Getting a book published by a traditional or mainstream publishing house is the gold medal of the writer Olympics. In an age where anyone can self-publish their work, regardless of the quality of that work, having your book accepted and printed by a “brand name” book publisher is the most authoritative stamp of approval that says “I am a talented author”. How do you get there?
Approaching a Publishing House
On a very rare occasion a major publishing house will invite new authors to submit manuscripts in a particular genre for their consideration but, generally speaking, the usual way to gain admittance to the hallowed halls of the big time publishing houses is through a literary agent.
A literary agent is to the writer what a talent agent is to the singer, dancer, or actor. Many times an agent will also act as your editor, helping to improve your work before it goes to a publisher. An agent is the “Inside Man” (or woman) who has the connections within the publishing industry to get a manuscript read, knows what each publishing house is looking for and which publisher would be best for your current book.
Developing a writer-agent relationship will be the most important step in building your business as an author. Select your agent carefully.
Before you go shopping for an agent there are some things you ought to do that will ease the task and help good agents take you seriously.
You need to have a completed and polished manuscript. Did you catch the “polished” part? If need be, hire an editor to go over your manuscript with you to be certain it is the best work you can do. You do not want an agent to read your manuscript and think, “This writer has potential; but needs a lot of work”. If you’re writing fiction, be sure your first 30 pages are especially compelling; an agent will need to know that you can set up a story to make it exciting to the reader.
Few agents are in the business as philanthropists; they’re trying to earn a living and will weigh the amount of effort they will have to put into an author against what they will make from their commissions. If you’re going to stick a foot in their door, make sure it’s your best looking foot.
You also need some credentials. Get a few pieces published in magazines or literary journals. Major brand eZines may help. Self-published eBooks count only if they’ve sold very well. Your blog posts don’t count at all unless you’ve got millions of readers.
Hook up with some other authors. If you have a local writer’s guild or club; join it, if not; seek out and get involved with on-line forums where good authors in your preferred genre hang out. In either case; do this gently. Any time a group of people who share a special interest, who know and trust one another (even just virtually) are presented with a new voice that proclaims, “Hi guys, I’m just like you, I want you to welcome me into the fold and share your best secrets with me!” the usual response will be a profound and embarrassing silence.
And finally, get to know the industry. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Before you embark on your quest for an agent spend some time studying the publishing industry; what agents do, what services they offer, what do editors do, what do publishers expect; in short; learn as much as you can about this unique industry. Fortunately there is a lot of information available on the internet, by attending conferences, and by talking to book sellers and good librarians. If you have questions not answered through research, direct them to your new friends from the above paragraph.
All of this ground work can and should be done while you are completing (and polishing – don’t forget the polishing) your manuscript. In fact other authors may be willing to help you with that polishing part as well as when you get snarled up in a plot twist.
How to Find an Agent
Now that you have a marketable product and can veritably ooze professionalism as a serious writer, it is time to seek out an agent that meshes well with you and your work.
For more on getting your book into a publishing house, please refer to Chapter 11 of my book Writing for Profit or Pleasure. The book completes this topic and covers many more. For more information, click the picture at the right. Happy Writing!