So here’s where I answer all the burning questions I’ve been asked about how to get published, questions I get asked via email, via Facebook, via last week’s blog which had a handy list of publishing links, via my Secrets to Publishing Success course at UWA Extension, and just in general everyday chit-chat.
Question: Do I need an agent?
This is the question I get asked the most. And the answer is, no, you don’t NEED an agent. But they are very handy. Here’s why:
- You manuscript won’t go into the publisher’s slush pile if you have an agent. The publisher will actually read it. Hopefully this increases your chance of getting published.
- Some agents work with you on getting your manuscript into tip-top shape before it goes to the publisher. This can be very useful and gives you your best chance of success.
- Agents WILL negotiate a better contract for you. Take it from someone who has published one book without an agent and one book via an agent. My agented contract is the better one.
- Agents are on top of all the changes in the industry that are happening right now. It’s their job to know about all this stuff, and you can focus on writing books.
But don’t I have to pay them some of my hard-earned money? I hear you ask. Yes, you do. They will take a percentage of the royalties a publisher remits to you. But generally, I think you make up for this by having a better and more lucrative contract in the first place.
Question: How do I pitch my work to a publisher?
Number one rule – read their submission guidelines. Every publisher wants something slightly different. Some will ask you to analyse the competition and some won’t, some will ask you to include the first three chapters of your book and others will ask you to send them any three chapters. You need to make sure that each submission package is tailored to what each publisher wants to receive from you.
In general, you should always have a covering letter/email:
- Make sure your letter/email includes a punchy, approximately 30 word description of your book, like an abbreviated back cover blurb. This is probably the most important thing to get right so spend lots of time working on and refining this description. It should be written so that it makes you feel compelled to read your own book.
- Try to think of a hook. Do you have any particular experience that makes you the only person who could possibly write this book? Have you won a reputable writing award or competition? Has another well-known writer recommended you contact this publisher? Has a journal or other writer ever said anything positive about your work that you can quote? How can you make your submission stand out from the pack?
- Begin your letter with either your punchy 30 word description, or your hook, whichever is better.
Almost all publishers will ask for a synopsis too:
- This is not a description of the themes of your book. Most publishers don’t want you to tell them what the themes are; they can usually work that out for themselves, based on your synopsis. Think of a synopsis as being like the back cover blurb on a book. It’s compelling, it makes you want to find out more, and it generally asks a question.
- This should be around 200-300 words and definitely no more than one page.
- A synopsis should also include the title of your book, and its word-length.
Who do I send my work to first – a publisher or an agent?
Definitely an agent. If you have already sent your work to all the publishers, then an agent can’t help you. They can’t send the same work back to all the same publishers. So try the agents first.
What do I do if everyone keeps saying no?
That all depends on HOW they say no. Sometimes a publisher or agent will say no, but they’ll send you an email or a letter to tell you about the things they liked about the manuscript, and possibly they’ll even give you feedback about what they thought could be improved. This is GOLD. Take a long, hard look at their feedback and at your manuscript. Ask yourself: should I take this feedback on board? The answer is generally, yes. Revise your pitch or your manuscript, depending on what they say, and then send it back out into the world.
If, on the other hand, you kept getting standard rejection letters, this means you definitely need to revise some aspect of your pitch. It could be that your synopsis isn’t compelling anyone to want to read your manuscript, it could be that your covering letter is letting you down, it could be that your manuscript needs more work. Take a good look at all the elements of your submission package and rework everything, then try again. I would recommend if you get about 3 or 4 standard rejection letters in a row, that is the point at which you would want to begin reworking things. Don’t get all the way to the bottom of your list and then decide its time to rework. You want to make sure you still have enough names on your list to send your revised package out to.
Can I send my work off to more than one publisher at a time?
You can, but I wouldn’t recommend sending it out to everybody all at once. Because what if you do get some great feedback from an agent that helps you rework your manuscript but your manuscript is already sitting in every slush pile around the country? Send out to only one or two at a time. That way, you can incorporate any feedback you might get, and then send it out, reworked and refined, to the next name on your list.
But I’ve looked at all the agents’ websites and only two of them are accepting unsolicited manuscripts?
This can change form time to time. Agents get busy. They don’t have time to read manuscripts so they close their doors. Then some time opens up and so do they. Check your favourite agents’ websites every month, because often they only open their inboxes for short periods of about 4 weeks and you’d hate to miss out because you weren’t checking often enough.
Those are the top 6 questions I am often asked about getting published. If you have any more questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer as best I can. Most of all, though – good luck and check back next week, when I’ll be sharing some advice from other published authors about the one thing they did that helped them get published.