You can either cruise your neighborhood bookstores or do an Internet subject search at Amazon.com. In addition, Writers Digest publishes an annual reference called "Writers Market" which lists the particulars of publishing houses throughout the world.

Once you have developed a list of possible buyers, this is followed by a one-page inquiry letter to each one regarding their submission requirements. Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply.

Many publishers will ask for a one-page query letter, a synopsis, or the first three chapters as a sample of your writing style. Never send a copy of the full manuscript unless specifically requested to do so. Nor should you ever submit your materials electronically unless the publisher has requested that such transmittal is acceptable.

Pay particular attention as well to any warnings about simultaneous submissions, as editors never take kindly to knowing that their competition is reading the same thing.



If you decide to find an agent to perform all of these tasks for you, you will follow the same methodology used in identifying appropriate publishers. Some agents, for instance, only feel comfortable selling certain genres of books (i.e., science fiction) while others are open to anything that will be commercially viable. Again, "Writers Market" carries comprehensive listings of literary agencies in order to assist you in finding the best match who will be as excited about selling your book as you are.

UNIVERSITY/SMALL PRESS

Perhaps the topic of your book is of a literary, biographical or scholarly nature and would only appeal to a small segment of the population. In this case, you may want to pursue publication through a college or regional press. The downside, of course, is that smaller houses pay much smaller advances, cannot afford very much mass media promotion, and are limited in terms of how many new titles that they can release per year. A familiarity with their backlist of published titles is a must, as well as demonstrated research on how your proposal will appeal to their target markets. Literary agents typically have very little interface with the university and small press publishers because of the small return on their investment of time and energy.

E-BOOKS

Over thirty percent of all published paperback and hardcover books end up in landfills. Environmental issues such as this have prompted a number of companies to move toward an electronic medium for leisure, professional and educational text. Available as computer downloads or CD-ROMs, "e-books" not only take up less space but allow one's titles to stay on a virtual bookshelf indefinitely. Traveling readers also enjoy the convenience of being able to upload entire novels to their Palm pilots and deleting them after reading. Further, there are no overhead costs involved in warehousing from the publisher's standpoint because their titles are produced on an as-needed basis.

E-books have especially been a blessing to mid-list authors because their works can be categorized and located under more than one genre. E-book publishers don't offer advances but they do offer a higher royalty than traditional publishers because of the significantly lower development costs. In addition, titles which are commercially successful will often segue to the print-on-demand market. To find e-book publishers, do a search on Google and follow the submission requirements provided. As for agents, e-book companies prefer to deal directly with their authors.

SELF-PUBLISHING

Perhaps you feel passionately enough about your book of poetry or your anthology of humor stories to want to publish the whole thing yourself. In today's market, there is no shortage of computer software that can assist you in page lay-out, graphics and photography to produce camera-ready copy to take to a local print shop. If it's a relatively small booklet""a collection of recipes, for instance""it's even feasible to produce your project at home. The drawback to self-publishing, of course, is that you either need to hire a PR firm to help publicize that the book is available or to get out there and hawk copies of it yourself. If the book has been written in conjunction with a fund-raising event and will only be sold to the supporters of that particular cause, it won't be hard to find buyers. You won't make any money but at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your words are being read. If you want to take your book to a broader audience, you'll want to look into acquiring an ISBN as well as publicizing your book through the Internet, the trades, and through your local bookstores.

VANITY/SUBSIDIARY PRESSES

The least desirable route for aspiring authors is what's called a vanity or subsidiary publisher. These types of companies require the author to put up a significant portion of his or her money to get a book published and distributed. Obviously the more money you can afford to put into this, the happier the publisher will be to spend it. With the exception of pornography or works that will incite hate crimes and violence, these kinds of publishers are open to anything. For additional fees, they will also have their own editors work with you to make it better. Proceed with caution. Literary agents do not pitch anything to vanity or subsidiary presses because they do not believe writers should have to pay anything in order to get their books in print.

THE BEST-KEPT SECRET? CREATE SOME PRE-PUBLISHING BUZZ

The more advance interest you can stir in your book--plus the more visibility you have to generate sales--the better your chances of a publisher getting hooked. Authors who are either magazine/newspaper columnists or instructors have a definitive marketing edge over writers who are shy and reclusive. Why? Because they already have an established readership or ongoing access to potential customers or students. Publishing houses will always view with favor those individuals whom they perceive will be a hard-working asset to their own public relations efforts.

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