Today brings another installment of the series Supporting Aspiring Writers which will focus on how to go about finding a traditional publisher. Before I dive into it, there is one important disclaimer that I want to make. As of October 2023 I have not (yet) secured a contract with a traditional publisher. Currently, I am sending out enquiries to various publishers (who will remain anonymous) regarding my debut historical fiction novel Children of the Ocean God. I do firmly believe that it will be possible for this book to be acquired in the future by the right publisher at the right time.
So this probably leads you to ask two questions: what do I have to share about this topic? and Why am I publishing this post now, before I have secured a book deal? The simple answer is that I would like to give aspiring writers an unglamorous, behind the scenes view of what is involved in finding a traditional publisher. So this post is honestly about the struggle of every less experienced, undiscovered writer who wants to go the traditional publishing route (as opposed to self-publishing).
Very often when you undertake to do something for the first time, you encounter what is called the “starting problem.” Where should you begin is often a big challenge, which shouldn’t be underestimated. In this case, the starting point for finding a traditional publisher follows one of two pathways. Either you find a literary agent who is interested in your work and is willing to represent you (indirectly) to publishers who might be interested in acquiring your book. Or you can approach publishers directly via open calls for submissions, which crop up throughout the year. In both the ‘indirect’ and ‘direct’ methods you need to do your homework. Not every agent and publisher will be interested in your work. Most agents and publishers have specific genres which they focus on. So blindly approaching them will typically get you nowhere.
So how do you find suitable agent and publishers? Good question. The answer is actually quite simple. There’s a website for that. Actually not just any old website. There is a directory of all literary agents and publishers in the world called LiteraryMarketPlace. After registering for free account you can browse their extensive database of agents and publishers using keywords specific to your books’ genre. In my case, for Children of the Ocean God, I focused on finding publishers of Caribbean literature using the keywords <Caribbean> and <West and Indian>. There are not that many relevant publishers, so it was quite insightful to see which names cropped up. In total I got 29 hits, including several which were more academic or government policy oriented publishers. So in the end after filtering I ended with a handful of relevant publishers to approach. As a free user you only have access to basic information, including the name and postal address of the publisher. However, by simply doing an online search you can find their website and ascertain if they are accepting submissions at the moment and under what conditions.
I encourage you to read the submission guidelines very carefully, to ensure that your work fits what the agent or publisher is looking for. If they focus on historical romance, for example, it likely may not be useful to submit your work if you are writing pure romance or erotica. Furthermore, even if the focus genre fits your book, the guidelines are usually very specific so you may still not be in luck. For instance a minimum word count may be specified (e.g., over 50,000 words) and various arbitrary criteria may be applied on what you should submit. Some agents and publishers may want to see a full manuscript, others may prefer just 10 chapters. If you are uncertain about submitting your work, it can be worthwhile to send an enquiry via email to introduce yourself and your writing project, to see if there is interest. Usually publishers and agents are very clear on their Do’s and Dont’s. So it is in your best interest to adhere to these quite strictly, otherwise you might shoot yourself in the foot. Keep in mind also that agents and publishers receive hundreds and even thousands of submissions per year, so they are in general quite selective. It is also good to know that in the literary world it is permissible to do simultaneous submissions to multiple publishers and agents. However, once you have secured an agent or publisher it is important to inform the agents and publishers where your work is still under consideration.
I hope this post has given you some useful insight into the fun and exciting underworld of writing. If you have feedback or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Also please don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list if you would like to receive my latest writing updates.