When I tell people I’ve written a book and I’m attempting to get it published this usually sparks some curiosity as to what publication entails. I know that many of you who actually read this blog already know the ins and outs of publishing and if you don’t maybe you don’t care. If you fall into either category, feel no need to read further. But just in case there is anyone curious to know about it, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the last several years.

There are many avenues to publication. I’ve heard enough stories to know that everyone has their own path and experience as to how they got published. Self-publishing is a huge topic in the industry right now and I’ll share my thoughts on that later, but today I’ll stick to “traditional publishing” which is the avenue I personally would like to pursue.

Traditional Publishing is what writers refer to when they want to sell their work to a publisher and have them do most of the work beyond their own writing. The basic business model is the publisher and author enter a contract and the publisher pays the author an advance, ranging anywhere from small dollars to millions, (usually small dollars) to publish their book.

The publisher pays for all costs up-front, believing they can make money off the book in the future. This is an important distinction. The author gets PAID for their work. They don’t pay anything to the publisher. (These are often called “vanity presses.”)

Prior to printing the book, the editor and author will go through a rigorous editorial process, the publisher designs the cover and come up with a marketing and sales plan (though most authors have to do quite a bit of self-promotion, especially for their debut book.)

So how does one get their book published by of one of these wonderful publishers? First you have to get them to look at it. For some publishers you can send them a query letter explaining the premise of your book and a few sample chapters, but many publishing houses are now closes to unsolicited manuscripts, and even those who aren’t can take six months or more to even look at your work. Which brings us to one of my favorite topics in the industry, the literary agent. Ah, agents, those gatekeepers to the publishing world.

A literary agent is a wonderful person who loves books so much they read through hundreds and thousands of query letters and sample pages looking for that gem of a manuscript they can sell to a publisher. A good agent will have connections with publishers. They understand the publishing market and are savvy about contracts and negotiation.

Even if an agent decides to offer a writer representation, they often go through revisions with their author before submitting their work to publishers. Also, they make no money until they sell your work. A legitimate literary agent only works on commission, believing they can sell your work because they think it rocks. So again, authors do no pay any money. If someone tells you they are a “literary agent” and will represent you for $500, run.

Though you can sell your work to traditional publishers without an agent, it’s getting more difficult, and even if you do, those contracts are getting more and more complicated. Just read agent Kristin Nelson’s blog Pub Rants and browse through her posts on contract negotiation and interpretation. In fact there is one such post up right now. It boggles my mind. So not only is a literary agent helpful in getting you a publisher, they are helpful in negotiating the best contract that will benefit you now and in the future.

Some of my favorite sites for learning about agents are AgentQuery, QueryTracker, and Publisher’s Marketplace. And some of my favorite blogs that are very savvy about the publishing industry: Editorial Anonymous, Nathan Bransford’s blog, and Pub Rants, (link above.)

So that’s it, the very, VERY basics of just one vein in this crazy industry. Publishing is a little up in arms at the moment, what with all the e-books and kindles, and ipads and self-publishing. The industry is changing, and there are a lot of naysayers when it comes to traditional publishing, but I’m optimistic. I believe most publishers are committed to publishing quality books, and no matter the format or sales avenue, the best publishers and authors will survive. One day I hope to join their ranks.

Any questions or other subjects you’re curious about? I can’t claim my knowledge or opinions to be exactly expert, but I’m happy to share anyway.


  1. This is a great overview! I’ve put together al ot of these details over the past few months. The internet really is a great resource for publishing info.

    • Liesl

    • April 20, 2011

    • 1:23 am

    I agree, you can learn so much if you just do a bit of research, though I have to say it surprises me how many writers can be totally misinformed or just ignorant of the business side of writing.

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