The most straightforward answer to the question of how to get your work published would be, of course, to do it yourself. The merits of self-publishing versus going through a pro will continue to be hotly debated, so we will save that for another conversation. For today, let us instead assume that you want, or need, to search for a professional. How do you go about that? Even harder than finding a publisher – how do you convince one to take a chance on you?
1) Write, or Don’t Write, Your Book
This first step depends on what sort of book you are seeking to publish. If you are a fiction writer, nobody is going to publish your work without reading it first. Yes, this means taking a huge leap of faith, but it is the very rare author indeed who can sell a manuscript on speculation alone. However, if you are looking to publish a non-fiction book, be sure to get your proposal written and accepted before delving into full research and writing mode. If your proposal is not strong enough to gain interest, the full document will certainly not convince anyone, either.
2) Draft a Query Letter
Almost as important as the work itself is the pitch you craft to sell a publisher on it. Your query letter is like a cover letter for your writing; you need to convince the publisher of its merit and also of your own! Introduce yourself and your writing experience before getting into a summary of your book – a chapter-by-chapter outline is okay to include, but make sure you don’t run on past two pages, at most. And, of course, be sure to include your contact information and a self-addressed stamped envelope (a SASE) for any interested publishers!
3) Find a Publisher
Okay great, you say, I have my manuscript and my query letter, but where do I send them? This can be the tricky part. The first step is determining the genre of your book, as this will guide you toward specific publishing houses, periodicals, websites or other media through which to get your work published. For example, if you are writing a romance novel, submitting it to a travel magazine or academic journal is probably not going to work out in your favour. Research the ways your contemporaries get published and send your submissions to similar publishers. Of course, working with an agent can be a great help in this regard. But, if you cannot find or afford an agent the good news is there are many online services that, usually for a small fee, can connect you with countless publishers and agents. Here are a few to help you get started:
4) Prepare Your Work
It should go without saying that you want to send your absolute best work to a prospective publisher. It may take a publisher months to even open your submission package, so you need to make that opportunity count. Read, re-read, get an editor to read, and then read your work once more before sending it. Most publishers will also have guidelines for submission, so be sure to follow them carefully. If they have requested four chapters, send four chapters – don’t eliminate yourself from the running before they even get to your first word.
5) Keep Trying!
Choosing one publisher, sending your manuscript and sitting on your hands until you hear back is a surefire way to not get published. Send your package to as many appropriate publishers as you can, and keep working while you wait. Even the greatest writers face rejection, so don’t expect this to be easy and do not give up when it’s hard. Keep writing down your new ideas and even get started on your next manuscript, and you’ll continue to develop your skills and build your portfolio while you wait for results.
And once you do hear back from an interested publisher? It’s a careful balance of protecting your artistic integrity while showing you are able and willing to take constructive criticism. More on that another time…
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