Writing Wednesdays: Traditional publishing - a how-to

"How do I get a traditional publishing deal?" I hear you ask. Well, I heard, and I've answered.

The whole idea of getting your novel published can be daunting and confusing. I had no idea how it worked at first, and between my experiences and some research I’d done before, I’ve compiled the info into a handy blog post for you guys to learn how it works, since I get asked so often.

Find out how I got published in this post.

The first thing to know is that the vast majority of publishing houses – namely the major ones – won’t accept manuscripts sent directly by the author.

They will only accept submissions via agents. Agents are more than just a middle man (I’ll go into more depth about what they do here and in a separate post) but they are pivotal to most publishing deals.

The first step is getting a literary agent. 

You can Google, or you can look in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for a list of agents. It might take you several hours of Internet research, but it’ll pay off. Look up each agency you find and look at the authors they represent. Let’s say you write a fantasy book for teens. Do they publish any children’s/YA books? Do they publish any fantasy?

You then need to find out what they’re actually looking for. You can usually find this information on their ‘Submissions’ page. They may not be looking for anything at the moment. They may be looking for more of a certain genre. They may not specify.

Check out this post to find out how to get a literary agent, and this one to find out what literary agents actually do.

To submit your manuscript to a literary agent:

You’ll need a synopsis of your book (usually one page long) and you can find some guides online to find how to write one of those. You’ll also need a cover letter – sell your novel without being too over the top, and without saying ‘my best friend loved it!’ 

If you’re publishing online and your work is popular, then this is worth mentioning, though.
You can again find guides and help online to writing a cover letter. Keep it all professional. You’ll also likely have to submit the first three chapters of your book (or similar) so make sure these are up to scratch and you’re happy with them.

Your agent will look after you as an author.

They will act in your best interests. Agents will not ask for money upfront. If they do, take a step back and ask yourself: are they legit? Agents make money on a commission basis. It’s usually around 15% of your earnings to the publishing house they find for your work, and more like 20% for foreign rights they sell for your book.

Many writers are faced with a slew of rejection letters before they get picked up.

Both by an agent and a publishing house, but don’t lose heart. You’re not the only one.

And keep trying. If you try every agent and nothing works, or maybe they can’t sell your book to anyone, try writing another book. You still have options. Keep your chin up.

On the publishing side of things now: again, in traditional publishing, the publisher will not take money off you.

They will offer you an advance (let’s say £2000) and that’s yours. Well, mostly yours. Don’t forget that your agent will have a cut. Then when your book is published, you are paid royalties. That might be 7% of a paperback, or 45% of an ebook – just for example. These seem to be fairly average figures from research I did online and from chatting to other authors. These royalties you earn will add up, but you won’t start being paid them until they’ve earned back your £2000 advance you were originally paid. Does that make sense?

As for the actual publishing: you will be given an in-house editor.

They will work with you to edit your book ready for publication. (This doesn’t typically apply when translation rights are sold because by the time they’re sold, the book is already edited.) You will likely be talked to about the cover for the book – shown options and asked for ideas feedback. You may be given a contact in a publicity department who will get in touch with you about any press and media opportunities and book signings and the like.

I will reiterate again: you should not pay the agent or the publishing house to work with you. If they ask for a fee upfront, they may not be legit, so beware.

However: I’ve seen on the websites of some agencies that they want you to have gone to an editor with your book before you submit to them, and in that case, if you choose to get an editor for your book, they will usually ask for a fee. They’re freelancing and working with you as a one off, so expect to pay for that if you choose to take that path. But most agencies won’t ask you to do that, so don’t feel that you have to.

Hopefully, this has cleared some things up with the mysterious and scary world of publishing. If you guys have any questions, as always, I’m happy to answer them – just go to my ask box!

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