Submitting to Publishers

Occasionally I hear new writers ask how the decide on the very best publisher to let publish their just-finished manuscript. Well, unless you have lot of offers already, this isn't a question you need to be asking.

Another question some new writers ask is how much a publisher will charge them to publish their book. The answer here should be zero.

In traditional publishing, publishers buy books from authors. This means the publisher pays the author, not the other way around.

Sometimes this involves an advance, which means an advance against royalties the book is expected to earn. In other words, it's money up front, paid at signing and sometimes split into additional payments that the author receives after edits are accepted or when the book comes out.

Other times, authors get little to no advance, but they do earn royalties later, and they certainly don't pay the publisher anything.

Given this, it's easy to see why publishers are very selective about which books they buy. They only buy books that they think will earn them money. This is why authors don't exactly get to choose their dream publisher. Instead, they submit their book to a number of publishers who might be a good fit and see who's interested.

Submitting to Publishers

The best way to submit to publishers is to get an agent and have your agent do the submissions. Many publishers don't accept unagented submissions.

If you're interested in an agent, try to get one first. Do not submit to agents and publishers at the same time. Most agents don't want to represent manuscripts that have already been shopped.

If you don't find an agent, though, you can submit to publishers who accept unagented submissions on your own.

Submitting to a publisher is similar to submitting to an agent, so read How to Get a Literary Agent. Follow the advice there on writing queries and following submission instructions.

Finding Publishers 

For a list of publishers, check out Agent Query. There's a section on "Small Presses" that will be especially helpful if you're submitting without an agent, although not all of these publishers will accept unagented submissions.

You can also try Googling "publishers who accept unagented (your genre here)" to see if someone else has already compiled a list.

Before submitting, always check the publisher's submission instructions. You can usually find this on the publisher's website in a section labeled "submissions," or it might be under the FAQ or contact information. Some publishers want you to mail a hard copy, but others accept electronic submissions. Some want the complete manuscript, but others want a cover letter (think query) and sample chapters.

Always follow the instructions.

Before You Submit

You might think that any publisher is better than no publisher, but this isn't really true. Some publishers are scams. Others are honest, but they don't have the experience or resources needed to help your book succeed.

To avoid falling for a scam, research publishers before submitting and definitely before signing. If a publisher wants you to pay, understand that this is not how traditional publishing is supposed to work. You'd be better off self-publishing. Read Avoiding Publishing Scams for more details.

If you're thinking about going with a very small publisher, check out the other books they've published.

  • Do they look good?
  • Do you like the covers? 
  • Would you buy them? 
  • Do they have reviews from professional reviewers, like Kirkus and Library Journal? 
  • Are they selling well? 

Check Amazon to see a book's sales rank and reviews. You can also see if a book is in libraries by checking WorldCat.

If you wouldn't buy any of the books that a publisher has to offer, think twice about selling your book to them.

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