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
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, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
"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, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
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 Waterstones, 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.
Should I Self-publish?
"Self-publishing is definitely not for the faint hearted." - GP Taylor, The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
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:
- Copy-editing. Are you sure there are no spelling mistakes or other errors?
- Design. What font and font size? What weight paper? What does the cover look like?
- Pricing. How much should your book cost?
- Securing an ISBN for your book. International Standard Book Numbers are essential if you want to get your book stocked in bookshops and libraries.
- Printing. How many copies should you print?
- Running the supply chain. How and where will you store your books? How will you receive orders? How will you deliver them?
- Sales. Who will sell your book for you? Have you got the flair to succeed in sales?
- Invoicing and accounting. Do you need to set up a company? How will you accept payment? What about tax implications?
- Promotion. How will your book be advertised? Who will review it? Will there be interviews and features in the newspapers?
- Funding. How can you pay for all the above?
"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, Waterstones 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 Waterstones Independent Publisher Co-ordinator, who will offer guidance on how to get essential information on your book to Waterstones.com and all Waterstones 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
There are millions of blogs on the internet, 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.
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:
- Keep it current. As well as being wonderfully salacious Belle de Jour's blog was also very well written and regularly updated. It kept the reader coming back for more and attracted the attention of a publisher too.
- All the rules about submitting material apply on a blog too - edit your work, check your spelling, make sure it's easy to read and attractive to look at.
- Get involved. Once you've got your blog up and running, get involved with "the blogosphere". Talk to people who write blogs you like, link to them and ask them to link back to you - spread the word.
- Shout about yourself. Once you've got posts up on your blog, picked up a readership and are confident that what you're doing could work in book form, then it's time to start trying to attract the attention of an agent or publisher. This time, as well as being able to send samples and a synopsis (which you'll still need to do), you can also direct them to your wonderful blog as well.
Dos and Don'ts For Any Budding Author
- Do your research. Use an annual publication such as The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook to get an up-to-date directory of publisher and agent contacts as well as stacks of practical advice and information about the publishing process.
- Do make sure that the subject matter is of interest to the general public.
- Do invite feedback on your work from people who may have useful insights. Don't give it to people who will be scared to give you an honest opinion (and don't hold it against anyone if their feedback isn't entirely positive).
- Do remember you don't have to send in a complete manuscript at first in order to get a book deal or acquire an agent. Ask the agent or publisher what they would want to see in the first instance.
- Do not submit a handwritten manuscript, it will not be read.
- Do rewrite, proof, rewrite again...Most writers do multiple drafts of their work. Make sure your copy is perfect before you send it. Make sure you are confident that every word, sentence and passage works.
- Do have a strong opening. If a manuscript is going to be worth more than a cursory glance then this should be obvious very quickly. Make every word count.
- Do pitch yourself as well as your book. Give some details of yourself, why you feel what you have written will succeed as a book, who might want to read it, authors that have influenced you and books that it might be compared to.
- Do be prepared to wait for a decision on your work.
- Do be prepared for rejection.
- Do take any general compliments contained in a rejection letter at face value; publishers and agents to not tend to offer encouragement unless they feel there is real potential in your work.
- Don't send in your only copy of the manuscript. Responsibility will not be accepted if material is lost or damaged.
- Don't expect to be given reasons for rejection. Publishers and agents do not have time to spend on books that they do not intend to publish.
- Don't give up. If you don't get anywhere with the first publisher or agent, try another, and another. As American celebrity Monty Hall once said, "I'm an overnight success, but it took twenty years to happen!"
Selected material sourced and extracted from the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Waterstones 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.
The annual, bestselling guide to all aspects of the media and how to write and illustrate for children and young adults. Acknowledged by the media industries and authors as the essential guide to how to get published. The 70+ articles are updated and added to each year. Together they provide invaluable guidance on subjects such as series fiction, writing historical or funny books, preparing an illustration portfolio, managing your finances, interpreting publishers' contracts, self-publishing your work.