For any aspiring author, finding the best way to get your book or short story published is crucial. Depending on the nature of your work, there are several various methods of publication that may be suitable for your needs — from traditional publishing, which typically requires an agent, an editor, and a publisher, to newer methods of self-publishing.
A good place to start is to determine whether or not you need an agent. Agents are experts in the industry that have inside contacts with editors in various publishing houses. They’ll help you sell your novel, as well as ensure that you get the best deal in terms of an advance and royalties. Whether you need an agent depends on what kind of novel you’re selling. Most of the major publishing houses, like Penguin, HarperCollins, etc., require submissions through agents. However, if you’re writing about a niche market or about an academic subject, you may not necessarily need a middleman, as agents typically only take on work that will reach a more sizable audience.
If you want to try contacting a publisher directly, without the help of an agent, make sure you do your research ahead of time. First, you must figure out which publishers accept unagented submissions and if your writing fits in with the types of work they publish. To get a good sense of what publisher may work for you, a site like WritersMarket (which requires a submission fee) could be really helpful, as it holds thousands of listings for various publishers, or Duotrope (also requires a fee), which is useful for those shopping around poetry, short stories, essays, or literary novels. You can also try QueryTracker and WriterMag, each of which offers more modest listings of publishers.
If you’d prefer to go a different route and would like to hire an agent, there are plenty of online sources for that too. Websites like PublishersMarketPlace, QueryTracker, AgentQuery, and AARonline allow you to search through various listings by genre, category, and keyword in order to help you find the best agents for your work. Again, some of these websites require a submission fee and some are free.
Regardless of whether you prefer to contact a publisher directly or go through an agent, ensuring your materials meet their submission rules is crucial. The majority of agents and publishers don’t accept full manuscripts and most of them have their own unique set of requirements for submissions. For example, you’ll likely need to write up a query letter, which is basically a one-page note selling your work to the editor or agent, and a one- to two-page novel synopsis. Some agents or editors may require a more in-depth book proposal or some sample chapters. Make sure you read over the requirements carefully and have compiled all the necessary materials before submitting your work.
If a publisher or editor is interested in your query, they’ll send a request for either a partial or full manuscript. If you don’t hear back, they’re likely not interested, although you can resend a query to make sure. However, requesting a manuscript doesn’t guarantee they’ll publish your work. That also goes for getting a rejection or not hearing back from a certain editor or agent — it doesn’t mean someone else won’t be interested in your query. For some, it takes many rejections before they eventually get accepted. Others write multiple manuscripts before eventually selling one. Results vary greatly, depending on the author and the agent or company they’re submitting it to.
The same can be said if you’re trying to get shorter works published too. If you’re looking to submit short stories to a literary magazine or something of the like, you won’t need an agent. However, just as with book publishing, to make sure that you’re targeting the right kind of publication. Before submitting anything, make sure that you’re familiar with the magazine or journal and that your piece fits with the tone of it. Again, if you need help finding a publication, Duotrope lists markets that accept unsolicited, written submissions of poetry, non-fiction and fiction for a fee.
Once you’ve determined which publication to pitch your story to, the process is largely similar to that of typical book publishing. As with novels, you will need to play close attention to the submission guidelines. Most publications require a cover letter for your story that briefly explains what the story is about, the word count, and a very short bio of yourself. Include any other supplemental material required by that specific publication before sending it out.
If you’d rather forgo the submitting and waiting process altogether, there are also other alternative methods to getting your work published. You can use a vanity publisher (also known as subsidiary publisher). Vanity publishers allow authors to pay to have their books edited, designed and published. This option can get quite expensive as some vanity presses not only charge for editing, design, and production services, but also require an additional royalty whenever a book sells. Using a vanity publisher has become less prevalent in recent years, due to the often-high costs of their services.
Meanwhile, self-publishing has become increasingly popular, as there are a plethora of relatively quick and affordable services to choose from. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is one of the biggest e-book self-publishing platforms currently available. The service is free and once users upload their manuscript to the platform, their work will appear for sale on Amazon, where readers can download it to their Kindles. Authors can keep 70% on books priced $2.99 to $9.99 and 35% on anything lower, although it may take some promotion on your part to let people know your books out there. Apple and Barnes & Noble also offer similar self-publishing services, through iTunes Connect and Nook Press, respectively.
You can also use services like Smashwords.com, which will convert your Word manuscript into an e-book and distributes it to multiple self-publishing platforms about 10% of the book’s price (as opposed to bigger online retailers, some of which take 30%).
If you want to see your book in actual print as opposed to digital format, you can use Amazon’s CreateSpace, which takes your content files and prints books that are ordered through Amazon and other channels — meaning you won’t have to worry about having too many leftover copies. Blurb and Lulu also offer similar printing services, giving writers control over how their book is formatted, as well as how many books are printed.
Since there are clearly no shortage of methods of publication (and still more out there), what’s most important is ensure that you choose the best option for your individual works. So consider the genre and style of your writing and do your research to determine which method will best serve your story or novel.
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