How to get published...
On this page we'll try to dispel a few myths and offer some helpful hints and encouragement to writers hoping to take that great leap forward to getting published. We can't guarantee our advice will turn manuscripts into bestsellers, but hopefully it will make those first steps a little easier.
"You need resilience to deal with initial rejections. The first agent I sent my book to wrote back to say she
thought the characters were immature, the plot unrealistic, and the work "frankly unpublishable".
Jane Green, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2008
You've got your idea, your characters or subject and you know what shape your book will take, but what next? The fact of the matter is that whilst there are hundreds of thousands of new titles published every year, there is more competition to get published than ever before. So how do you maximise your chances of getting a book deal and turn your ideas or manuscript into a published book?
The role of the literary agent
Before you leap straight in and contact every publisher that you have ever heard of, you should first consider whether you might be better served by the representation of a literary agent.
A literary agent represents the interests of the authors that he or she acts for. A good agent will advise you on your work and on the publishing market in general, help you find the right home for your work, sell you and your work to the appropriate publisher, negotiate the best deal for you and, crucially, provide much needed advice and support throughout the process.
The agent, or agency, makes its income entirely as a result of commission on sales of their clients' work and charge approximately 15% commission on UK sales, and 20% on sales to the US.
Some authors say that it is more difficult to find an agent than a publisher. It is certainly true that an agency lives or dies on its ability to make money for the client and therefore for themselves, and for this reason an agent will only take you on if he or she is confident that there is a market for your book.
"You might only get one go at making your big sales pitch to an agent.
Don't mess it up by being anything less than thorough."
Philippa Milnes-Smith, - Writers and Artists' Yearbook 2008
"Any self-respecting agent can usually tell within 20 or 30 seconds of looking at unsolicited
submissions, both the submission and the manuscript, whether the book is any good or not."
Giles Gordon, - Writers and Artists' Yearbook 2008
Finally, if you are lucky enough to have an agent interested in representing you it is important to remember that it is not enough for them to wish to represent you, you must choose to select or appoint them.
Submitting your work to a publisher
If you do choose to go it alone or have been unsuccessful in finding an agent your next option is to contact a publisher directly.
You've heard about the slush pile, the stack of unsolicited manuscripts that every publisher has; every year or so the press report on an author plucked from the slush pile to receive a three-book deal and a huge advance. And it's true, it does happen - and as is the case with the National Lottery - it could be you, but if you really want to get noticed you will have to be either very dedicated or very, very lucky!
To improve your chances, it is essential that you start by researching the market. Publishing is a commercial business and a publisher will need to be convinced that there is a potential market for any book that they decide to publish.
Find the right publisher. First of all, think about who would be a good fit for you and your book. Have a look at the titles in your local Waterstone's, and see who publishes books that yours might sit well next to - if you've written a crime novel, find out which publishers have a crime list, or even specialise in the genre. If you've written a historical biography, browse the history section to see who the relevant publishers are in this field. Don't ignore the independents - publishers such as Canongate, Quercus and Tindall Street have all published books that have become bestsellers and won literary awards.
When you've decided which would be the best publisher for you, find out if they accept submissions, who and where to send them to, and in what format. Ring or email first to find out who is the best person to receive your work.
Presentation is important. Submit your material in the most appropriate format for the publishers. They'll probably ask for the first two or three chapters and a synopsis of the whole book. Your pitch starts with the covering letter so make sure you explain why your book is worth publishing and why they are the perfect publisher to do it.
"Put some thought into your title. It's the first thing anyone - publisher, agent, bookseller, reader - will notice about your book, and giving it a dull or uninspired title will put you at a disadvantage from the start. Look at some of the titles that have hit big in the Richard and Judy selections - How to Talk to a Widower,The Time-Traveler's Wife, The Jane Austen Book Club, A Thousand Splendid Suns - they say a lot about the book in just a few words."
Janine Cook, Waterstone's Fiction Buyer
"With non-fiction I'd look for a gap in the market and see if you have the knowledge, interest and skills to fill it. I noticed that A & C Black, who publish the excellent Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides, were continuing their 100 Must-Read series on a variety of literary genres but hadn't, as of yet, done one for graphic novels. It's a special area of interest to me so I contacted them and then submitted a formal proposal and some sample entries, and got a deal. 100 Must-Read Graphic Novels is released in September 2008!"
Michael Rowley, Waterstone's Science Fiction and Imports Buyer
Should I self-publish?
"Self-publishing is definitely not for the faint hearted."
GP Taylor, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2008
Computers and the Internet have made self-publishing easier than ever, and if the traditional publishing route is denied to you, it may be worth considering. Self-publishing can be a huge undertaking but many authors have published their own work successfully in the past. However, if you do go down this route, you will have to learn to be more than "just" a writer.
A self-publisher will be in charge of:
"If at all possible before committing to print, try to canvass opinion on the book's production values (printing, artwork, typeset and, crucially, cover design) from someone in the business. Friends and family will give you feedback, but it may not be honest or frank. A bookshop manager or buyer will be able to say very quickly whether your book is likely to appeal to a readership. The conversation may not necessarily be a comfortable one, but that bookselling experience may make all the difference between a book design that's commercially viable and one that won't sell."
Steve Robinson, Waterstone's Store Manager
Once you have decided to take on the challenge of self-publishing and have settled on the fundamentals of your book, you may want to contact Waterstone's Independent Publisher Co-ordinator, who will offer guidance on how to get essential information on your book to Waterstones.com and all Waterstone's branches as well as wholesalers and other retailers.
The line between vanity publishing and self-publishing can be a grey one, but generally if you are paying someone else to publish your work, then you are dealing with a vanity publisher. Mainstream publishers invest in the promotion of a book and make their profit from its sales. Vanity publishers on the other hand, make money from upfront charges.
The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook strongly advises authors against paying for the publication of their work. Whatever decision you make it is essential that you investigate your options thoroughly before you part with any money.
The website www.vanitypublishing.info offers straightforward advice on vanity publishing and self-publishing.
"I have not been able to find one person during the last 14 years, anywhere in the world,
who has been turned down by a vanity publisher - however poorly written their book is."
Jonathan Clifford, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2008
There are millions of blogs on the World Wide Web, covering a myriad of subjects. While many just serve a diary or notebook function for the random thoughts of their countless authors, others have a more focused approach. Several blogs have made the jump from online content to published book recently. One publisher, The Friday Project, specialises in seeking out material from the web that would make commercially viable books.
Probably the best-known case of blog-to-book is Belle de Jour's diary of her time working as an escort, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl which has spawned a sequel, a TV show, and now a series of novels.
Tips for blogging:
Dos and don'ts for any budding author:
Selected material sourced and extracted from The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Waterstone's would like to thank to A & C Black for their help in putting together The Waterstone's Guide to Getting Published.
The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook has been published annually for over a hundred years and is famous and well-loved for the hope and help it has given to writers for a century. This bestselling guide to markets in all areas of the media is completely revised and updated every year. Each edition is packed with comprehensive articles and advice - often from famous names such as J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Terry Pratchett and Joanna Trollope, to name a few - and extensive resource listings including publishers, TV companies, literary agents, societies and prizes, websites, creative writing courses and more. The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook is the long-established trusted companion for all professionals in the publishing industry and for aspiring and successful writers.
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