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In theory you can submit your work directly to a publisher. It is possible it won’t automatically hit the slush pile. There is even a slight chance the book will be picked up without ever having to find an agent.

But I don’t recommend it.

The basic foundation of the traditional industry is to find an agent, and then that agent works with you to find a publisher, negotiates your contract, and get the best deal for both of you. The agent only makes money when you make money so it’s in his interest to choose an author he likes and to go to bat on the author’s behalf when issues come up such as late royalty payments and the like.

In order to find an agent you need to learn how to write and perfect a query letter. And you need to find out what type of work he takes. If he has a blog read it. If he has a newsletter, subscribe. Know your audience, not just your intended readers when the book hits the shelves, but the person you are trying to connect with.

Again it is possible your first query letter will land you an agent. But it is unlikely. So starts the drawer of rejection letters. The only author I know of who landed an agent on his first try was a friend of a friend (of the agent) and was Robert Ludlum. Stephen King received them, JK Rowling went through the same process. Virtually every successful author has started his career with several “No thank you”s under his belt.

The reasons can vary from sensible to silly, so research your prospective agent well. Most often a rejection could also be the result of poorly written inquiry. If you can’t write a decent letter, why should an agent bother with the book? Like a novel you need to hook an agent on the first line. Without that many don’t make it to the second.

A very common reason for rejection is a lack of interest in the genre you are writing for. It’s rude to push your work onto an agent who specifically states he does not handle ____ type of books. It’s the equivalent of saying. “I don’t care what you want.” An agent can only sell a book he can get behind and if what you have isn’t his thing leave him alone.

First impressions count. The query letter should be as polished as your book. It should be interesting. It should be free from grammatical errors. And it should represent your book accurately.

Before you send a single letter, do the research, have someone literate review it and be thorough.

If you get as far as submitting your book you might still get turned down. The number one reason a manuscript is rejected is because it isn’t good. Don’t rush the process just because you want your name in print. Remember the three “p”s: practice, patience and perseverance. Each book should be your best. Don’t accept anything less for yourself, and don’t try to sell a manuscript that isn’t ready.

There are five essentials to vetting your work which you cannot live without.

A good book.
An editor
A copy editor
The latest relevant The Writer’s Market
The latest copy of The Guide to Literary Agents

The group behind the Writer's Market and The Guide to Literary Agents put out brand new books each year and despite your best friends advice to just buy a used copy from three years ago, you should get the most recent one available. They have different books for certain genres so you can save yourself some time and money by picking the right one. They also have a newsletter and I recommend subscribing to it.

The Guide To Literary Agents is produced by the same group and features more than just a list of agents and the types of books they accept. They also have an introduction to the process of finding an agent, how to write a query letter, and a reality check that is harsher than mine. Do not skip out on this book and just do a web search.

As for an editor and copy editor, here is where you might catch a break the DYI folks can’t afford. All publishing houses have editors. You need someone to go over your book before looking for an agent. But you probably don’t need a professional, you just need someone good. Orson Scott Card refers to having is wife read the book and give feedback. She knows what to look for and how to spot errors. The only problem is now she reads all books with the same eye.

It’s possible someone less invested in the creative process can be your first copy editor. But that does not change the basics that you will eventually need two people. However if you’re going this route they’re part of the bargain when you sell your book.

You will encounter an editor who may suggest a few tweaks or may want some significant changes. Many US editors have blogs. (I don’t know about the UK yet) It’s good to investigate those before submitting your work as unfortunately some seem to lack an ear for the language. If you can’t get past the editor your work doesn’t get published. But it’s sometimes possible to ask your agent for help finding a different one in the same publishing house.

Everything else is part of the traditional industry’s standard routine. If your title doesn’t work a new one will need to be found. Usually the publishing house picks a cover artist who may or may not do your book justice. The legal department handles the copyright agreement, etc.

A great deal of the final product and it’s promotion rests in the hands you’ve just sold your book to. But times have changed and they will want you to put some effort into publicity. They will want you to have website with a blog, and you may need to hire help of your own. I’ll let your agent explain the rest.

Good Luck.

Last updated May 8th, 2017

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