So, after weeks, months, or even years of hard work, edits, and tears, you finally have a completed manuscript. A book to call your own. And, you’ve decided you want to pursue a traditional publisher, but you don’t know where to begin. Here are a few helpful pointers to help you on your querying journey:
1) Research the Publisher’s Mission: Every publishing house has a theme, goal, or vision for the books they publish. So, for you as an author, it’s important to study up on what the publisher would be interested in adding to their catalog. Take some time to review their website, research their books, and investigate their social media presence. Get an idea of what exactly the company is seeking, and if their goals and mission are a good match for your novel. But the key thing here is to make sure you don’t submit a manuscript to a company if your story dramatically goes against their mission, vision, or goals. For instance, don’t submit a novel with cussing or graphic sex scenes to a publisher who strives to keep their content clean. This will not only sour your relationship with the publisher, but it could ruin any chance you have of publishing with them in the future, because you may lose their trust. And trust is essential when establishing professional relationships.
2) Query an Agent: Agents can be some of the best advocates for your novel. And there are a ton of options out there for you. All you need to do is ask around, and you’ll be surprised by the connections you may find.
3) Read Their Books: This is probably my biggest recommendation. Read the books that your preferred publisher publishes. Research the sentence styles, paragraph structure, pacing, etc. of each novel to get an idea of how you need to fine-tune your book to match the company’s style. And make sure to adjust your manuscript as needed. Customizing your manuscript to be a good fit for a publishing house is beneficial, because it increases the likelihood that they will either read more, or even offer you a contract.
4) Look into Their Published Authors: Another great path to take is to go through the social media of the company’s existing published authors and see how they ruin their platforms. Take note of each author’s followers, of the number of likes and comments they get on their posts, and how they handle their online persona. This will give you a good idea of what the publisher may expect from you before they will willingly sign you. Now, there are some publishing houses that don’t worry about platform and reach who would be willing to take on a book if the story is strong enough. But a good number of publishing houses do expect you to already have a strong marketing set-up for you to sell and promote your books in the future.
5) Watch Out for Overlap: By overlap, I mean things in your novel that may be too identical or similar to other books the publisher has previously published. Don’t write characters that come across as literal copies of their previously published books. Keep an eye out for matching character names and place names that are too close to the names from previously published works. And finally, make sure your plot isn’t too similar to any of their other novels. Publishers, with a few exceptions (romance and mystery tend to be more forgiving of being formulaic), want a book that is familiar enough to please their current reader base, but unique enough to stand out from every other novel they publish. This is probably the hardest thing to do with writing, but if you work at your manuscript enough, you can craft something that will both stand out and connect with the right publishing house.
6) Customize Your Query: Just like with a resume and cover letter, make sure your query letter is customized to the specific publisher you’re pitching to. If your letter reads to much like a bland, generalized pitch without a focus around the publisher themselves, your pitch is more likely to be ignored. Show genuine interest in the company and bring in as much of your personality to your query as possible.
7) Finally, Read the Fine Print: So, you go through all the steps and, after months of waiting, your dream publisher offers you a contract. Don’t jump into signing right away. Read all the fine print. Some publishing houses will grant you full creative rights to your work. Others will require you to sign away your creative rights, allowing them to effectively “own” your book, taking away any say you have in your book’s future. The question here is, what are you willing to sacrifice in your pursuit of publication? For some people, a book is a book and they don’t mind if the publisher and editors change it dramatically to better fit the company. For others, their book is their baby, and just the thought of losing all control of it is genuinely traumatic. Never sign right away, always read over the fine print, sleep a night or two on it, then make your decision after you’ve fully weighed out all the pros and cons. That way, you can commit to a contract with the full confidence of knowing you made the best possible choice.
What are some of your thoughts and experiences with pursuing traditional publication?