Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Writer's Guide to Traditional Publishing

Hello there, new writer! So, you've discovered what a pleasure it is to write. You've finished your first novel and want to get it published, but you have no idea how to do so! If this description fits you, read on!

Firstly, it is important to say that there are many ways to get published. Traditional is only one of the ways. However, this is the way that most of the writers in your Barnes & Noble got published. In this day and age, with internet and e-readers, there are plenty of other ways to publish your work (routes that both the co-creator of this blog, Brianne Crowder, and our first interviewee, Jake Vander Ark, have taken). However, for simplifying purposes, I thought I'd stick to the "traditional" route. For a post about how to self publish, click here!

When some aspiring writers decide they want their book published, they simply print it out a few copies, stick them in envelopes with addresses to big publishers in New York City, Chicago, or California, mail it out, and wait for a letter to arrive in the mail to tell them that all of their dreams will come true. Unfortunately, this gives your book about as good a chance at getting published as ice cream has a chance of surviving a ninety degree day.

Why does your book stand so little chance of being selected when submitted to publishers this way? Many people do this, and publishers don't like getting work that they haven't asked for. Publishers get at least 10 of these a day, which means 70 in a week, and 210 in a month. All of these manuscripts are put into what's called the "slush pile." If your book is put into the slush pile, it's very unlikely that anyone will look at it anytime soon. Every once in a while they'll have an intern, or an assistant to an editor go through it. Almost all books in the slush pile don't get published. A major publishing company wants to be sure your book is going to sell well and that it's worth the edits it has to go through. Just sending it over doesn't give it a good reputation right off the bat.

But then how do all the new authors get published? I have two words for you: literary agents. Ever heard of an actor talking about their agent getting them an audition? It's the same idea. A literary agent represents a writer and helps to get their book published. Your agent will talk to publishers and editors so that your book does not go into the slush pile.

The problem is getting an agent, which is arguably just as hard as getting published. In order to get an agent you will need to query them. Querying is when you send out query letters to agents. A query letter is a letter where you pitch both yourself and your book. If your query letter stands out from the thirty or more that an agent reads over their lunch break, then they might decide to represent you.

Once you get your agent, you will probably have to go through a couple edits of your book. Then after the edits are finished, your agent will have to query the publishers. This could take a very long time and a lot of rejection before any progress is made.

Bottom line, getting published through a big publisher is hard; having the patience to wait for your dream is even harder. It might not be the fairytale you dreamed of, but it's the truth.

Some other detailed posts about traditional publishing (and well worth reading!): Penguin Publishing on Publishing and Querying Agents.

Have a question? Want to leave an opinion about this post? Leave a comment below! 

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