I want to be published.
July 8, 2007 7:57 PM   Subscribe

How do you get a book published by a (semi) major publisher as a first time author?

I need some advice. I've finished a funny non-fiction book of ridiculous adventures geared towards college-aged males (yeah I know its been done). I've got the book in good shape to publish on Lulu, got the cover artwork in place, and I'm getting ready to open it to the public.

My question is how do get a major publisher to consider publishing your book? Can you release it via lulu.com and then later find a major publisher to push it? What steps should I take towards getting this book the hands of as many major publishers as I can who might actually be interested in publishing it?

(anonymous because the book is written under a pen name)
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
(Semi)-major publishers rarely, rarely take on a book that's been self-published. E. Lynne Harris did it - but he sold 10,000 copies before Doubleday picked it up.

Your best bet is to find an agent. Look in books that are similar to yours (especially ones that have done well); the author often thanks his agent in the acknowledgements.
posted by rtha at 8:27 PM on July 8, 2007

You don't get a publisher to publish your book without getting an agent who has a reasonably good idea which publisher will publish your book.

Write a proposal, re-write it, and then send it to as many of these people as you can afford.

Expect rejection. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it. But maybe one agent knows one editor at one publisher who just happens to be looking for a book like yours.

Good luck!
posted by Kibbutz at 8:34 PM on July 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Tim Ferriss, author of the NYT and WSJ best-selling book, The 4-Hour Work Week, talked about this very thing here.
posted by nitsuj at 9:07 PM on July 8, 2007

Speaking as a published author of lots of non-fiction books:

1. Don't self-publish it if you want a real publisher. You'll just make your book less attractive to publishers.

2. Try to get an agent before you try to get a publisher.

3. Assuming you've written a wonderful, amazing, well-written book well above the quality of most published books in that category, your odds of getting a major publisher to pick it up are still abysmally low.

4. Assuming your book is picked up by a major publisher, printed, and published to a wide distribution, your odds of making more than a few thousand dollars in the lifetime of the book are still abysmally low.

If you think this sounds negative, you're right, but this is how it works.

If you're still determined to get published after reading this -- go for it! You've probably got what it takes, but do expect lots of rejection, and don't expect lots of money.

On the other hand, if you have any alternate ideas for making money from your stories (Publishing them on a website with advertising? Self-publishing and promoting it using your contacts or your website?) They're probably far more likely to succeed than going the major publisher route.

Good luck!
posted by mmoncur at 9:56 PM on July 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

Don't self-publish unless you know 100% for sure that you will have an astoundingly large market that will make a major publisher sit up and take notice when you call to offer them the project. (So: don't self-publish, because you don't have that market.)

Write a query letter. Send it to reputable agents who handle your kind of stuff. There are many methods for finding out who these people are. My experience when going through this process was that agents were very responsive to a snappy idea, and not so much to lame ones. If you're not getting a good hit rate, reapproach how you're pitching your concept. If none of your angles get a response, you may have to reconsider how great your concept is. My experience has been that there's a direct relationship between how many agents want to read your manuscript/proposal and how likely you are to sell the project for lots of cash, so this is an important marketing test case.

A good agent will know exactly who to target at which publishing house. A good agent will also not be willing to go out with sub-par material. That may mean that you'll have to re-write. A LOT.

Good luck.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:09 PM on July 8, 2007

i used to work for a major publisher in new york.

they will not take any unsolicited submissions. period. they won't even open the package in which it came. there are a lot of legal issues that are behind this (namely, to avoid being sued for ripping off someone's ideas). in order for them to even look at a manuscript by you, they will need to get it from an agent.

so. get an agent.
posted by violetk at 11:38 PM on July 8, 2007

Some publishers still take unsolicited submissions, some don't, or so I hear. Wouldn't something like Writer's Market include that kind of information, and each publisher's preferred means of submission?
posted by hattifattener at 12:19 AM on July 9, 2007

My second book (non-fiction) was published partially as a result of my being short-listed for a writing competition. I didn't win, but the publisher in charge of putting out the successful entry saw enough in my synopsis and sample chapter to offer me a deal. Perhaps you could attract the attention of potential agents and publishers in this way?
posted by gene_machine at 4:00 AM on July 9, 2007

You might want to consider smaller publishers. I sold my novel to a small press just by mailing it to them, without an agent. These days, small presses can make books that look just as "pro" as those from big houses, and they have distribution deals that will get your book in Borders and Barnes and Noble all over the country (albeit not at the front table.) You are not going to make a lot of money, but as mmoncur points out, that would almost certainly be the case even if you sold the book to a big house.

No reason not to try the bigs first! But consider smaller presses as a serious option.
posted by escabeche at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2007

You might want to nose around the NaNoWriMo forums for tips on this kind of thing. I recall that one of their major points involved the fact that many publishers want "first rights" to a book or author, such that self-publishing or even just putting stuff on a public website could be a major detriment.

You MUST do your research into the industry and find your niche. You'd never send your computer-geek resume for a job as an orchestral conductor, so why would you send your unsolicited manuscript to a publishing house that may not even take it to begin with? You'll save yourself a lot of money and time.
posted by Madamina at 9:54 AM on July 9, 2007

Don't self-publish. You are making your work less marketable.

Don't send your entire manuscript out to any publisher.

Instead, get the latest Writer's Digest or similar and look for publishers that will accept proposals for submisisons.

Write up a proposal, selling the idea of your book, and include one to two chapters with your proposal. DON'T be fancy with FedEx or anything, but DO include a self-adressed stamped envelope for the purposes of returning your sample chapters in the event that the publisher is not interested in your proposal.

Wait, usually 4-6 weeks, for a reply. Be prepared to repeat the process several times until interest is expressed in your work.

If you have the resources, check into getting an agent to avoid the submit-and-wait process instead.

It's a pain, but this is how the system works.
posted by misha at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

So You Wanna Publish a Book? (also check the "related SYWs" in the sidebar.)
posted by revmitcz at 7:25 PM on July 9, 2007

A great way to meet agents, workshop your writing, and meet others interested in the same is to attend the Squaw Valley Writer's Workshop. It is held in the eponymous location in the summertime, when, being a ski resort, it is relatively empty and cheap to visit.

It's attended by some annoying MFA-crowd types like Anne Lamott but generally the quality of the faculty and other "students" is very high. When I went, I hit the jackpot and got Michael Chabon as the leader of the workshop that reviewed my short story!!

Agents have struck gold there many times just by attending and hob knobbing with the attendees. They are there and will introduce themselves and say come see me if you have something to pitch. It's a great way to find the inside track, although perhaps only for literary fiction, some poetry, and some screenwriting.

Anyway, check it out. I had fun and the day I have a novel ready to sell I will go straight back there to do it.

You have to apply with a writing sample and it's not dirt cheap although they make an effort to help needy applicants find the funds. Compared to most MFA programs it is in fact dirt cheap and a great networking opportunity.
posted by scarabic at 5:41 PM on July 17, 2007

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