As I promised last week, I am going to share with you the journey a book takes from being a completed manuscript to being a published work of fiction or non-fiction. But I’m going to keep it quick without all the details because otherwise this could take forever. And keep in mind this is just a general overview of the process. Sometimes agents or publishers will ask for different material from an author. Or else the authors themselves will chose a different path (i.e. self publication) for their book.
So one completes a manuscript. After hours and hours, probably weeks and months, sometimes even years, the book is done. If a writer knows he or she wants to be published a majority of them take the traditional route. Find an agent to represent them and then work as hard as they can (and take their agents suggestions) to get published, hopefully making a long and influential career out of it.
There are many great resources for finding an agent. I’ll gladly post some of those if anyone is interested. In order to try to secure a client, a writer will write what is called a query letter. It is a short overview of your book, a quick biography, often times a short bit on what either qualifies you to write this genre or where it will fit in the market (who it will be marketable to). For me, this was always hard. To try to condense a 350 page book into a paragraph or two presented a challenge. In addition, there are many agents or publishers that will not even consider looking at your manuscript unless you’ve been published before. But then, how to get published unless someone will look at your manuscript? A challenge sometimes.
Another option for meeting agents and publishers and presenting your material is by attending a writer’s conference. Agents and sometimes publishers as well, will show up to these gatherings, actually sit down and let writer’s give their pitch. Kind of like a verbal query. You tell them about yourself, but mainly focus on what you’ve written. In this case, if they’re interested, they will suggest you send them something more. A good way to get your foot in the door, particularly if you haven’t ever been published before.
I’ve sent out dozens of query letters in my years of being a writer. I’ve known and heard of other authors sending out hundreds. Agents often receive dozens in just one day. Hundreds in a week. And somehow yours has to stand out.
If an agent is interested, they will most of the time request a partial. They ask for part of your manuscript so they can read a bit of what you’ve got and get a better feel for your writing style. This, of course, happens over the course of weeks or months. It’s likely a writer won’t hear back from a query letter for eight weeks, if they hear back at all. And then if they send a partial, they wait to hear back from that as well. An agent, interested in your work, may then request a full manuscript. If they’re still interested, you may just have yourself an agent. You will sign a contract, they agree to represent you and your current work. And then you begin the equally time consuming task of trying to find a publisher.
When you have an agent, you begin editing and polishing your manuscript. Making the suggested changes and developing it in a way your agent feels will reach a publisher. And then there’s the dreaded proposal package. These can vary in content, but basically it is a package of material regarding your work that you send to a publisher. It gives a synopsis of your work, sometimes the synopsis itself is four or five pages. Then there’s another biographical sketch of you, the writer. Here is where you’ll also include a bit of a marketing strategy if you will (particularly if it is non-fiction). You will tell what niche in the market your book will fit into. Who it will appeal to. Often times, you will list specific published books that are in the same genre as the book you’re proposing to them. This way publishers get a feel for the kind of audience that might read your book. And, on occasion, you will put sample chapters, or some publishers in the past have requested a chapter by chapter outline. When I did one of these, it was an additional 35 pages I had to write to add into the package.
But, if all this goes well, you may have a publisher. It sounds fairly simple, but most writers don’t have a publisher's interest after the first proposal package is sent out. It can take much longer, years even to get that interest. And, after some time, an agent might decide to hold off on representing this particular manuscript and going from there.
Of course following this, if you get a contract from a publisher, are edits and more edits, getting the cover created, among other things. This is the stage I’m at. Fun but scary at the same time.
That was just a very brief look into the world of agents and publishers and the path a writer has to take. More and more these days, writers are looking at alternative ways to get published. However, most writers, at the beginning of career will dream about the traditional way of doing it all. Find a great agent, secure a great publisher and then be able to walk into a book store one day and see their books on the shelves. Ah, well, the dream is still alive but writers are having to work harder than ever to get their work out there. Perseverance is key, and learn as much as you can along the way.
(Sorry, I know I said I’d keep it short. I told you it’s hard for me to put into one or two paragraphs what I usually use pages for.)