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How to send a book to a publisher and finally get published

FREE QUIZ: Which "Publishing Path" Is Right For Your Book?

There are four different publishing paths for the modern author.
Do you know which is right for your book?

TAKE THE QUIZ

If you’ve ever envisioned your book for sale at a bookstore or airport, you’ve probably asked yourself this question: How do I send a book to a publisher? Of course, there are several ways to send a book to a publisher. Let’s talk about two, the bad idea method and the good idea method.

Bad idea: Print out your manuscript and send it directly to the publishing house.

One of my first jobs in the publishing industry was in the editorial department of a small academic press. We published dozens of titles per year, but we were a pretty small team, so I got to see a lot of the ins and outs. It was a great experience, but there was one part of the process that amazed me: the slush pile.

Every day, we would receive several large envelopes that contained full manuscripts, printed out, with a letter from the author, asking us to review the manuscript and reply back with whether or not we thought it was worth publishing. Every day, I was responsible for opening the manuscript and putting it on a pile, which was already stacked high with manuscripts we’d received the day before, the day before that, and the day before that. I had to stack them in the corner, so the pile of thousands of pieces of paper would be less likely to topple over and avalanche my desk.

Most days, we were too busy to actually read through even the letter, let alone the table of contents or the manuscript, itself. But, at the end of the week, if I’d finished everything urgent, the acquisitions editor would stop by my desk and say, “Okay, Morgan, I think we’re ready to wrap up. Thumb through the slush pile, let me know if you see anything interesting, and then we’ll call it a day.”

So, I would spend 30 minutes, maybe even an hour, going through dozens of manuscripts. I was looking for something that was within our range of specialties (social science, politics, and economics). Many of the manuscripts didn’t even fall within the range of what we would usually publish. Beyond that, I was looking for a table of contents that was logically organized and had clear, compelling chapter titles, which suggested an argument that evolved over the course of the book. And, once it passed that test, I’d read a few pages of the intro, a couple of chapters, and the conclusion. If the premise seemed interesting, I’d write a quick note to the acquisitions editor about why I thought the manuscript might be a good fit for our catalog and put it on her desk.

But that was maybe 1 manuscript out of 1,000. The rest were sent to recycling, no response, no acknowledgment of receipt. I felt like such a jerk, just tossing them like that, knowing how much work the author had poured into the manuscript, but there simply wasn’t enough time to respond to everyone. It could seriously have been my full-time job, just reading unsolicited manuscripts and responding to those authors. Most publishing houses run on such tight profit margins that they simply can’t employ a slush pile assistant, so this is how unsolicited manuscripts are typically handled.

The lesson for you: if you send a book to a publisher, unsolicited, you will very likely never receive an acknowledgment of receipt or input on whether it’s publishable. It’s a waste of postage.

What should you do, instead?

>> Click here to get our FREE “Publishing Success Blueprint” <<

Good idea: the most strategic way to send a book to a publisher.

There is a right way to send a book to a publisher, a method that is tried and true, even if it requires patience and perseverance. Here’s the snapshot, and then we’ll go through each step:

  1. Find an agent who represents your niche.
  2. Write a proposal for the book you want to write (or are already writing).
  3. The agent will “shop” that proposal to publishers until he gets a “yes” from a publishing house. This can take anywhere from six months to six years.

First step, find an agent who represents your niche.

Okay, yes, you can just straight-up approach a small publishing house, but, honestly, if you want to go through the whole rigamarole of traditional publishing, you want to aim for a mid-sized to a large publishing house, and all of them prefer to work with agents. So, get an agent.

Agents specialize in particular niches. Whether you’re writing a memoir, self-help, health, business, travel, or something else, there will be an agent who specializes in that, particular niche. They build relationships with acquisitions editors in various publishing houses, and acquisitions editors are the people will actually pitch to the publishing house managing editor to bring your project in. There’s a line of relationships.

Agent >> Acquisitions Editor >> Managing Editor (who makes the ultimate decision about what the publishing house publishes)

How do you find an agent in your niche?

Google. Yep, just type in “literary agent ___(niche)____” and see who pops up. Search Twitter also, since that’s where a lot of agents hang out.

Look in books that have already been published in your niche. Flip to the acknowledgments section, and 99% of the time, the author will thank the agent.

Find out which agency the agent works for (most agents work for a larger literary agency). Find the email address for the agency, and ask whether they’re accepting new authors. Mention the name of the agent(s) you’d found in your search.

Stalk the agents, directly. Follow them on Twitter, reply to their content, and tag them in your own content and questions. Nicely. You don’t have to try to engage with them every day, maybe weekly or so, just until you become a familiar name to them. Then, once you’re pretty sure they recognize who you are, then you can ask about working with them on submitting your proposal to a publisher.

Second step, write a proposal for the book you want to write (or are already writing).

Now, I will not pretend to be an expert on book proposals. I left the traditional publishing industry years ago, and my much-beloved self-publishing industry bypasses the proposal stage.

But, I’ll tell you knows a heck of a lot about book proposals:

Michael Hyatt. And he has two proposal guides that have become the gold standard in the publishing industry. He literally walks you through every step of how to write a winning book proposal.
Grab Michael Hyatt’s book proposal guides here.

Jerry Jenkins. And he has an incredibly valuable blog post called “How to Write a Winning Book Proposal,” which you can read right now.
Read Jerry Jenkin's winning book proposal article here.

But I can tell you what goes into a basic book proposal and why.

  • Query letter: This is a letter, from you to the publisher, that briefly introduces you to the publisher, why you believe your book is a good fit for their catalog, and why you believe you are a good fit for them, as a company.
  • Proposal: This is a more in-depth document that describes what your book is about, why your book is similar to other successful books yet provides a new angle, who will be interested in buying this book, and specific strategies you’ll use to market to these readers. Publishers are particularly interested in hearing how you’ll market the book, so you’ll want to include information about how you, personally can reach readers through your email list, social media network, in-person network, interviews, speaking gigs, conferences, and anything else you’d be willing to do as a published author. (Hint: the publisher wants to make dang sure that you’re going to help them sell books and lots of ‘em!)
  • Synopsis of each chapter: A few paragraphs that summarize each chapter of the book, so the publisher can see the scope and logical progression of your book.
  • Sample chapters: Two to three full-length chapters, so the publisher can get a feel for your writing style.

Step three: the agent will “shop” that proposal to publishers.

Once you have an agent and a proposal, the agent will begin to shop your proposal to publishers that might be a good fit. The agent will reach out to her connections and say, “Hey, I’ve got an author who’s working on a book project that I think would be great for your catalog.” And the agent and acquisitions editor will begin a dialogue about your book and whether it’s the type of project that would fit with what the publishing house is looking for.

This process can take anywhere from six months to six years. Prepare yourself for a lot of rejections. Most books are rejected dozens of times before they’re picked up by a publisher, and it often has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Honestly, publishers are looking for very specific types of books (in a certain niche, directed toward a certain audience, within a certain page length, or written in a certain style). There are so many factors that a publishing house is looking for that you end up having to pitch the proposal to a lot of publishing houses, but if you are patient and persistent (and your agent is, too), you’ll find a fit and get it published.

Still, this method has a much higher likelihood of getting your book published than you deciding to send a book to a publisher, directly, I promise you that!

Is traditional publishing worth it?

This is a heck of a lot of work and a heck of a lot of years, and I think it’s worth asking yourself, “Do I really want to pursue traditional publishing?”

If you want to see your book in a big box bookstore, or if you want a shot at the New York Times bestseller’s list, then, yes, you’ll need to go down the traditional publishing route.

But if those are not your ultimate goals right now, then, I’d suggest you at least consider self-publishing. You can produce an ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook for around $10k and start reaping all the benefits of being a published author within the next years.

Just something to think about.

What about you? Are you considering traditional publishing? Have you been in contact with agents or publishing houses before?

FREE QUIZ: Which "Publishing Path" Is Right For Your Book?

There are four different publishing paths for the modern author.
Do you know which is right for your book?

TAKE THE QUIZ