Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My next blog will concern 2012, including issues raised by JTCapa, Judith, HM, But now I'll answer some publishing queries.

My next blog will concern 2012 and will take up concerns raised on this site, including some interesting issues brought up by Judith, JTCapa and a very interesting Celtic-Mayan connection alluded to by HM. Since I am a book editor, however, I get and will respond to occasional publishing queries such as . . . How do I find a publisher for my book?

Rule #1: Work your butt off to find a literary agent who appreciates what you’re writing. I try to look at all the unsolicited, unagented manuscripts (mss), which are addressed to me by name, but I don’t give them the same attention I give to those which agents send me, particularly agents who know me and understand what I tend to publish.

Agents fill a number of irreplaceable functions, which include channeling projects toward the right editors who will understand how to publish those submissions. If those agents didn’t cherry-pick their clients’ mss and channel those submissions to the right editors, editors would be overwhelmed by mss, which weren’t suitable to their houses and their book-buying markets. The lives of most commercial editors would be impossibly difficult and the quality of their published books would suffer immeasurably. Moreover, agents, like writers, perform this function for free. They don’t get paid unless they sell the book. They typically get a 15% commission on that sale. Like writers, agents live their lives on spec. They thrive or die with their writers’ successes and failures. If writers are the heroes of the book publishing business, agents are the unsung heroes of the book trade.

How do I find the agent, who’s right for me?

You want an agent who knows how to sell your kind of book, right? Well, who are the successful writers you most resemble—and don’t say Shakespeare. I mean real, live successful authors. Go to a really big super-bookstore with a coffee shop and grab some paperbacks of your favorite successful writers whom you most resemble. (The Barnes & Noble superstores always seem to have a Starbucks as well as a vast selections of authors.) Take the paperbacks to the bookstore coffee shop, order a cup of coffee, and read the dedication and acknowledgement pages of those paperbacks. Nine times out of ten, that writer whom you most resemble will mention his or her agent and editor in the dedication or the acknowledgements. (The dedications are listed in the front of the book; the acknowledgements are often listed in the back.) You will learn both the name of the agent and editor, and since your work resembles that of that author, you immediately have the names of two people who know how to sell your kind of book. If you absolutely strike out with an agent, you know an editor who appreciates what you’re trying to achieve.

Begin your pitch letter to the agent by describing how much you resemble his or her beloved writer. If you get turned down, write the agent back and ask them to recommend an agent who would understand your work.

How do I know whether that writer whom I resemble is successful?

Okay, you’re in that book store coffee shop. You have a lot of paperbacks. Some of the front covers probably say that that particular title is a New York Times Bestseller. Voila, you’ve found a successful writer whom the agent can use as a marketing comparison when he or she submits your book. You obviously want to use that same marketing comparison when you approach the agent with your pitch letter.

On my next publishing blog, we will discuss how to contact that agent.


  1. My question is whether an agent or editor will read submissions by email. That's the way the world has gone, but it is obvious that it's also easier to say "no" by hitting the Reply button than it is to do a letter. I guess the other side of that coin is whether an agent or editor will even reply by mail?

  2. I think emails are the only way. They are green. Why kill trees so writers can get paper rejection slips?

  3. Does anyone have a list of the different ways there are to get published besides traditional publishing of going through an agent and editor? I've heard about print on demand. Does that work? Anyone know the cost?

  4. Robert Gleason's advice is extremely right on, but that's to be expected considering his experience. I know from working with an agent that most writers fail to do their homework and properly prepare their materials for submission. Not being prepared is as clever as going to a job interview with stain on the front of your shirt or blouse. It takes months at the least and years most often to write a book -- a writer wanting to get published in the commercial market should at least spend a few hours reseaching how to get the book accepted by an agent and a publisher -- hopefully, the writer wouldn't go to a job interview without researching the job.