Publishing Your Novel
Many writers are surprised at how difficult it can be to find a publisher for their manuscript. While it will probably always be difficult for a new writer to break into the field, there are things you can do to improve your odds for success.
Decide if you need an agent
Smaller publishers often accept manuscripts from authors directly, but most larger publishers will not. If you want to get book-length fiction published by one of the larger publishing houses, a literary agent will be useful.
Agents can often get writers larger advances and royalties, and they deal with legal technicalities. The standard fee for this service is 15% of the advance and royalties.
If you want to find your own publisher, try looking at the smaller publishing houses who are more open to first-time novelists. Poets & Writers has a good database of small presses, and the Writer's Market, a yearly publication you can usually find at your library, lists many publishers.
For guidance on finding and selecting the right agent, the Guide to Literary Agents by Writer's Digest Books is available through your library, or use the Association of Authors' Representatives or Agent Query databases to find lists of reputable agents.
The Agent Query Web site also has a good overview of literary agents that might help you decide if you need one.
Steps to Publishing a Novel
First finish writing your book. An agent or publisher will want to see the completed manuscript before offering a contract.
Then, decide if you want to publish in a small press, or if you want to look for an agent to help you find a large publishing house.
Publishers and agents tend to be interested in certain genres and topics, so finding a good match with your novel is important. The Writer's Market, Literary Market Place, and Guide to Literary Agents will tell you what kinds of books publishers accept.
Next, check the submission guidelines to see if they want sample chapters, a synopsis, or the whole manuscript. Then you're ready to start thinking about your query letter.
Submission query letter
The query letter is the single most important part of getting an agent or editor to look at your novel. It should introduce you and your book while quickly hooking the agent’s interest. It should be brief, to the point, and no longer than one page. Here are some suggestions for a successful query letter:
Finish the manuscript first, THEN send a query letter.
Agents want to read your entire book, or at least several chapters.
- Include the title, genre and word count of your novel.
- Limit the query to one page – around 3 paragraphs.
- Let the agent know why you selected him or her.
Give a solid plot summary, remembering to stay in the space limit for a query letter.
Don’t go overboard describing all the plot twists.
Give some idea of the main character and the conflict.
Offer to send more material (a synopsis, sample chapters or a complete manuscript).
For this information and more, check out these books from our library:
The Author's Handbook by Franklynn Peterson and Judi Kesselman-Turkel.
Guide to Literary Agents by Writer's Digest Books.
Literary Market Place by Information Today Inc.
Novel & Short Story Writer's Market by Writer's Digest Books.
The Practical Writer edited by Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon.
The Writer Within You by Charles Jacobs.
The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic by Kelly Nickel.
Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman.
The Writer's Market by Writer's Digest Books.