Once upon a time…
…there was a group of young and promising writers. They had great ideas, finished manuscripts, and starry eyes filled with hope of Bestseller’s Lists. The only question was, what should they do next?
Our intrepid writers set out to explore their options: should they go indie and self-publish, or try the traditional publishing route? While a couple members of the group chose to investigate the self-publishing path, this narrator decided to follow the group who went toward the traditional path first. (Check in with the indie group here!)
Traditional Publishing: Where do you start?
So you’ve decided to try the traditional route. That’s great! In this publishing climate, there are several things you will need in order to land that golden, glistening contract with the Publisher of Your Dreams. Aside from a stellar book, you will more likely than not need a top-quality literary agent and a solid knowledge of the current state of The Industry.
Most traditional publishing houses these days only accept submissions through agents. There are exceptions to this, but it changes seasonally, and you’ll need to do outside research to find out who is open to unsolicited manuscripts. There are a ton of debates over whether to get an agent or to go it alone, but I believe you want someone on your side to help you with navigating the business waters, and to champion your awesome stories.
Tip: Don’t just query every agent on the planet.
Like us, agents all have different tastes and specialties. Not everyone is going to be interested in a space opera starring a cast of cats. In the same way, some agents only represent romance novels or vegan cookbooks, so it’s really important to learn about agents before you send out your queries or pitch to someone at a conference. You don’t want to send your YA medieval fantasy to a picture book agent. Agents want to help writers, but if you’re not pursuing the right agents, you’ll be wasting both their time and yours. And nobody wants to get stuck on that dead-end path!
So, how do you find an agent who is looking for YOUR book (but doesn’t know it yet)?
- RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. Two of my favorite resources for learning about what agents want are Query Tracker and Manuscript Wish List. Query Tracker is a fantastic database that keeps track of what genres agents represent, whether or not they are open to queries, and stores data on response times to queries. Manuscript Wish List is a website created by an agent as a place for agents to continually update writers on specific things on their wish lists. What more direct info could you want??
- TWITTER. Pen friends, if you don’t already know this, Twitter is a GOLD MINE for insider info on the publishing industry. Once you’ve identified some agents and publishers you’re interested in, follow them on Twitter. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned about the industry and potential agents/editors just from hanging around in the Twitterverse the last couple of years. (You can even search the hashtag #MSWL to get updates from agents and editors about their wish lists.) There are also a TON of opportunities to pitch directly to agents, enter contests like Pitch Wars, and even find a mentor (like I did!) through programs like Author Mentor Match (Shoutout to Alexa Donne and Heather Kaczynski for creating AMM!). Come chat with me, @missdanablack, and I’ll help you find what you’re looking for!
- CONFERENCES. I could write an entire post on any of these things (and I might), but let me tell you, especially if you’re interested in a traditional publishing contract, conferences are one of the best investments you can make for your writing career–because you get great instruction on craft, you get to meet other writers, and you can talk directly to agents and editors who are actively seeking authors. And yes, they can be expensive, and if it’s hard for you to travel, they might seem almost impossible, but thanks to the magic of technology, you can even attend conferences from home now! Check out WriteOnCon and The Manuscript Academy for affordable, high-quality virtual conferences.
Once the group of adventurous writers started down the path toward traditional publishing, they realized they were not alone on their journey. And while there are many other things involved in finding one’s way through the Realm, the paths they began exploring turned out to be a great place to start.
…And all the Land rejoiced!
What are your questions about starting down the path to traditional publishing? Do you have any tips or resources you love? Share with us in the comments!
Dana, signing off to head back to the forest.
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