Publishing 101 – the Three Routes (and then some) Part I

The publishing world has been revolutionized in the last five or six years. In  2009 I had finished a draft of a novel and sent it out to agents; one of the very first ones I had queried replied that they were interested. A few weeks later I contacted the agency and the agent was encouraging and said the other agents were reviewing it. To make my story short: five months later (I had read not to bother agents too often) they were still sitting on the manuscript, the bottom had fallen out of the economy and now she called to say they had decided not to take on unpublished authors. That seemed to be the reply from every venue I pursued for the next year. I wish I had not wasted so much time peddling my novel to agents and publishers.

book cover

The industry has changed drastically and there are several ways to get published: with a traditional “New York” (big) house, an independent publisher, DIY and many options in between. Let’s look at the three main options.


First the big corporate guys who used to pay for all your expenses up front and sold your book, giving you royalties of 6-8% – often you would even get an advance against your future royalties to tide you over. If you are already a successful published author or otherwise a house-hold name (Bill Bryson, Barack Obama or Isabel Allende) then Simon & Schuster or Penguin Random House will consider you.

9780143038092_p0_v2_s114x16651pjC14nSxL._AA160_ books

If you nab such a contract break out the champagne. If not, realize that you may be brilliant, you may even have written several books that have done modestly well, but you are not a shoe-in for a “Big Five” publisher unless your agent’s father runs Harper-Collins.  Oh, did I mention you must have an agent to represent you first?  Don’t bother writing or calling yourself; unless you are a guaranteed money-maker (for them not for yourself) you can’t get your foot in the door. The competition is just too steep. Getting an agent will be challenge enough. Still it would be nice wouldn’t it to have the name cache and be sent around the country on book tours and TV interviews…wait…they don’t do that anymore (unless you are already famous)! A novelist friend passed on that she had to pay for all of her trips herself in recent years and at a book signing, even Alan Brennert (of Molokai fame) told me he now has to set up his own book tours.

51lXOGfKfBL._AA160_These authors are provided with a publicist however – perhaps one person who has to promote a dozen books a week. I don’t mean to sound sarcastic,  I’m not bitter, just realistic.

Next let’s consider the small to medium-sized publishers. These independent presses often operate as a labor of love and may have a fondness for certain genres – know what those are before you query. Many are quite successful, garner top reviewers and print award-winning books. If you decide to go with the smaller presses then you must research the press and the editor to see what they are looking for and how they want you to tender your work. And yes you may submit directly – most don’t even want to deal with an agent, so you get to eliminate the middleman. Of course being small means they are at least as selective as the Big Boys, but once you find a good fit, in spite of limited budgets you will have their attention if they decide to publish you.  You will have  decent editor and a book designer (but perhaps not a publicist) and often more say in these decisions than you would with a traditional (corporate) publisher.


My next post will get to the pros and cons of indie or self-publishing. Writers are turning to self-publishing after running the gauntlet of publishers and agents – it’s an exciting time.  Meanwhile here is a book I can recommend that covers all the bases of publishing: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

Do you have a published book?  Please share your experiences and opinions with us.



2 thoughts on “Publishing 101 – the Three Routes (and then some) Part I

  1. Indie/Self-Publishing (Publishing 101 Part II) – A Place in the World

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