Brave New Publishing World — Whither Shalt Thou Publish? Part I

Congratulations! You’ve written a book. So … now what?

Getting that book published is going to be tough. Big publishers are likely to reject new authors or drop authors who don’t sell large numbers of books, while small publishers can only produce a handful of books per year and likely cater to very specific audiences. Self-publishing will give you the most artistic control, but it can be expensive and will require you to do your own marketing. So what is the best way to get published?

Dreaming of the Big Leagues

You send your novel to a monolithic publisher that happens to be sitting on oodles of cash. They love your work and beg you to sign on for a five-book contract! You don’t have to worry about anything — they’ll pay the editors, requisition cover art, and handle marketing and distribution. Your launch party will be a swanky do with a handful of celebrities, plenty of literary bigwigs, and endless rounds of cocktails. Reviewers will be thrilled to publish glowing praise for your book, and readers will jump at the chance to ask you about your next novel at bustling book signings chock-full of squealing fans. Sales are through the roof and you can finally afford that tropical island you’ve always wanted.

Oh yeah, this is the dream, baby.

Reality Bites (and How to Bite Back)

In real life, of course, dreams can easily turn into nightmares, and the publishing world is no exception. What you’re really up against is a shrinking market of large publishers who seem to amalgamate and restructure on a daily basis, exhausted acquisitions editors who are swimming in an endless sea of slush, and thousands of hopeful writers like yourself who struggle and strain to create the best work they can so they can get the nicest rejection letters possible.

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What does a guy have to do to get a publishing contract around here?

If you think the decked is stacked against you, you’re right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your foot in the door. However, it does mean that you’ll have to pull a Crocodile Dundee just to get close enough to touch the doorknob, and the best way to do this is to get a literary agent. An agent will assess the quality of your work relative to published authors, pitch your book to publishers, help you negotiate contracts, and suggest various marketing strategies for your book. A good agent is a remarkable ally to have.

How do you find the right agent? Do some research, learn how to write a good query, and be sure that you contact agents who represent the kinds of work you do. Some agents will only handle non-fiction or literary fiction; others represent a broader client base. The Association of Canadian Publishers has a list of reputable Canadian agencies, as does The Writer’s Union of Canada.

Protect Your Interests

As with any professional service, you always need to be aware of possible scam artists. While there are many respectable, hard-working agents who represent their clients skillfully, there are a few rather sketchy entities out there, and you certainly want to avoid those. Be cautious with so-called agents who ask for money up front or who try to edit your work themselves or direct you to specific editors — they may not be looking out for your interests. Penguin’s online quick guide to finding a literary agent may help you navigate these murky waters.

However, a good agent may still suggest that you develop your work further, thereby increasing your odds of being signed on by a publishing house. If that is the case, remember that it’s your time and your dime — do your research to find an editor who is a good fit for your project. The Editors’ Association of Canada and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK) both have good resources for anyone looking to hire an editor.

Additionally, whether or not you hire an agent, you still need to fight for your rights and should always be ready to negotiate the terms of your contract. Don’t agree to let the publisher edit your work until you have a signed contract, and don’t sign anything unless you are satisfied that you’ve worked out the best possible deal. The Writers’ Union of Canada has some great advice on how to find a publisher and work out an acceptable contract, but you may need to pay for some of these resources unless you are already a member. Writer’s Market also offers comprehensive advice on getting published and is well worth the money if you want to make a one-stop shopping trip for publishing resources.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

So what do you do when you’re tired of getting rejection letters on pretty paper, or when you just don’t think your work will reach a wide audience? Maybe you should look into smaller publishing houses or consider self-publishing. We’ll take a look at those options next.


The Brave New Publishing World Series:

Intro
Where Have All the Authors Gone?
Whither Shalt Thou Publish? Part I
Whither Shalt Thou Publish? Part II

About quillsandqueries

My editing experience includes a wide variety of books, articles, and commentary in both fiction and non-fiction. I work with authors of novels and short stories, students preparing for their dissertations, and corporate clients who publish in the financial and education sectors.
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