The publishing process can be daunting for a writer. There are many pitfalls from unscrupulous agents to vanity presses masquerading as traditional publishers. In an attempt to guide the writer, we have put together a library of information and helpful websites to assist.
Many of the sites below give a great deal of in-depth and invaluable information on every aspect of getting a piece of work published, but your first port of call should be to get the backing of a legitimate and reputable literary agent. There are many people out there who claim to be agents, but you have to be very careful. One obvious cautionary sign is when the agent tries to charge you an initial fee for taking you on – never pay to enlist the services of an agent. Reputable agents make their money through commissions, not through upfront fees. Beware of charlatans who are just out to make a quick buck (the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook lists hundreds of reputable agents). Similarly, there are many publishers out there who claim to be traditional presses – these people will publish your book, but it will be poor quality, poorly (if at all) edited and will cost far more than a commercially viable book should. In addition, these publishers will NEVER get your book into brick and mortar stores. Your book will only ever be available online. If you choose to go down a self publishing route be careful and research your chosen publisher VERY carefully first.
Before listing some must read sites, here is a little general advice on publishing.
The road to getting published is a rocky one. It’s generally a long and tough process with many knock backs along the way. It can take years and years for a new writer to finally get published. You need to be resilient and be able to accept that success can take a long time. You need to be able to take rejection and criticism. But then if it was easy what would be the achievement in that???
So what’s the process? Well, you’ve written your book and you’ve revised it and revised it several times until you’re fairly happy with it (you’ll NEVER be totally happy with it!). You’ve also given it to a few friends or family members to read through it for you which has hopefully helped you develop and improve it even further. Now you’ve then got 2 options. Send it off to a publisher or a literary agent.
Most of the big publishers will not accept manuscripts from authors without an agent and those that do look unfavourably on authors without an agent. If you get an agent they can use their contacts in the industry to try to get your book in front of the right people at the right publisher. They can also help with the editing and presentation of your book. They do charge a commission fee though, usually around 15% for UK sales and 20% for international sales. So firstly, you need to get a copy of a publication like the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. It lists all the reputable agents and publishers with contact details plus what genres they work in. There is no point in sending your sci-fi book to an agent or publisher that only specialises in crime thrillers. So, know your market otherwise you’re wasting your time.
So, you’ve selected an appropriate agent or publisher to send your book to (it is generally considered polite to only send a manuscript to one at a time). What you then need to do is ensure that it is in the right format. To start with, a lot of agents and publishers still prefer to receive submissions by post in hard copy (God knows why! We happily accept email submissions), so check their guidelines.
A4 single-sided, double spaced with decent margins and generally in a 12 point easy to read font (Times Roman, Arial).
You need to write a cover letter that briefly describes the book – genre, how many words, basic plot – and a brief note on you – age, background. The cover letter should always be kept to a single page (for emails, the cover letter can comprise of the body of the email with synopsis and extract as attachments).
You also need to include a synopsis of the story. The synopsis should also be kept to a single page where possible. The synopsis is a detailed breakdown of the story – giving details of the main characters and what happens throughout. This should not be mistaken for the blurb on the back of a book. A blurb is to entice a reader to read your book. A synopsis is to explain exactly what happens in your book so that the publisher or agent will be able to decide whether your book is saleable.
You then need to include the first 3 chapters of your novel as a rule. Some prefer just 1 or 2 chapters, but the majority prefer 3 to get a better picture of your writing, style and the story. The yearbook or their website will tell you exactly what their submission guidelines are.
Finally, for postal submissions you also need to include a stamped addressed envelope (SAE) to return your work.
Then what? While you wait around 6 weeks for them to reply you can start on your next story. Don’t wait to find out what happens to the first one because it could take a very long time.
If and when you get a rejection letter – every single writer accrues loads of them, so don’t worry about it – you then send it out to the next one on your list and then the next one and so on.
After a few rejections then try taking a fresh look at the story – 6 months may have gone by, so when you re-read it you may feel that you would like to make a number of changes and improvements to it. You may go through this cycle several times – changing it and moulding it.
Conclusion – just keep trying, keep writing and keep revising. Writing is a tough business but it is the most fantastic feeling to get your work into print and for people to be able to read your work.
An important rule to always remember about writing is to write often and regularly. You need to get yourself into a routine of writing. The more you write, the better you get at it. Some people commit to writing 3 times a week for an hour at a time, but it’s up to you. You need to decide what is right for you and then stick to it. By all means do more, but never do less.
To help improve your craft and also to help promote your writing and find yourself some readership, there are many sites on the internet that allow you to publish your work online. These sites can be great for your early work to get feedback and criticism for your work. We can’t improve without criticism, so don’t just accept it, invite it.
www.writersmarket.co.uk – Writer’s Market UK
www.lit-net.org – Lit – Net
www.literaturetraining.com – Literature training and professional development
www.northernwriterscentre.com – The Northern Writer’s Centre
www.askoxford.com – Oxford University Press with free resources including ‘Ask the Expert’ and Letter Writing’
www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide – The Economist’s Style Guide
www.plainenglish.co.uk – The Campaign for Plain English
www.soyouwanna.com – This addictive site has a good section on avoiding common writing errors