There is never a shortage of aspiring writers out there wondering how to break in to the publishing industry. We’re in a rapidly changing world when it comes to publishing fiction, so keep your eyes open for new and unexpected opportunities. Because I’ve traveled the road to traditional print publishing through a large publishing house, I’ll address that path. Many small presses and e-publishers are popping up, and shouldn’t be ignored. I think the professional approach I’m suggesting will work well no matter who your target publisher is.
The Polished Manuscript
An aspiring writer needs a polished manuscript, and I do mean you’ve done all you can to eliminate annoying errors as well as polished the prose. This manuscript will be your representative out there in the world. It should make you proud. Many aspiring writers are so excited for publication, they submit their work before it is ready. Don’t give in to the temptation.
Before aspiring writers send a manuscript, they will want to do some research to hone in on those houses who publish or agents who represent the type of work they’re trying to market. Different publishers can specialize in different genres (mainstream fiction, sci-fi, mystery, romance, etc. and all of their sub-genres). There are tools on the internet like AgentQuery.com, which can assist aspiring writers in the process. But the old fashioned way works, too: Look in the acknowledgement page of your favorite novels. Most authors will thank their agents and editors.
Aspiring Writers (Usually) Should Not Submit to the Publisher
The aspiring writers’ directly submitted novel is not likely to be read. Most large publishing houses don’t review unagented material. Nothing personal against aspiring writers, it’s simply a way to sift through the mountains of manuscripts they receive each month. Essentially, the agent does some of the vetting. The writer’s time is better spent partnering with a literary agent. It createss the highest chance of publication.
For both literary agents and publishers (via the agent) your first contact will be a short, simple query letter. The letter should be delivered either by mail or email. Research to find out how the agent being approached prefers to receive submissions.
A query letter should be kept to a single page. All the writer needs is to catch the agent’s interest. Do not deliver an entire synopsis of your book. Again, this is the only thing an editor or an agent will know about you. Be professional in your presentation and your tone.
Open with who you are, what writing credits you already have (previously published short stories, novels, articles, etc.) If you’ve won any writing competitions, list them. This alone is a good reason to enter contests. Are you a creative writing major? Have you attended intensive writing workshops? Include anything that says you’re serious about your work. Don’t panic if you don’t have any of these. I only had the workshop thing and some contest recognition when I started. This is also a good place to mention if you have any special insight to your subject matter. The paragraph should state what you’re presenting for consideration (a 100,000 word romantic suspense novel; a 85,000 word Regency period historical romance; a 120,000 word contemporary action adventure novel set in Monte Carlo).
The next paragraph should be your hook for your novel. Think of it as a back cover blurb. Stick to the main character, the main plot thread. Here’s an example from my query for BACK ROADS, my first published novel:
Sheriff Leigh Mitchell must face the unimaginable, the disappearance of a young woman from her quiet community. Will Scott, self proclaimed drifter, arrives in Glens Crossing at precisely the wrong moment.