Publication is not an easy step for most authors, and the barriers surrounding traditional publishing can seem monstrous, especially to new writers who looking for a home for their first book. If you’re in search of your first publisher, knowing where to start can be a big task on its own.
Luckily, you have options. There are still publishing giants that many authors aspire to catch the attention of, but in this day and age small indie publishers are popping up everywhere and are a great alternative to the more established publishing houses. If you’re curious about how to get started getting your work published with a traditional company, keep reading!
Getting Published with One of the “Big Five”
If you’ve gotten this far into the publication process, you’ve probably heard of the “Big Five” Publishers. This elite group of publishers consists of Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Needless to say, getting published with one of these prestigious companies is difficult, but not impossible.
Unlike some of the other traditional publishers on this list, these five giants don’t have a way for the average aspiring author to send in their manuscript. If you want to be published by one of them, you’ll need a literary agent, who is essentially your connection to the world of commercial publishing.
A literary agent is someone who can represent your work to editors at these commercial publishing houses. They usually have a connection to an editor and will promote your book for you. Agents don’t just represent anyone, however. Most of them are paid via commission, which means you’re only worth something to them if your book is actually, well, good. This does work in your favor though. Because your agent makes a percentage of what you make, they’ll want to get you the most money for your book.
Before your book goes to a publishing house, you’ll have to find an agent who thinks your piece is good enough for them to represent. Unless you have one in mind, you can search for agents through sites like agentqueryconnect.com. You’ll want to make sure you find an agent who has experience with your book’s genre and has a solid reputation. Make sure you avoid agents who charge an upfront fee. Good agents work off commission.
Once you’ve found an agent, you’ll submit a query letter to them, which is essentially an introductory letter about both yourself and your book. In addition to the query letter, you’ll want to submit anything else an agent asks for, such as sample chapters or a quick book synopsis. It is then up to the agent if they want to represent you.
Once you’ve been accepted (which could take a while), your agent will likely send you an edit letter, which asks you to make some changes to your book to make it more marketable in their eyes. Some changes are large, some are small, but these will mostly be changes to the actual content of your book, not small revisions like line editing. Agents don’t deal with smaller edits, that is your responsibility with your own editor.
After your edits are complete, your agent gets to work writing up a proposal for your book that they will send to various editors at publishing houses. Your agent may not send your book into publishers right away. Publishers like to accept different books at various times of the year, so your manuscript isn’t likely to hit the desk of editors immediately.
If your book catches the eye of one or more editors, they’ll offer you a publishing deal. You may be offered multiple deals, if you are so lucky. It is up to you to choose the deal you think is the best with some help from your agent. Once you’ve chosen your favorite deal, you’ll have to sign a contract with your preferred publishing company. Your contract will detail a variety of information like who gets what rights, the amount of money you’ll make, etc., so read carefully!
After signing the contract, there is still work to be done, so don’t rest yet! You’ll work with an editor through your publisher to perfect your story and make any other necessary edits before the book is ready for the shelves. Editors may ask for some big changes, so be prepared. Once you’ve done all the revisions they requested, it is up to the publishing company to produce the book, market it, and schedule appearances, book signings, and any other publicity events.
Working with a Smaller Publisher
While it may be your life’s goal to publish with a “Big Five” publisher, there are loads of other smaller publishers that are approachable and may have a higher acceptance rate. You don’t have to give up your dreams of working with HarperCollins though. If you have a multitude of books you’d like to write, getting one published with a smaller, traditional publisher isn’t a bad idea.
As you navigate towards indie publishers, their submission process isn’t always the same as the process used by the Big Five. Some may take un-agented or unsolicited manuscripts, while some may still require you to have a literary agent. Some may not accept all book genres or may only take certain genres around certain times of the year. Here’s a little list of some growing traditional publishers who might be worth a shot.
Bancroft Press is a smaller publisher that accepts a variety of book genres. They don’t publish quite as many books per year as a Big 5 Publisher, but the books they do publish wind up in a variety of popular retailers like Amazon, Baker & Taylor, and Barnes & Noble. The best part? They take unsolicited submissions.
Simply log on to their website at bancroftpress.com and locate their submissions tab. There you’ll find a simple form with guidelines for submitting both fiction and non-fiction. According to their site, they’ll usually respond to you within six months. No literary agent required!
Tiny Fox Press
This publisher is another small press that is currently open for submissions. Like Bancroft, you won’t need an agent, but having one definitely boosts your credibility. They don’t take on many new authors per year, but you do have a chance of being selected. While they’re very selective, they do offer some attractive features. They will offer an advance, and they begin paying out royalties once they start selling your book.
If you think Tiny Fox may be the publisher for you, you can check out their submission tab on their website at tinyfoxpress.com. They’re currently looking for sci-fi and fantasy books, so if that’s you, you’re in luck! They have an email where you can send your query. Fill your email with a brief pitch and the first ten pages of your manuscript, and they promise to get back to you whether they like your pitch or not. If you’re looking for a quirky small press to work with, Tiny Fox may be your guy!
Tupelo Press is an independent press specializing in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Beyond simply accepting submissions, they also host a wide range of contests year round. If you are a poet seeking to win a few prizes for your works, Tupelo hosts a series of poetry contests throughout the year with monetary prizes and publication in one of Tupelo’s anthologies.
If contests aren’t your speed, however, Tupelo is currently accepting prose submissions. If you go to their submissions page at tupelopress.org you can find directions to submit your piece via postal mail or email. They do charge a reading fee of $45 whether you are accepted or not, so if you plan to submit to them, be prepared to have some cash on hand.
Coffee House Press
Coffee House Press is another small publisher that has published a variety of fiction, poetry, and essay collections. Their website states that they look for authors that are both new and experienced. They are not currently taking new submissions as of fall of 2019, but starting in the spring of 2020 they will reopen for new submissions.
If you’d like to submit to Coffee House, they do accept a wide range of writings including literary novels, poetry collections, essay collections, and creative non-fiction. You can check out their website at coffeehousepress.org and see their previously published books and a more detailed submission guide. If they seem like your dream publisher, you can spend your time perfecting your piece while you wait for submissions to open in the spring.
While these are some of the most popular traditional publishers, both large and small, there are many, many more out there of varying sizes, all with different missions. If you find one that fits your needs, fantastic, but if you need to keep looking there are tons of fish in the sea of publishing companies. Even if your first few submissions are rejected, worry not, there is probably a traditional publisher right around the corner looking for a work like yours.