We writers love the new year. It’s like a clean sheet of paper, ripe with possibilities. Resolutions, with their promises of finally making it over the rainbow, fill us with anticipation. For those of you who’ve resolved to get that book published, this post is a good place to start. Because getting that book published isn’t the piece of cake it seems to be.
When I finished writing my first novel, I found myself at the self-publish or traditional publish fork in the road. I decided the traditional publishing route was best for me. The hard part was over! Now, I had only to get my manuscript into the hands of editors. I knew I had to write a query letter, but that was all I knew. I went to the bookstore and from the myriad of books about querying, chose one to be my query bible. I crafted the perfect query and sent it to thirteen editors a la Stephenie Meyer. Who needed an agent? If she could do it without one, so could I.
Rejections trickled in, and my confidence was shaken. I’d heard about Query Shark, the query critiquing blog of literary agent Janet Reid. I’d send her my query. She’d love it and affirm its perfection. After all, I’d faithfully followed all the steps in my query bible. Then, with confidence restored, I’d continue querying.
Unfortunately, the pre-requisite to submitting to Query Shark was to read through the entire archives. So, I rolled my eyes and began to read. I soon realized that my query nailed it, but not in the way I’d hoped. My query was a perfect example of how not to write a query.
There was much more to this publishing thing than I’d ever imagined, and I have quite an imagination. I’m a writer, after all. I was back where I’d started, queryless and unsure. So I stepped back from querying and began my education on the submission process.
The Submission Process
Getting a book into the hands of a reader is, in fact, a daunting task. As a writer, you need to:
- Prepare a submission package.
- Research literary agents or editors.
- Decide on a system that will keep a list of agents/editors you’d like to query and track your submissions. The reality is you are going to send out too many queries to keep track of in your head.
- Dive into the query trenches!
Literary Agent vs. Editor
Before tackling anything, you have to decide if you wanted to submit to literary agents or to acquisitions editors at publishing houses. The consensus is that a writer benefits from signing with an agent first, but ultimately it’s a personal choice. As with the decision to go the traditional route or self-publish, each author needs to consider their needs, goals, and aspirations for the future.
- Literary agent: As your representative in the literary market, your agent may offer editorial guidance, establish contacts for you with editors and publishers, explain the language of contracts and negotiate contract terms, sell the rights to your work, and help you find new opportunities for publishing. From Poets & Writers.
- Acquisitions editor: Finds new authors and promotes writers he thinks will be profitable for the publisher. Writers and agents typically submit manuscripts to the acquisitions editor.* The acquisitions editor, especially for fiction, may follow a manuscript from submission to publication, suggesting plot-level changes to bring the story in line with the publisher’s vision for the product line. From The Editor’s Blog
*Most publishers and editors only accept submissions from agents, although there are a few that accept queries from un-agented authors.
The learning curve for the submission process for traditional publishing was huge. At times, I felt I was barreling along it on a tricycle. I persevered and eventually signed with an agent and we are now seeking publication. In the hope of helping others along the learning curve, over the next four weeks, I’ll post about a different aspect of the submission process. The road to getting that novel published can be long and difficult, but persevere. It is absolutely worth the journey.
This post was first published in the SCBWI newsletter, The Mitten.