Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
    Likes Received:

    So, You Wrote A Novel - And Want to Get it Published...

    Discussion in 'Traditional Publishing' started by BayView, Sep 25, 2016.

    There are some basic questions about getting novels published that people seem to keep asking. Nothing revolutionary, here, just some basics.

    (Note: some of this may or may not apply to non-fiction, screenplays, etc. I don’t know enough about them to be sure).

    (Another note: This is all based on the US market, as that's the market I'm familiar with and is the biggest market. In general, I'd suggest that authors writing in English focus on the US market, but I'm sure there are reasons why someone would chose to submit to agents/publishers in their home country. For those people--the content below may or may not apply.)

    The general idea of this thread is for me to post a general framework with some links, and then if anyone has more links or ideas to add, they can post them below and I’ll integrate them into the original post. And right off the top, let me say—I’m a hybrid author (I self-publish and work with publishers). So I think I’m reasonably knowledgeable about the basics of each path. But I do have a bias in favour of new authors trying for trade/traditional publication with the biggest publisher possible. I’m going to try to keep that bias under control, but… it’s there! If people want more in-depth discussions of the pros and cons of various ideas, start a discussion thread and send me the link and I’ll include it here.


    General Framework:

    Modern novel publishing can more-or-less be broken down into Trade/Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing. There are pros and cons of each—writers need to do some serious thinking in order to make a good decision about which path is best for them. It's also important to note that "path" may not be the right word--a single book may start in trade/traditional and then be self-published when the rights revert to the author; there are some (isolated) stories of self-published novels doing so well that publishers come knocking; and, of course, later books can be published using whatever techniques the author chooses (as long as there are no contract terms from publishers to the contrary--read your contracts, guys!). So this is a long way from a one-time decision.

    In order to help make that decision an informed one…

    See the chart at for some basic points about each form.

    And then a basic (and possibly biased) breakdown of what I see as the points to be considered in the decision… (this was meant to be a table, but… it was not to be. Hopefully the meaning is still clear enough…)

    Author Goals - Full independence/control/flexibility
    Author Strengths - Entrepreneurship; Determination
    Author Weaknesses - Inflexible (don’t want to compromise)
    Author Timeline - Want book available soon!
    Author Budget
    - Unless able to do all work alone, will need start-up money
    Author Participation in Promotion - The author does everything
    Author Expectations of Income - Some authors do very well, financially, through self-publishing. Most do not.

    Trade/Traditional Publishing:
    Author Goals - Books widely available in bookstores; Perceived prestige/confidence of knowing you passed “gatekeepers”
    Author Strengths - Team player, able to work well with others
    Author Weaknesses - Dependence (want support of others)
    Author Timeline - Willing/able to take longer-range approach
    Author Budget - Nil required; some pay for initial editing
    Author Participation in Promotion - The author is still expected to take part, but the publisher will (generally) set up the framework—a list of guest-blogging opportunities, chats hosted on publisher sites, publisher presence at relevant selling opportunities, etc.
    Author Expectations of Income - Larger publishers offer advances (guaranteed money!); Barring an advance, there’s no real way to predict income. But the fact that publishing companies stay in business suggests that they’re selling enough of most books to cover their costs…

    (And here’s the biased part… my honest recommendation for a new author would be to start by trying to get published with the Big Five. If that doesn’t work, consider the larger independents. If that doesn’t work… I think it’s about even between trying self-publishing and trying a smaller independent. There have been great successes coming from both paths… sometimes.)

    Trade/Traditional Publishing

    A publishing company selects manuscripts and then pays for all aspects of getting the manuscript on the market. No money should flow from the author to the publisher. Any request for money is a sign that the publisher is a scam and/or vanity publisher. Run away.

    How to find a trade/traditional publisher? It depends on what you’ve written and how you see it being published.

    If you want a Big Five publisher (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, and all their subsidiary companies) you’re probably going to need an agent. See Finding an Agent below. There are isolated stories of people getting Big Five deals without agents, but they’re pretty rare. (And once you’ve got an agent you follow your agent’s advice, not the advice on a website-so if you’re going to take that approach, you can skip the rest of this thread!)

    If you want a major independent publisher (Harlequin/Mills & Boon, etc.) you may still want an agent, but there’s a better chance of getting a contract directly. (not necessarily a good idea, but at least possible).

    If you want a smaller publisher, be prepared to do a lot of research to make sure they’re legit, but you don’t need an agent.

    So, for those who are interested in one of the options that doesn’t require an agent…

    1. Write the crap out of your manuscript. Get it beta-ed, polished, perfect. Consider hiring a paid editor. I’d recommend against doing this, myself, but there are some writers who swear by getting at least your first book professionally edited before you submit it. Used to be an absolute rookie move to even consider it, but this is shifting. You have to really trust your editor, though, or you could be paying a lot of money to make your book less attractive to publishers.

    2. Research! Go to the bookstore or browse online and find books similar to yours. Who publishes them?

    3. Research! Go to the websites of prospective publishers and investigate their submission policies, etc.

    4. Research! Go to Preditors and Editors (, the AW Water Cooler’s Bewares and Recommendations (, and do a general Google of the company name, then a search with the company name plus the word “complaint”.

    5. Research! Keep your eye out for any of the small press red flags listed at Writers Beware (

    6. If all that looks good, format your submission package exactly as requested by the press and give it a shot.

    7. Wait. Try to write something else while you’re waiting—it’ll help keep you sane.

    8. If you get an expression of interest from a publisher, contact other authors writing for that publisher and see if they can offer you any advice/caution. There’s a certain level of loyalty from most authors toward their publishers, but there’s also loyalty from authors toward other authors. If you contact three authors and they all say good things… that’s a good sign.

    9. If you get a contract offer… read it! If you don’t understand something, ask about it. Look for organizations offering contract vetting (SFWA, some writers’ guilds, etc. will offer this service for free to members). I’m not an SFWA member but their Victoria Strauss very generously offered her opinion of a particular contract term I was concerned about. Consider getting legal advice, if you can afford it.

    10. If the contract absolutely doesn’t work for you, walk away. It’s hard, but you don’t want to be stuck in a bad contract. If there are only a few sticky parts, contact the publisher and ask for changes, and then… think about what you’re willing to compromise. Compromise less for a smaller publisher (who has less to offer) than you would for a larger publisher.

    11. Once you’re satisfied with the contract, sign it! And then get to work setting up your promo!​

    Finding An Agent

    Agents don’t just find a publisher for your initial book—they can help sell subsidiary rights, definitely help negotiate contracts, and generally contribute to developing your career as a writer. They take 15% of your gross income from publishers for any deal they arranged. Any more or less than 15% is likely a red flag. They should not be paid anything out of the author’s pocket. No reading fees, etc. If they don’t find a publisher for your work, they don’t get paid. Beware of any agents who suggest you need to pay to get your MS edited—probably a scam, especially if they recommend the editor. A lot of agents will offer basic editing services themselves, for free.

    The steps in finding an agent are going to look pretty similar to the steps for finding a publisher. There’s a reason for this. Both publishers and agents are considered industry “gatekeepers”. They sort through a lot of manuscripts and try to pull out those they think have the best chance of commercial success. And there are scams in both areas, so you need to be careful.

    1. Write the crap out of your manuscript. Get it beta-ed, polished, perfect. Consider hiring a paid editor. I’d recommend against doing this, myself, but there are some writers who swear by getting at least your first book professionally edited before you submit it. Used to be an absolute rookie move to even consider it, but this is shifting. You have to really trust your editor, though, or you could be paying a lot of money to make your book less attractive to agents.

    2. Research! Go to the bookstore or browse online and find books similar to yours. Who wrote them? Is there an agent listed in the acknowledgments? If you Google the author’s name plus “agent” can you find any information?

    3. Research! Go to Query Tracker ( or Agent Query ( and do a search for agents representing your genre and sub-genre. Geographic location doesn’t really matter—I’m Canadian and have a US agent and work with US publishers. It’s not an issue.

    4. Research! Go to the websites of prospective agents and investigate their submission policies, etc. Look to see who else they represent. Consider getting a monthly subscription to Publishers’ Marketplace ( - $25/month, but really useful) so you can search their “deals” section and see who’s making good deals for their clients. The deals are reported in a fairly annoying code based on the advances (everything from $1-$50K under one category?!?) - $1-$50K = "nice deal"; $50K-$100K = "very nice deal"; $100K-$250K = "good deal"; $250K-$500K = "significant deal"; $500k and up = "major deal".

    5. Research! Go to Preditors and Editors (, the AW Water Cooler’s Bewares and Recommendations (, and do a general Google of the agent name, then a search with the company name plus the word “complaint”.

    6. Research! Keep your eye out for any of the agent red flags listed at Writers Beware (

    7. If all that looks good, format your submission package exactly as requested by the agent, polish your query letter (see good advice at but remember that different agents have different tastes) and give it a shot.

    8. Wait. Try to write something else while you’re waiting—it’ll help keep you sane.

    9. It’s usually a good idea to submit queries in batches. Maybe 10 a month? If you get rejections or no responses to the first batch of queries, you can hypothesize that there’s a problem with your query and/or first pages. If you get a couple requests for a full, you can be reasonably confident in your query/pages.

    10. If an agent contacts you and wants to talk on the phone, that’s the general sign that they want to offer representation. Remember—you are a prospective business partner, not a supplicant! Put some questions together and ask them. Decide if this is someone you want to work with. And don’t give an answer right away. If the call goes well and the agent offers, tell the agent you have other submissions out and need to contact people and suggest a timeframe for how long it take. Two weeks is probably reasonable.

    11. Contact the other agents you’ve submitted to (unless they’ve given you a firm rejection) with something like “Offer from Other Agent” as your subject line. Give them a timeline (shorter than the one you gave to your offering agent, obviously!) to get back to you.

    12. If you end up with multiple offers—yay! Very exciting. Do more research, ask the agents for lists of clients you can contact, etc. Find as many facts as you can, but don’t discount the importance of your general feelings. You’re going to be working fairly closely with this agent—find someone who seems cool.

    13. Agent contracts are generally simpler than publishing contracts (thankfully!) but they’re still legal documents you need to take seriously. Read them carefully, ask whatever questions you need, etc.

    14. General information—it’s standard for agents to represent authors, not individual works. So once you’ve signed, your agent may well ask what else you have ready or in process. That’s good! And if the agent doesn’t ask, you should probably offer the information.

    15. Once you’ve got an agent, the agent will work with you to come up with a plan for submitting your manuscript, producing future work, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise concerns, but also remember that you researched this agent really thoroughly and signed based on wanting to work with an expert. A fair degree of trust is justified.

    16. Go on submission—a whole new level of waiting and going crazy. Trust your agent and write something else.​


    You’re responsible for all the jobs of the publisher as well as the author. You’ll need to make some hard decisions re. budget, because all of the following steps can be done by the author, but you may get better results if you pay for experts.

    1. Editing. This is probably the most expensive part of the publishing process. See suggested rates at You can get the work done for cheaper, but quality isn’t guaranteed. Some self-publishers trade editing with other self-publishers. Editing is a learned skill and it’s unlikely an amateur will do a great job, but if it’s all you can afford...

    Expect your editing to take several passes—developmental editing picks out larger issues (continuity errors, unclear characterization, plot holes, etc.) while copyediting catches the little niggles.

    2. Cover Design. Again, a professional will do a better job, and there are quite a few designers out there working for not-much money.

    3. Formatting. This is one area a lot of authors do themselves. I did it myself on my first few self-pubbed books and everything was fine, but I pay someone now—it doesn’t cost much and it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about.

    4. Distribution. Amazon changes its self-publishing options pretty often so I don’t think there’s really any point going into pros and cons here, but the big decision of “Just Amazon” or “Wider Distribution” is likely to continue being a factor. Note that this decision only applies to e-books, but also note that you aren’t likely to sell a whole lot of printed self-pubbed books unless you’re hand-selling them.

    If you’re going with just Amazon, you can upload your files pretty easily (, wait twelve hours or so, and you’re on the market. If you want to use other retailers, consider Smashwords ( as a single site that distributes to a lot of others. And you may want to upload individually to specialty retailers in your genre (romance to ARe, for example).

    5. Promotion. This is huge in self-publishing, and I’m terrible at it. Hopefully some other posters will provide links, etc., to enrich this.​

    General Note re. Scams:

    There are various people in various publishing tracks looking to take advantage of publication-hungry authors. It sucks, and the best way to get rid of them is probably to starve them out.

    Communicate with your fellow authors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We get way too many authors paranoid that someone is going to steal their manuscript by taking the actual words, and not nearly enough paranoid that someone is going to “steal” their manuscript via a totally legal but morally repugnant contract. Be careful what you sign. Ask other authors for advice. Contact other authors doing business with anyone you’re thinking about signing on with. Watch out for predatory contract terms. Etc.

    And on a side note: I think there’s a useful and valid distinction to be made between assisted self-publishing and vanity publishing. I’m not sure where to fit that in, so I’ll put it here. Assisted self-publishing, in my definition, is when someone acts as a sort of general contractor for your publishing venture. If you decided to have a house built you’d probably hire a contractor who would farm out work to the plumber, electrician, etc., do some in-house, and charge you enough of a mark-up to make the time spent worthwhile. There are companies that do this for self-publishing, too. The difference between assisted self-publishing and vanity presses is that the assisted self-publishers don’t lie to you. They don’t pretend they’ve “selected” your manuscript. They don’t pretend to be trade/traditional publishers. They don’t require that you buy a certain number of copies of your book because they work on a flat fee and don’t make a profit per book you sell. (Because they know most of their clients aren’t likely to sell many). Assisted self-publishing is expensive and unnecessary, but it’s not a total scam like vanity publishing is.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2016
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
    Likes Received:
    You put a lot of effort into this, @BayView . Good job. I especially liked your last section. It's so sad when new authors get taken in by scammers, and waste their money on them.

    It's great that so many legitimate avenues exist for folk to get their books 'out there' to be read these days. And it's great that people are still reading.
    Lifeline, cydney and BayView like this.
  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
    Likes Received:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    Tristan's Opa likes this.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice