How to Approach a Publisher

So: You’ve written a book, and you want to publish it. Writers can take several avenues when it comes to publishing their books. We’ve discussed the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional and self-publishing; if you want your book to be widely circulated, you should go through a traditional publishing house. But how does one approach a publisher? This is an essential task all writers face, but it is rarely covered in writing programs. Here is an essential, step-by-step guide to getting you book into the hands of a publisher.

Do your research. Don’t just send your book off to the biggest publishing houses you can think of. Research the types of houses that are most likely to accept your book for publication. If you’re a Science Fiction writer, look for presses that specialize in SciFi and Fantasy publication. If you write about an area or region, or perhaps about life in a particular area of the country, look for local small presses to publish your work. Think of this research as a matchmaking process, then distill your list down to a couple dozen of the best-fitting options.

Send query letters. These letters might be the most important documents you ever produce. Query letters are what stand between you and your traditional publishing dreams. This is often a one-page letter sent to literary agents in an effort to spark interest in your book. You have one page and around three hundred words to convince a literary agent that your book is worth reading—at least, it’s worth reviewing the manuscript. The letter must be short, sweet, and to the point, squeezing the essence of your book onto a single sheet of paper. Think of this as a cover letter; instead of advocating for your ability take a job, advocate for your books success. Talk it up, but don’t oversell it.

Sending the manuscript. You’ve sent your query letter, and a publisher took the bait! Now, it’s time to organize and send the manuscript. The book should be presented in a certain way: use good quality, white A4 paper, use double spacing and print only on one side, and leave a good margin—around three centimeters—on both sides. Always begin new chapters on a new page, and don’t use blank lines between paragraphs. Put the typescript into a wallet-type folder (use more than one if necessary). Finally, never send a hand-written submission. You want to maximize the publisher’s ability to read and notate your book.

Waiting for the decision. In most cases, publishers seem to take an unconscionable amount of time to deliver a verdict on submitted manuscripts. Waiting can feel almost painful, but remember that this is a time-consuming process. There will likely be several readings and consultations with other departments. If you have not heard anything for two months, send a polite letter of inquiry. If you are rejected, don’t expect to receive any reasons or explanation.