by Moira Allen
Return to Getting Your Book Published · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version
Contrary to popular myth, you don't have to have an agent,or connections in the industry, to get published. What you doneed to know is how to present your work in the most professionalmanner possible. While the steps below won't guarantee that yourbook will be published, failing to take them will virtually guaranteethat it won't! These are the basics every editor expects you toknow before your manuscript hits his or her desk.1) Write the book. If you haven't written your book yet, this isn't the time toask how to get it published. Editors are interested in products,not ideas. If you're a new writer, editors want to be sure thatyou have what it takes -- skill, stamina, and discipline -- to completea full-length book.2) Define your audience. What is your book about? Who is the intended readership? Theseare questions an editor will ask; being able to answer them willhelp you choose an appropriate publisher. If your book is a novel,to what genre or category does it belong? (Beware of books that"defy" genre categorizations--the "I'm writinga sort of romantic-science fiction-mystery combining elementsof Stephen King and Danielle Steele" syndrome. This tellseditors that you either haven't refined your concept, or don'tunderstand the book market.)3) Research the market. Absolutely the worst thing you can do is "cold-call"publishers to ask if they might be interested in your book. Instead,find out who produces books like yours. Browse your local bookstore,and make a list of publishers who offer books in your category.If you're writing a children's book, for example, note who publishesbooks for the same age group or of the same type (e.g., mystery,teen romance, horror, picture books).4) Do your homework. Look up promising publishers in the current Writer'sMarket or Literary Market Place(in the library reference section). There, you'll find the publisher'saddress and the editor to contact. Specialized market books arealso available for poetry, novels and short stories, children'sbooks, romances, mysteries, and science fiction. Writer'sMarket also tells you what a publishing company is buying,its rates, and how to approach the editor. For example, some publisherswant to see your entire manuscript, others want a query letteroutlining your story idea, and still others want a book proposaland/or a chapter-by-chapter outline. Some accept unsolicited manuscripts;others only accept books from agents. If you need more information,write or call the publisher to request writer's guidelines.5) Prepare your manuscript. These days, editors won't even look at a manuscript that isn'tprepared professionally. Print (or type) your manuscript on high-qualitywhite bond paper. Never use erasable paper, and don't use a dot-matrixprinter. (If that's all you have, take your disk to a copy centerthat offers the use of a laser printer.)
Double-space your manuscript and leave a 1-inch margin on allsides. Number your pages. Check your spelling (and not just witha spellchecker!). Use a clear, readable font (such as courier)of a decent size (10-12 pt.). Don't "justify" your rightmargin; leave it uneven. Don't mix fonts, and don't overuse boldfaceor italics. (Some editors prefer that you use underlining to signifyitalics.) If you have any questions about how to format a manuscript,query, or proposal, see my article A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format, or consult TheWriter's Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats.NOTE: Many readers ask at this point whether it isn't possible to submit one's manuscript electronically. While most publishers will expect you to provide an electronic copy of your manuscript on disk, most also want to receive your first submission in hardcopy as well. (Otherwise, they'll have to print out your manuscript on their own paper!) Only after you have become established with a publisher are you likely to be able to submit a manuscript electronically -- e.g., as an e-mail attachment -- without sending a paper copy as well. In any case, the rules of manuscript format still apply whether you're sending a paper copy or an electronic copy!
6) Submit your package. Always send the editor exactly what is requested. If you aremailing a large manuscript, use a manuscript box (available atstationery or office supply stores). Address it to the correctperson (not just "editor"). Seal your package securely,but don't go overboard; no editor wants to spend 20 minutes cuttingthrough endless layers of tape.7) Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE). Some writers include only a standard #10 envelope, preferringto save postage by allowing the editor to discard an unwantedmanuscript rather than returning it. If you prefer that your materialbe returned, be sure to include an envelope with sufficient postage,or a return label and postage for your manuscript box. Never usemetered postage strips; because they are predated, they are notvalid for return postage. [NOTE: Now that the Post Office requires stamped packages weighing over 13 ounces or more to be processed through a Post Office, a publisher is less likely to have any desire to return a heavy manuscript even if you do include sufficient postage!]8) Prepare to wait. It may take two to six months or longer to hear the fate ofyour query or proposal; it may take six months to a year or moreto get a response on an entire manuscript. Because of such delays,it is sometimes acceptable to submit your manuscript to more thanone publisher at a time. Make sure, however, that each is opento "simultaneous submissions."9) Keep working. While waiting for a response to your first manuscript, getstarted on your next. Or, build your portfolio with articles,short stories, or other material that will hone your skills andbolster your reputation.10) Don't give up. If your manuscript doesn't find a home right away, keep trying.Don't take rejection personally; just move on to the next publisheron your list. Often it takes time, effort, and many submissionsto get published. Successful writers are those who don't quit!
Some Common Questions:How do I copyright my work? The very act of putting your book, article, story or poem onpaper (in a "tangible" form) places it under your copyright.You can formally declare copyright ownership by typing the words"Copyright (year) by (your name)" on the first or titlepage of your manuscript (e.g., "Copyright 2001 by Moira Allen").You can also substitute the copyright symbol for the word "copyright."It is not necessary to register your work with the Copyright Officeto protect it. (For more information on rights and copyrights,see Understanding Rights and Copyrights.)Should I get an agent? This depends to a great degree on what type of book you are submitting. Often, you do not need an agent to submit a nonfiction book to a publisher. More and more fiction publishers, however, do require submissions to be agented, so check the publisher's requirements first. If you find that a large percentage of the publishers in your chosen genre or subject area require agents, then you should look for an agent first.
Should I publish my book myself? With today's desktop publishing (and electronic publishing) technology, it has become easy and relatively inexpensive to produceyour own book. Well-targeted nonfiction books often do well; self-publishedfiction, however, is very difficult to market. Unless you're experiencedin graphic design, it's wise to hire a professional to producea quality product.
Be aware that self-publishing means more than getting yourbook printed. It also involves marketing, advertising, distribution,and sales -- which means setting yourself up as a small business,with all the tax and accounting responsibilities that entails.
See Writing-World.com's DIY Publishing section for more information on self-publishing, subsidy publishing, electronic publishing and POD publishing.
Is self-publishing the same as subsidy publishing? No! Vanity presses take your money and various rights, andgive you little in return. If you're willing to pay money to haveyour book published, do it yourself so that you can retain fullcontrol over the process, the rights, and the proceeds. For more information on vanity publishing, see The Price of Vanity.
Once you know the basics, you're halfway there. The rest isup to you. The package may attract an editor's attention, butit's what you put inside the package -- a well-written, interesting,original manuscript -- that makes the sale!
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer,The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.
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