Finding a Publisher or Agent

(Note: This post is part of my “Advice From an Editor” Series, and is an example of the actual kind of advice I give my editing clients)

Writing ToolsTo What Publishers Should I Send My Manuscript?

In this post, we are speaking of traditional publishers. Traditional publishers do not charge you anything to publish your book. They make their profits from a share of the income your book produces once it is published. (If a publisher asks you to pay them a fee, they are not a traditional publisher. They are either a “self-publishing” company or a “hybrid publishing” company. They receive their profits directly from the author, who pays them a fee for their services. )

If you decide you want to publish with a traditional publisher, you must find out if the publishers you are interested in accept queries and manuscripts directly from writers, or if they accept only through agents. How to find out this information is discussed below.

If you do decide to query publishers directly, often you’ll have to submit a lot of queries before you find a publisher willing to take on your manuscript. Some people get lucky and get their manuscript accepted by the first publisher they contact. But that is rare. I’d suggest making a list of publishers who you think are a “good bet” and number them in order of priority—and then send out maybe five or so queries at a time. You should expect to wait anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to get responses from publishers (and there are some who won’t respond at all). So it’s not a rush process. Once you do get a positive response and start dealing with that publisher, you must let the others know you are withdrawing your submission.You also need to be aware that the process for traditional publishing generally takes longer (up to 2 years after a contract is signed) than self-publishing which can usually be completed within a few months.

You may also choose not to accept the first offer you get from a publisher if you feel it is not suitable or fair. You will want to research about publisher contracts and understand the contract language and what is being offered; you may even want to hire a lawyer experienced in these contracts–or hire an agent. You also need to aware, when dealing with a traditional publisher, that the publisher, being the one who takes the money risk, has the right to make some decisions about changes you may not always agree with. The publisher may want you to make some quite substantial changes to your text, in order to make the book “saleable” (in their viewpoint) or to make it fit their market. This is why most publishers want to see sample pages/chapters, as well as have a description of your vision for the book (including a full proposal for non-fiction works), and then they can decide how they’d like to proceed, if they decide to accept it. If you go through an agent, the agent can negotiate on your behalf; if you deal directly with the publisher, you’ll be personally negotiating—not just the layout, further editing of the text, illustrations, the book title, and more—but also the contract’s financial terms. You can, of course, make suggestions and send along sample photos or artwork, but again, the publisher will be involved in making those decisions.

If you decide to query publishers yourself, instead of finding an agent, you will want to get a copy of the Writer’s Market (there is a new edition every year, and there are also sub-books that focus on specific kinds of publishers/markets such as The Christian Writer’s Market) and go through it carefully, finding out exactly what every publisher is looking for in terms of genres, etc., as well as their exact requirements in how they accept submissions. Then you must pick out the ones you think your book would most suit, and follow their instructions precisely. Besides using these guides, you can also check publishers’ websites, which often have a page which provides the same kind of information. If you are writing articles for magazines, rather than writing a book, check back copies of the magazines; many of them will contain submission information as well.

Public libraries and bookstores carry the Writers Market volumes in their reference sections, or you can purchase a paper copy or an online copy from The guide comes in both book format, and online format (which is updated constantly).  In fact, I highly advise you to look through the entire Writers Digest website; there are articles about pretty much any writing and publishing topic you can imagine, and they have a great collection of reference books as well. I also highly recommend their monthly magazine, which you can get with an online subscription or purchase in bookstores. It is also packed with great advice, and also lots of information on what particular publishers are looking for right now.

How Does An Agent Fit into the Picture?

Instead of trying to find a publisher themselves, a lot of writers instead get an agent to find a publisher. Experienced agents know the publishers, and what they are looking for. Your agent will submit your query and manuscript to publishers that are most likely to be interested. If your agent succeeds in finding you a publisher, the agent will usually get 15% of whatever you earn from the publisher. Your agent will not only find you a publisher, but will help you communicate with the publisher throughout the publishing process, as well as help you get good contract terms, and make sure you receive your royalties. Agents have usually spent years learning the trade, either working for publishing companies, or working their way up in agencies, and have very solid knowledge of the publishing industry, of what types of manuscripts publishers are interested in, and of the legalities of contracts, and how to best negotiate.  Some writers feel they do not wish to share 15% of their potential income with an agent, but with the skills and expertise good agents provide, that 15% can be a very good investment.

Advice From An Editor series

Has this editor’s advice been helpful? Be sure to check out the other posts in this Advice From An Editor series as they are published. A full list of the articles can be found on the Writing and Editing Articles page.  And if you have advice about finding traditional publishers and/or agents that you’d like to share with other writers, please be sure to add it in the comments. Thank you!

Editing Services

If I can provide you with editing assistance, be sure to contact me! Find out more about my Pen and Paper Mama Services (editing, writing, and tutoring) here.


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