How to Find a Traditional Publisher for Your Novel Without an Agent
by Michael G. Langan, Esq.
(Author of Ready for the Defense and Dark Horse)
Step 1: Edit and proofread your novel thoroughly. Consider hiring a professional editor like Editor Jennifer.
Step 2: Identify your novel’s word length and genre.
Step 3: Compile a list of 30 traditional (royalty-paying) publishers in your genre that do not require agents and that are currently accepting submissions. Start finding publishers by using one or more up-to-date reference books, such as the following:
• 2010 Writer’s Market by Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest Books 2009) ($20 on Amazon; $32 for book and online subscription);
• Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2010 (Sourcebooks 2009) ($20 on Amazon); and/or
• The American Directory of Writer’s Guidelines by Stephen Blake (Linden 2006).
Then visit the websites of each of those publishers to make sure the information listed in the books (such as contact information, current needs, and submission requirements) is complete and still accurate. Finally, type up the list of all 30 publishers and their pertinent details, including addresses, names of editors, and submission requirements.
Step 4: Rank the publishers in terms of your preference using your desired criteria. For example, your criteria might include the following:
• Whether they publish in hardcover, paperback and/or electronic format;
• Ease of submission (e.g., whether they accept submissions only by mail or whether they accept submissions by email);
• Speed of submission (e.g., whether they accept only query, synopsis, sample chapters, or whole manuscript early in the process, and whether they accept simultaneous submissions);
• Quantity and quality of books published each year (including quality of cover art);
• Capacity to distribute books (e.g., whether they have relationships with Ingram and/or Baker & Taylor, and whether they have books available for sale on Amazon and/or BarnesandNoble.com); and/or
• Royalty rates (including whether they pay an advance).
Step 5: Prepare a model of the submission materials you will likely need (e.g., query letter, short synopsis, long synopsis, sample chapters, biography, marketing plan, etc). To do so, consider using one or more of the following reference books:
• Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer’s Digest Books 2009) ($16 on Amazon);
• The Writers Digest Guide To Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas (Writer’s Digest Books 2009) ($11 on Amazon);
• Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why by Jeff Herman (Wiley 2001) ($11 on Amazon); and/or
• How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood (Writer’s Digest Books 2000) ($11 on Amazon).
Step 6: Using your model submission materials as a starting point, prepare submission materials for each publisher in accordance to their stated requirements. Start with the publishers you have ranked highest.
Step 7: Create a log to track your submissions. Create a table with 6 columns and 31 rows. Label the 6 columns as follows: “Publisher”; “Date Query Letter Sent”; “Date Synopsis Sent”; “Date Sample Chapters Sent”; “Date Manuscript Sent”; and “Date Response Received.” Then, in the “Publisher” column, label each of the 30 rows with the name and contact information of each different publisher.
Step 8: Start submitting! Many publishers prohibit simultaneous submissions. Obeying this rule (e.g., waiting three to six months for each publisher to get back to you before you make a submission to another publisher) would likely lead you to be old and gray before you make it through the entire list of 30 publishers. As a result, consider submitting materials in groups of five, staggered every four weeks. That way, if you have to withdraw materials, you will offend fewer publishers. Finally, be sure to keep any receipts for postage, paper and ink for tax purposes, in case you find a publisher and get paid an advance that same tax year.