Perhaps the most intimidating part of the publishing process for many authors is pitching to publishers, or more often, the agent/publisher quest—and rightfully so. Finding a suitable partner for your work who believes in you and your work and is willing to invest in it isn’t easy. Knowing where these potential partners even exist—or how to contact them—adds an entirely new layer of complexity. I regularly lead workshops on traditional book publishing vs. self-publishing, and there are several questions that come up again and again: how do I find an agent, how do I find a publisher, how do I put together my proposal? While there is no step-by-step list of advised actions—and fate, luck, and coincidence play frustratingly large roles in the process—I do have a few notes of advice for those pursuing a traditional publishing route.
1) Start by looking for an agent. If you are serious about being published by a larger house (most of which are located in New York), you will need to do the hard work of finding an appropriate agent first. Unsolicited manuscripts (unagented manuscripts) are often read by editorial assistants and interns at large houses, if they are read at all, and you are unlikely to make your way to the top of the slush pile without a seasoned and in-the-loop advocate. If you are hoping to work with a smaller, independent publisher, you may be able to forgo the agent (Orange Frazer Press, for example, seldom works with agents).
2) Proofread your email pitches, proofread your proposals, proofread your manuscript—proofread. I can’t describe how off-putting it is to receive an email pitch from an author (or even a follow-up question on a proposal) riddled with typos. Misspelling the name of our press is hardly the way to make an impression. Make people want to advocate for your work. Be kind, concise, and perfect in your communications with anyone in the industry.
3) Think about marketing. Publishing is a business, and you, as an author, are a potential investment. Your agent, and hopefully your publisher, will want to be confident in your ability to assist with marketing and promoting your book. Do you have a well-read blog, or a significant number of engaged Facebook followers, or a speaking tour in your region, or a reputation as a writer for reputable journals, magazines, and newspapers? Your “platform,” or your marketability, is important to an agent (because they want to make sure they can sell you to a publisher) and your potential publisher (because they want to make sure they will sell the books they produce). Make sure your proposal—if and when appropriate—reflects your marketing savvy and platform.
4) Become an industry insider. The biggest part of finding an agent is knowing who they are, what they represent, who they frequently sell manuscripts to, etc. Online resources like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, and others will publicize deals as they happen, so that you can research potential partners for your own project (and have a realistic idea of how similar manuscripts are received and what level of investment they’re receiving in advance/print run).
5) Do your research. I often start my publishing workshops by clearly stating what we do and do not publish (because although it’s truly a 101 workshop dedicated to educating authors about the industry, it often draws writers with manuscripts that are currently looking for publishing partners). If I clearly state that we only publish Ohio non-fiction commercially, sending me your fiction manuscript several weeks later and referencing my workshop and your desire to be traditionally published makes me feel like I either didn’t reach you or you weren’t listening.
6) Proofread. Wait, did I already mention that one? It’s worth saying again. Do not take a casual approach to your manuscript, proposal, emails, letters, cover letters, etc. These make up the first impression of you, your work, and your potential. And, we make a living out of finding typos, so we will notice yours.
Do you have other questions about a traditional publishing path? We would be happy to answer them!