There was a time when, for many writers, traditional publication was the ultimate goal. Thirty years ago, there was no other way to publish a book. Now, with the rise of self-publishing, the traditional publication process has been challenged like never before.
Despite the difficulties of facing gatekeeping, often low advances, and insufficient marketing, traditional publication still has certain advantages for writers who pursue it.
It offers the opportunity for wider distribution, professional editing, and perhaps less usefully, bragging rights. Most published traditional fiction has an assured level of quality. Now that it is possible to produce quality publication with self-publishing, the biggest advantages of traditional publication, as far as I’m concerned, is that it needs no initial investment, provides advance payments, and can make the book more easily accessible in shops and libraries.
However, the process of getting a book published traditionally can be a long and complex journey. I’ll try and break down the steps involved, from querying to book launch. If you have questions, I’d be very happy to respond to them in the comments.
Step 1: Querying: The first step in getting a book published traditionally is to query literary agents: otherwise known as the ‘query trenches.’ Literary agents act as a liaison between the author and the publishing house, helping to sell the book to publishers and negotiate contracts. These days, it takes a while to land an agent, so it’s important to research agents who represent the sort of book you’ve written, and follow their submission guidelines carefully.
Subscription to Query Tracker and Publisher’s Marketplace help with this. A strong query letter that hooks the agent’s interest is essential at this stage, along with a synopsis of the novel, and the first 3-4 chapters polished to high shine.
Step 2: Getting a Literary Agent: When an agent is interested in representing your book, they will request the full manuscript and may offer representation. At this point, you nudge any other agents who are reading your manuscript and wait for offers to trickle in. In the meanwhile you speak to an agent’s existing clients and look out for red flags.
Jane Friedman’s excellent site has a ton of information on steps 1 and 2. This stage can take a while, because there are thousands of authors, hundreds of agents, but significantly less number of publishing houses.
My crime novel, The Blue Bar is out this year with Thomas & Mercer. Add it to Goodreads or order it to make my day.
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