Quite simply, publishing is so daunting to many because most first-time authors have no idea what that truly entails. What’s the best way to go about it? How long does it take? Is it worth it? What do I actually have to do to get published? You won’t feel so daunted about the process once you know how it functions.
I want to share some pointers that I learned as an intern for an acquisitions editor. If you understand what the editors are looking for in a book and an author, you can play this complicated game more easily and see more success from your work.
1. Know What Acquisition Editors Are Looking For
Basically the manuscripts are evaluated based on how marketable the idea is (is it trending well right now? Is it fresh and interesting?) and how well the manuscript is written. If these two things are going for you, chances are someone will someday pick up your idea and contact you.
If your idea is considered too boring, already over-done (and failed), or not marketable, generally it’s a no. Don’t think that grammar is an immediate turn-off; if it’s that’s bad, they might suggest that you resubmit after some careful editing and reworking. It’s usually the content that tips the scales.
So how does this information actually help you get published? Once you know a bit about what editors do, you can start to discover what it is they look for in a manuscript and you’ll know how to deliver your manuscript in the most positive light.
2. Know the Market Expectations
If you’re worried about writing a whole book and no one will like it, worry no longer. Go to publishing company websites and they will list they are looking for or what they aren’t looking for. You don’t want to be surprised when they say, “There isn’t a place in the market for your manuscript at this time.”
Look at what’s popular in your genre, what seems to sell, and then when you pitch it in your cover letter, show how your book will fit into this popular vein of writing. You can do this by comparing your novel to other successful books in your genre while explaining how your novel is different.
Showing at least a hint of understanding about the market and your genre will help you project your ideas better, and prove to the publisher that your manuscript deserves a place on the shelf.
3. Submit Your Manuscript Correctly
You want to make a quality first impression, thus you’ll want your manuscript to look its best. For a first-time author, you will have a greater chance of success if the manuscript is as complete as possible. Editors prefer that you follow their guidelines closely: send them exactly what they ask for. If they are interested, they will ask for more so they can have a better sense of your book and who you are as an author.
You do have to give a brief synopsis of your book in a cover letter, but let your manuscript do most of the talking. I got some pretty snotty cover letters where the authors often sounded like they just mailed in God’s gift to editors. Arrogance won’t earn points with editors. Do show healthy confidence, though.
Sometimes people only send in the cover letter and a table of contents. They do this so they don’t have to send in hundreds of pages for someone to read and reject. In the digital age, this isn’t a problem anymore because you can email the whole manuscript. But when you send in only a cover letter, it puts the editor in a tough situation, because they don’t have a clear idea of how the writing is. A lot of submissions that are just letters like this run a higher risk of getting rejected.
If you choose to submit what you have while you are still working on the last few chapters, at least give a definitive plan on how many pages your manuscript will be and when you plan to be finished.
4. Use Social Media
New authors often don’t realize that they have to play a pivotal part in marketing no matter if they publish with a publishing house or self-publish. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have to use social media to get your manuscript out there.
Start putting yourself out there on the internet now, even if you only have sparks of ideas for a book. You need all the time you can get to build up your online presence. On your submissions form, you can list all your social media platforms. They will seriously look you up to see just how many people already care about you and your writing.
If you can show a publishing company that you have a substantial number of followers, to them, that translates to a large group of people who might buy your book right out the gate. They can also see that you are serious enough about your work that you’re already trying to do your own marketing. So use a blog, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, or Instagram and update these platforms regularly.
5. Enlist a Literary Agent or Freelance Editor
Until editors see your work, you might want to enlist some help to prepare your manuscript. One option is to hire a literary agent. This is a great idea if you want a very wide audience, because they will not only edit your work, but they will help you with the marketing/promoting process. This is also helpful if you’ve already been rejected or fear rejection.
They are licensed advocates for your work. If they send in your manuscript to a company, the editors will definitely put your work further ahead in the slush pile, because someone else is putting their reputation on the line for your manuscript. That speaks volumes.
Help could also come in the form of freelance editors. This could range from professionals to college students that are working towards an editing minor. They are trained to be like the editors you are trying to impress. And generally, if you enlist a college student or graduates, they will either help without pay (to build up clientele or their portfolio), or negotiate a very modest rate.
6. Submit Your Work—Just Do It!
This is the most important rule I want you to follow. Don’t be too scared of the system that you never reach your goal and actually try to publish! Take this information to heart and get that manuscript ready and talk to people about it.
These are some basic things that I wish every writer knew about editors and how they evaluate your manuscripts. Do you have any questions? What do you wish you understood more about publishing? Leave comments below!
61 comments on “6 Ways to Stay on Top of the Traditional Publishing Game”
This is sooo helpful thank you for this!! I can’t wait to read anymore tips you’ve got on the process– you’ve made me feel brave:)
Good to hear! What else would you like to learn more about when it comes to publishing?
This is a great start. As a former acquisitions editor and current freelancer, I have to add a couple other insights, though.
Authors need to keep in mind that larger publishers won’t accept unagented manuscripts. Check publishers’ websites for submission guidelines and follow them exactly. If the publisher requires an agent to represent each work, authors need to find an agent. Newer agents will be more flexible with who they represent, but veterans are very picky. All agents choose whether they represent you, so your writing has to be workable and have potential. Sometimes agents don’t do the editing but give authors things to work on, and it’s the author’s responsibility to hire an editor to make those changes. Follow the other author guidelines too, or your book will be rejected.
And, no, grammar’s not a complete turnoff, but a lot of the time, it is. If it’s so bad that the editor will have to work on it for longer than he or she normally would OR if the editor decides it’s just not worth it, then it’s almost certainly a reject. Authors need to enlist an editor to review their work first before submitting in the first place or, at the very least, have someone else read their work. The book needs to be in its most complete form, and its premise needs to be clear. Don’t leave the editor guessing! We can tell when someone cares enough to polish their work. Also, find professionals to endorse the work at the outset. This shows that others have faith in the work.
Good luck to all the authors out there!
Great insight. It’s always a case-by-case thing, but you bring up valid points about grammar. The easier the editing process, the happier everyone on both sides will be, right?
Yeah, it’s definitely a case-by-case thing . . . if it actually gets passed on to the editor. 🙂
[…] publishers will publish your book exactly the way you sent it to them. As mentioned in other posts, editors want to see your book succeed, too. If they have suggestions, consider them, rather than immediately discard them. They know your […]
Do you have any good publishers that you suggest? I know a lot of people do Kindle direct publishing or Amazon ebooks. What is your take on self-publishing v. getting published by a company?
These are super good questions! Honestly, I’m still in the middle of my WIP and I haven’t researched publishers yet. I know you can subscribe to http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ to get full access of all available publishers. I would say that I’m partial to traditional publishing because that’s the option I understand best. Self publishing is all on you, so if that’s how you want to go, you have to come out guns blazing with a plan. I’ve been thinking about your questions all day–so I think I will do some deeper research and see if my answer changes. Thanks for your comment!
Thanks for all the suggestions. My husband and I have talked about writing a book together soon, so I’m pinning this so I can come back and reference it later!! 🙂
I am sure getting work published can meet with a lot of discouragement. I admire your courage in doing this and having confidence in yourself. If you aren’t confident in yourself, then you can’t expect it of others.
Great points! Sometimes it seems like everyone wants to write a book. Your points are right on . . . content is key. Thanks for taking the mystery out of manuscript submission.
Thank you for the great tips! My goal with starting my blog is to eventually write my own children’s books. So I’m sure these tips will come in handy! Pinning for later as well!
Awesome! I’m definitely interested in seeing where your goals/dreams take you. 🙂 I would recommend following other authors who are writing for that niche as well; they will have different challenges that most YA fiction writers (or novelists in general) will have.
What an incredible and helpful post! I have never attempted to do such an undertaking. Thanks for explaining a gigantic project in a friendly manner.
Thanks for the comment! I hope to write more about publishing/acquisitions in the future, especially when it’s my turn to start soliciting and all that jazz.
This is so helpful to me! I just finished up my own book, and I am trying to learn all that I can about the publishing process!
Awesome! Be sure to let the rest of us know how it goes! Every journey is different, but I’m interested in seeing how it goes for you. Good luck!
These are great tips! I spent years studying the publishing industry and learning about how to submit a novel manuscript. Then I went to university, got married, had kids, and now I’m focused on my blog, but someday I’d still like to get back to my novels. On the plus side, right now I am building up a social media following so I hope someday that helps with my books as well! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Awesome! Getting a social media following is a plus no matter if you go indie or traditional. It takes a lot of patience to steadily build up a following and find your place in the community, but it’s worth it—and fun!
Thanks for these tips! I have been toying with the idea of writing an ebook or a regular book and have been pretty intimidated by the process. Thanks for some encouraging words!
Like many bloggers, I’ve had a book goal on the back burner for a few years. Thank you for the advice and view behind the curtain!
This is great. I’m going to share this with a friend of mine who is trying to get his book published.
I’ve only written a couple of ebooks. I’m not quite ready for a full fledged book, though many have asked me to write one. It is a bit intimidating to submit a book to a publisher. I’ll look you up when it’s time – thanks for the info.
This is awesome. I have been wanting to write a book for years now and told myself this would be the year. I really had no idea where to start so thank you for this. I’m bookmarking this and coming back often!
Sweet! I’m honored! Keep us up to date on your project and how it’s going. I’m still working on a manuscript that is a few years old, so I admire your goal of getting the whole thing out of the way in 12 months–you rock!
This is a great post! I love to write, have my whole life. I decided to start a blog and focus on great content for my readers. I am hoping this will prepare me to write my first book in the near future!
Awesome! What’s your book about? Good luck with the writing process. 🙂
This is fantastic thank you. I have been planning to write a book for years but have been to intimidated by the editing/publishing factor that I never started. I recently decided to get my toes wet and start blogging but I now have hope for my books future.
Good for you! Writers are surprisingly supportive of each other. If you ask for help and advice, you’ll definitely get an ear full. Good luck with the blogging and writing!
Great read. Thanks for posting!
Great post! Going to share this post with a good friend who I know will find it very interesting.
Very helpful post. I do not intend on writing a book anytime soon but if I do in the future this will be a great reference.
I had no idea that publishers list the types of content they are and aren’t looking for. This is really interesting. Thanks for giving insight into the world of publishing.
Part of the success of me landing a publisher for my book was having hundreds of thousands of views to my YouTube videos. It’s never too early to start putting yourself and your content out there.
I had no idea that an author was responsible for their own marketing. My husband has a great ideas for a book, I guess I better have him get more involved in social media. Thanks for the info.
I should probably say that a publishing company won’t leave you in the dark when it comes to social media and marketing. However, it will help your husband if he’s willing to learn and contribute. There’s dual responsibility on both parts to make your husband’s book a success.
What great information! I’m definitely saving this for future reference.
Lots of great information here!!! I will be sharing this via social media for all of the writers out there that would love to get published. 🙂 Thank you!
Super enlightening. Sometimes I dream about writing a cookbook, this info will be great if I ever get there!
Authors absolutely need social media. I think it’s hard to be a creative and then have to switch gears and sell yourself too. It’s almost like their selling out! I know because I’ve got author friends and that’s their biggest bone to pick! But I try to coax them onto Instagram anyway. What’s the harm in a few pictures? 😉
Yeah, it’s definitely a tough balance. But it’s how it starts. A lot of writers that opt to self-publish have to make a schedule to ensure that social media and the actual writing get equal attention.
Thank you for all the tips. I’ve been kicking around and working on a few books for years, well almost 2 decades. I just need to get down to it and finish. Thank you!
I have been leaning towards self-publishing because of the freedom it provides. The workload is not ideal but the freedom of being self-published is exciting to me. After reading your articles I am rethinking considering going for a publishing company. However, knowing that I would enjoy owning my own publishing company one day I may stick to my guns of self-publishing. 🙂 These tips are great!
Every writer’s journey is different–and you can find great success with self-publishing if you know the rules of that game, too. Either way, I hope you find a publishing outlet that gives you the most success!
I’ve bookmarked this page for myself so I can refer to it when it’s time to get my book published. Amazing information!!!
It’s extremely difficult to be creative, but also have to think about Social Media and selling myself. I do it with my website, of course, but with a book….it’s such a huge project.
Thanks so much for giving all of this information so openly, and freely.
Good solid information. It should help anyone attempting to submit a book. Thanks for taking the time to share.
This is very helpful. I am considering writing my own book. I have been scared to start.
I wrote a book with my daughter a few years ago. We really wanted to get it published but it was going to cost a lot of money! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing!
I can’t tell you how helpful this was to me. I am just working on the second draft of my novel now, so I’m not quite ready to start submitting to agents, but I will definitely refer back to this when I am at that stage. Thank you!
I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! I’m glad my post was helpful to you. What’s your novel about?
Those are some great tips on what a publisher expects. I wanted to take a writing course some years ago. I even took an aptitude test and I passed it. When I sent it in I didn’t think that I was going to though. I love reading and writing. They are both my passions. I would like to write a book one day too. That would be really nice. Thanks for sharing this with us!
This is awesome – really insightful! Thank you for sharing. The publishing world definitely appears a daunting one so it’s great to have it broken down and simplified into the ‘need to knows’.
While I’m not planning on submitting anything to a publisher, I do have plans to self-publish an e-book, and this article still helped me to consider is there a market for what I’m wanting to write about. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for publishing this information. It is truly helpful to those such as myself who are interested in publishing.
These are great tips. I’m going to keep them on hand when I decide in the future to publish something. Thanks!
Good tips! I am pinning this. I’ve always wanted to publish a book, but have been a little nervous about attempting it. The publishing industry seems so daunting!
I’m always thinking about writing but find so much mixed messaging out there. Really glad I found you.
Love this! Thank you for the tips. My husband has been taking baby steps toward writing a book, these are great tips!
Thanks for this post; it’s very interesting! Though my husband, I know a great deal about writing in world of screenplays, but writing a novel or book still seems such a foreign idea to me. But I’m sure you’d say the same thing to me in regards to screenwriting. 🙂
Thanks again for your post and I’m going to poke around your blog a bit more.
I agree publishing it often a world that can leave your head swimming. Thank you for all the advice that you gave in this article.
When I was ready to get my book published, it was all a lot of trial and error. I work with a friend who edits all my work and helps me with finding suitable places to submit to. After a lot of rejection, we chose to self-publish, which I found to be still difficult, but a lot more rewarding at the time.