A BIG congratulations! You’ve finished your manuscript and now it’s time to look for a publisher. Yikes! Actually…it doesn’t have to be yikes, with a step-by-step query plan in place—what may seem daunting is now a manageable task. To assist you with your quest, I’ve broken the process down into the following steps and added some useful tips to help you find a publisher:
Step#1: Determine your novel’s genre.
Before you send your manuscript out into the world, the foundation of your search is dependent on getting your manuscript into the right hands. Publishers do not accept anything and everything—they specialize in genres. Therefore, you must send your manuscript to a company that publishes materials in the same genre of your work.
When I began my quest, I quickly learned there are A LOT of genres beyond the fiction and non-fiction classification. A small sample of these categories includes: thriller, mystery, romance, gothic, mainstream, literary, commercial, biographical. Perhaps, you already know where you fit and that’s great! But for those who don't, please click here for a list of categories and their definitions.
Step#2: Create a target list.
Research. Research. Research. Create a list of the company’s that publish books like your manuscript and rank them according to their compatibility #1 being a perfect fit and #2 good fit. You can create your list in Word or Excel or whatever platform you like.
One of my favourite strategies to help with this ranking system was to go to the bookstore to see who was publishing work that was like mine. This exercise not only got me away from my desk, I found it inspiring to have a novel like mine in my hand. If you really dig into the book-shelves you soon notice—the same publisher(s) will keep coming up. And, voila these are the publishers you want on your target list.
There are also a variety of tools available to help you with your list. I found The Writer’s Market a valuable resource (US & CDN info) and the Canadian Author’s Association has an extensive listing of Canadian publishers with links to their websites.
And, of course google is your friend…for example, search google for 'UK Publishing Companies' or 'US Publishing Companies.'
Tip: To help with your ranking, peruse through the publishing companies’ book catalogue and their new release sections and ask yourself…do they publish material like mine?
Tip: when you are compiling your list, note what each of the publisher’s submission guidelines are as they do vary from publisher to publisher. For example, your list can be a chart with the following headings: company, rank, submission guidelines.
Step#3: Develop your submission materials.
In the competitive industry of book publishing you must put your best self forward to get noticed. It is critical to take the time to develop an out of this world query letter/email and submission support materials to grab the publisher’s attention. Support materials may include: synopsis, chapter outline, author bio, list of publishing credits.
Tip: Unfortunately, there is not an industry standard re publisher’s submission guidelines. Therefore, you must be careful to ensure you are sending the publisher what they have requested. For example, some publishers will request a short synopsis (1-page) while another publisher may request a long synopsis (5-pages) and another may not want a synopsis. Fortunately, a publisher’s website will have a submission guideline’s page which clearly indicates the materials they want to receive and how they want to receive them be it email, mail or through an online submission form.
Tip: ONLY send publishers what they are asking for. If a publisher has requested the first 20 pages of a novel ONLY send them 20, you are not being helpful by sending them 85 pages. Publisher’s are the experts and they inundated with queries—they know what they want—you don't.
Tip: based on your target list, you have an overview of what submission documents you need to develop. To start the process rolling, rather than develop every document before you even begin the query process you could develop the core requirements (query letter) and send to publisher’s who only require a query and sample pages. And, then develop the outstanding pieces.
Step #4: Keep track of your queries.
I recommend the first wave of queries be sent to your #1 perfect fit publishers, they are after all your best fit therefore, they should be your priority. You can follow up with the second wave of your #2 good fits.
There’s a lot going on…to help keep you organized, I recommend you expand your target chart so that it includes the following information.
This document will be an integral tool during your quest because at any time, in a glance, you will know who your target publishers are and the status for each company query.
The BIG question...Do I need an agent?
I'm sure you're wondering...DO I NEED AN AGENT? Although, an agent's expertise is invaluable and they have access to the big publishers (a BIG bonus indeed), getting an agent can be even more frustrating than getting a publisher. It is VERY competitive therefore, many authors publish their work without one--I did, and according to The Writer's Union of Canada approximately 80% of published Canadian writers do not have an agent.
How do I find an Agent?
If you want to look for an agent WHY NOT?!. I recommend looking for an agent and a publisher at the same time. The same process and tools outlined above can be applied to your search for an agent—you're simply changing your target. Here's some links to help you get started Canadian literary agents and US literary agents. I also found the Agent Query search tool to be very helpful.
To find an agent who is a good fit for your work, look in the author acknowledgement section of novels that are 'similar' to yours. Here, you will find the writer's shout out to their agent. Ta-da this is who you should query.
Be sure to mention that you are querying the agent because of their work with this author. This demonstrates that you have done your homework. Agents like it when you have done your homework and first impressions count in this competitive landscape.
I hope that I've been able to ease some of the yikes out of your mind. Now, for my little pep talk...You've got this! Formulate your plan and proceed confidently. Most important of all... BELIEVE in yourself and your work. Best of luck to you.
Image sources: Google Images and Writer's Edit