Updated: Sep 19, 2021
You took your idea and wrote your story. You’ve read the book countless times, and so have your friends and family. It’s time for perhaps the most exhilarating, nerve-wracking part of the writing process: publishing.
It can be difficult to decide whether to self-publish or pursue the traditional publishing route. However, if you’ve decided to go with a traditional publisher, you may be encountering a number of worries.
How do I find a publisher, agent, or editor?
Will someone steal my work if I ask for their help?
Will anyone actually want to invest in my book?
Rest assured that many authors have come up against these same issues and that there are several factors that can make getting your book traditionally published easier.
First, as in all things writing-related, do your research! Traditional publishing seems daunting, and many scrambling writers turn to Google for last-minute, confusing answers. It’s important to keep in mind that the traditional publishing route doesn’t happen quickly and that any answers promising a quick fix aren’t legitimate. Instead, think of publishing your first book as a long-term investment in your career. Bolster that career by researching your field, taking classes and courses, hiring coaches, and reading other books by publishers you’re interested in.
As you research publishers, avoid vanity presses. As mentioned, traditional publishing isn’t a fast process and many publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors. And the few that do are usually small presses. But here's the key: A real traditional publisher pays YOU, not the other way around. If a publisher promises a quick turnaround and asks for any amount of money upfront, they are NOT a traditional publisher. Essentially, a vanity press charges you money to self-publish your book under their name, which does cause issues for your copyright. They aren't in the business of selling books, they are in the business of producing them. They aren't invested in your book being successful--they get their money from an author and then move on to the next so it doesn't matter to them whether or not your book is actually successful. While there's lots of information out there about vanity presses and why you should avoid them, aspiring authors fall for them all the time. Please do your research and encourage others to do the same.
Research how the industry works. Some first-time authors think that agents are for-hire. While agents do work for authors and are among their biggest advocates, they aren’t traditionally hired by the author. Instead, the agent vets the author and accepts them as a client. Additionally, the steps for traditional publishing and self-publishing are different. With traditional publishing, you write your story, self-edit and revise, get it professionally edited, and then query agents. You do NOT hire an illustrator. With self-publishing, you would do the same steps but skip the querying and hire an illustrator, since you are going to be your own publisher. We see it all the time: someone decides they want to be traditionally published, skips the editing, hires an illustrator, and then gets upset when they realize that they've wasted thousands of dollars. Some authors decide to become traditionally published but go straight to Google and end up submitting their book to vanity presses. Please do your research! If you don't know where to start, take courses or hire an author coach to help you. But don't try to dive in without doing your due diligence.
As you prepare to submit your work to a publisher, seek out other authors to read it first. Your significant other or best friend may have read your book a thousand times already, but no one understands the craft and the business better than other authors. Plenty of websites and social media groups allow writers from around the world to connect. Another author may catch an error or inconsistency in your book or may provide first-hand knowledge of what a publisher is looking for in a submission. Your best resource may just be your fiercest competition!
Finally, a specific but important rule to keep in mind: if you want your book to rhyme, be sure to use it exceptionally well. Traditional publishers are only going to publish the highest-quality rhyming books since the industry is inundated with them. Dr. Seuss may have been able to get away with a slant rhyme, but a first-time author seeking to be traditionally published shouldn’t bet on it. Meter, rhyme, rhythm, and syllable stresses should be flawless. That means you'll need to become a master in the mechanics of rhyme by reading, researching, taking courses, and investing in poetry coaching. If that doesn’t seem plausible, reconsider if your book even needs to rhyme. It may work just as fine, if not better, in prose.
Pursuing traditional publishing for the first time may seem overwhelming. However, by being knowledgeable of the industry--and asking for help or guidance when necessary--an author can succeed with their submission. Good luck!