12 Steps To Getting Your Book Published

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‘How do I publish my book?’ This is the number one question posed by new authors and one to which there are many answers.

Publication is complex, but like any process it can be broken down into smaller steps. Understanding these steps is the key to progressing through them, one by one, until you’re a published author.

In this article, I’ll be breaking down the publication process into the general stages every author should understand and then into the specific steps you need to take within each stage. Having a book published isn’t easy and it isn’t quick. You may find yourself trapped at the same stage for a long time before you finally break out, but when you do, it is very satisfying.

Above all, it is possible.

Assembling your tools

Step 1 – Complete the book

Fiction writers only

There is a huge difference between ‘finishing’ and ‘completing’ a book. A finished book is one which contains all the text needed for a reader to progress from the beginning to the end. A completed book is a work crafted to a professional standard which, if it hit the shelves tomorrow, wouldn’t seem out of place.

While it is important to set achievable targets (and stick to them), it is also important to appreciate that completing a book takes a significant amount of work. You need to edit out any grammatical, spelling or plot errors, and then give it to someone else to review with a fresh pair of eyes. It is surprising how many small errors can be missed. You should write and rewrite, seek out (objective) beta readers, consider and incorporate their feedback, and repeat the process.

Agents and publishers deal with a constant deluge of incomplete work and at the first sign of errors, your own work may be thrown onto a reject pile. As authors, we want our work to be finished and we’re elated when we think we have all the elements in place, often to the point of ignoring the fact that some improvements require to be made.

An agent or publisher may edit your work, but you should never depend on them to do this.

For non-fiction writers, you should not begin your work until a publisher has shown interest in it. Instead you should write a book proposal (I’ll return to this in step three).

Step 2 – Research agents

Different agents deal with different genres and types of writing. This is often a mix of personal taste, personal knowledge, and the contacts they have with publishers. Agents are very open about the type of work in which they specialize, and often about the kind they won’t accept. Submitting your work to an agent who has demonstrated no interest in its type or genre shows you have not completed adequate research. It is a rare agent who will bother getting back in contact in this situation.

There are numerous places to find list after list of agents, so the first step is collecting a pool of agents who suit your needs (thirty or so is a good place to start.)

With this list in hand, it’s time to start scouring the web for other writers’ experiences. As with all professions, some agents are simply better than others, so part of researching is finding out about your potential agent’s reputation.

You are going to be submitting to more than one agent at a time, so don’t stop at the first one you like. An initial submission to five to ten agents is normal, so try and find agents with whom you would be genuinely happy to work. Also, ensure that they will accept a query email – some agents don’t. If this is the case, there will probably be a prominent statement to this effect, alongside their details.

Practically speaking, it’s a good idea to have the next ten potential agents ready to hand. Most authors submit to a number of agents before they are accepted and the rejections will sting less if you have an alternative to contact.

If you are now armed with a completed book and a list of agents, it’s time to move on.

Step 3 – Write a query letter, including a synopsis / proposal

Your query letter will be your initial point of contact with your agent and is incredibly important. It needs to provide some information about yourself, some about the audience you expect for your book, and some about the book itself.

The way to interest an agent in your book is to provide a synopsis (fiction writers) or a book proposal (non-fiction writers). What’s expected is a little different depending on the kind of writer you are:

Fiction writers – A synopsis is a short explanation of the theme(s) and plot of the book. Usually, this is not much longer than a paragraph or two. This is meant to intrigue the agent and make them want to read the first few chapters of your book to see if it has potential. In actual fact, the synopsis is an advertisement, demonstrating to the agent that this is a book people will want to read. Don’t over-explain, don’t include details that aren’t relevant and don’t worry about giving away the plot. Remember, the agent doesn’t want to buy the book – he/she wants to know it will sell.

Non-fiction writers – A book proposal is an outline of your book content. It describes why you are the person to write it and why it will sell. If it is about a specialist or niche subject then you must convince the agent there is a market – ideally by mentioning similar works which have sold well. A book proposal is more formal than a fiction synopsis and may include a short breakdown of your intended structure. This should just be a few paragraphs but will give a better idea about the finished product and show that you have a concrete idea of what you’re going to produce. You can download a useful template here.

In both cases, it’s important to understand that the agent is going to have to pitch your book to a publisher. Agents will use your description partly to decide if the book is worth their attention but largely they are trying to decide how their own description would resonate with a publisher. If they don’t see the ingredients for a pitch then they’ll pass.

Some agents request a few chapters from fiction writers or an example chapter from non-fiction writers and some don’t. Again, their preferences will usually be provided on their websites or alongside their contact information. Currently, many agents expect an initial query letter, and will request a few chapters if they want to see more. Make sure to pay attention to their exact specifications before you send anything.

Similarly to your work, a query letter needs to be given serious consideration before you send it. Don’t treat it like an ordinary email. Treat it as a pitch to someone who doesn’t yet have a reason to take you seriously. Be professional, succinct, and error-free. Back any statement you make with facts. Stating that your genre is popular will carry no weight unless you can provide examples. Likewise, a declaration that you are a ‘brilliant writer’ will not give a professional impression.

Submitting to agents

Step 4 – Submit to multiple agents

Agents may take months to get back to you and many never will. You may submit to dozens of agents before you are accepted, so submitting one at a time could take years (if not decades!)

That doesn’t mean you can send the same generic email to every agent. Success takes effort and time and it is essential that an agent has the impression you are contacting him/her specifically. Agents aren’t stupid, they know you’re contacting several of them at once but tailoring your email shows professionalism, attention to detail, and the potential for a constructive relationship. Make sure you spell the name correctly, adhere to submission specifications, and mention details from their websites (such as the genre in which they specialize.)

Step 5 – Process rejections and keep submitting

It’s a rare author who doesn’t experience any rejections. Keep submitting to agents, and keep those submissions top-quality until one gets back to you. As I mentioned previously, this is the work of months and occasionally years. You may be stuck on steps four and five for a long time but try not to be disheartened.

If, however, you reach a stage where you genuinely feel no agent is interested, it may be time to put your work in a drawer and start the next project. There are many authors who have not been published until their second or third attempt. In this situation, it is sensible to look at your work synopsis/proposal and query letter to make sure there’s nothing which requires amendment. It may even be worth having a professional service give you feedback, just in case there’s a specific reason no-one is interested.

Working with an agent

Step 6 – Choose the agent who’s right for you

This one is pretty simple. If an offer comes in and it’s one you’re happy with, then take it. If you’re lucky enough to have two offers then pick whichever one seems best. This can be in terms of contacts and the percentage of profits expected but may also be on the basis of whom you think will provide the best working relationship.

In respect of agents, it is usually not a good idea to try and generate an ‘auction’. You can politely inform an agent that someone else has shown interest and ask if there’s anything he/she can offer in particular but actively trying to reduce the offered rate isn’t advisable. Like authors, agents do a lot of work with no guarantee of publication. If you’re difficult to deal with from the start then many will simply move on to the next opportunity.

Step 7 – Discuss and implement edits

Agents have specific knowledge about the publishing industry, so they may be able to give you constructive feedback about what would make your work easier to pitch and sell.

Of course you will have your own artistic vision and it’s a case of balancing the content of your book with what the expert tells you will sell. Try not to approach suggestions with hostility Remember that you and your agent are concerned with different aspects of the finished work and you should each be passionate but sensible advocates for your own perspective.

Agents work with and understand authors, and they’re busy people. It is therefore unlikely they’ll take your book on if they think it needs to be completely altered to sell.

Edit with an agent until he/she is happy to pitch the book to publishers.

Submitting to publishers

Step 8 – Be patient

Describing every stage a book goes through with a publisher warrants an article of its own. Suffice to say there are a lot of people who will read your work before being in a position to reply to your agent and each one of those people deals with thousands of submissions. In short, it will take a long time for your agent to get back to you.

Your agent will likely submit to multiple publishers at once. At this point, one of two things can happen. Either the publishers will reject your work, in which case your agent will start submitting to more publishers, or they’ll be interested.

Working with a publisher

Step 9 – Choose the publisher that’s right for you

As with an agent, if you get an offer you like, then take it. Contrary to the situation with an agent however, if you find you have two or more offers, then it is acceptable to utilize the situation to your advantage. Publishers are in competition for great books, and one publisher’s interest will instantly increase your cachet with another. You may negotiate for things like upfront payments, or percentage of sales.

The actual negotiating is the agent’s job and you can be assured he/she will handle the situation professionally. Again, remember that relationships play a big part in publication.

Even if you only attract one publisher, it is still the agent’s job to negotiate the best possible contract for you. Trust them to do so, but make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to before signing anything.

Publishing companies are generally large and sometimes structures and personnel will change and you will find yourself out of favor. This is unfortunate and unfair but until you’ve signed a contract with a publisher it is always possible you may have to return to step eight.

Step 10 – Discuss and implement edits

Publishers have their own ideas about what the market wants and their own inside knowledge to support their views. As with your agent, you must find a balance between what an expert requests you change and the degree to which you are prepared to alter your work.

For non-fiction writers this is a process which will occur both before and after you complete your work. Publishers will want to be involved both in the planned structure of your work and the finished product.

There may be a lot of edits. It is important to be as flexible as possible but also to have definite ideas about the way your work should turn out. You can’t decide as you go because, like a frog in a boiling pan of water, things can change by small degrees until it’s too late.

Decide what points are non-negotiable and which are open to discussion. Be polite, firm, and professional in sticking to those decisions. Take heart! Like your agent, a publisher won’t have taken on your book unless they thought it showed promise.

Publication

Hopefully you’ll reach this point without reaching an impasse with your publisher. It is rare to find a point of contention that cannot be resolved but it is possible. It is also possible that the publishers may lose interest in your book due to changes in staff or changes in the market. If that occurs, then it’s time to repeat step eight, but with the added confidence that your book clearly has the right potential.

If not it’s on to publication.

Step 11 – Prepare for publication

Books must be printed, distributed, and sold. Even after final acceptance it can take months for your work to be published. In that time you should be strengthening your social media platform and engaging in solo advertising alongside anything the publisher has organized.

Step 12 – Hold your book

Publication is a long and arduous journey but once you’re holding your own published work in your hands it will have been worth every minute. Continue to engage in any publicity and marketing you can get your hands on, and make sure to engage with your readers as their numbers begin to grow.

Final thoughts

Publication is truly difficult. Completing your book and having it published are incredible moments, but between them there will probably be a lot of waiting and most likely some disappointment. Because of this, it is important that you don’t solely concentrate on publication to the exclusion of everything else.

Writers write.

You shouldn’t stop writing just because you’re also pursuing publication. If you start a new book at the point at which your current book has been accepted by an agent, it’s likely you’ll be able to finish the new book by the time you are published. Continuing writing will not only give you a whole new book but the creative outlet to cope with the exhilarating highs and grueling lows of the publication process. Having something else to work on stops publication becoming the be all and end all. The more you can view it as just one part of the continuum of your life as a writer, the better.

If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that publication is a long march of endurance rather than a sprint. Those authors who succeed are the ones who prepare before setting off and who understand the length of the journey ahead of them. Many authors will spend a long time stuck within one stage of publication and it is those writers who are tenacious and resilient who will one day hold their own published work in their hands.

For more information on literary agents, check out what literary agents do (and don’t do) for authors or if you’re interested in publishing shorter fiction, try 10 things you must do to get a short story published.

Are you an author currently working your way through the publishing process or one who has come out the other side? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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25 thoughts on “12 Steps To Getting Your Book Published”

    1. Hi Helen,

      I’m an illustrator (as well as writer here at Standoutbooks) with experience in this area so I’d be happy to give you a few tips.

      One easy option is to look through some illustrator directories such as this one: http://www.childrensillustrators.com, or a creative network like this one: https://www.twine.fm. There are samples as well as portfolio and contact links so you can have a browse, find a particular illustrator’s style you like, and get in touch with them.

      If you’re apprehensive about contacting illustrators directly you can go through an agency instead such as this one: http://www.illustrationweb.com. An agency will try to match you with an illustrator they represent that best matches your budget and style you’re after.

      The final option is to advertise what you’re looking for on a freelancing job site like this one: https://www.upwork.com, and look through the responses you get. Obviously this may be more time-consuming than the other two options but may be more cost effective as you can negotiate or set the rate of the job.

      Hope that helps, but let me know if you have any more questions and I’ll try to answer them for you!

      Thanks,

      Hannah

  1. Caroline Anastasiou

    My son and I have written a children’s book together. (He did the illustrations) and we shared ideas for the plot.
    Do we have to make our pages into a fully completed book with front and back cover etc. before beginning to look for a publisher?

    1. Hi Caroline,

      Thanks for asking – no, not at all. The publisher would handle everything of that nature. You can find submission guidelines for most publishers and agents on their websites, or via a resource such as The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which I’ve linked here.

      Best,
      Rob

  2. Lucille Clement

    My name is Lucille and I have written several children’s books that I would love to have published. I want to mail them out to publishers but I am fearful that my ideas may be copied ( stolen) in the process. What do I do?

  3. Hi Rob,
    Thank you for your wonderful, helpful article! I’ve never published before and am wondering if in addition to an agent, would it be wise to have an attorney involved, regarding intellectual property? Or are agents legally (or otherwise) “sworn to secrecy” about a client’s idea? Would having a law professional involved be a normal part of the process, or would it be considered unusual?
    Many thanks!
    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa,

      My pleasure, I’m really glad it was useful. When going into business with an agent, you should receive a contract that you’ll be able to study at length before signing. This will include legally binding guarantees about what the agent owes you, a key part of which is respect for your intellectual property. If you’re particularly cautious, you could run this by an attorney, but this would be quite unusual, and would almost certainly be unnecessary. I’ve included some of our articles below which provide more information on this topic.

      //www.standoutbooks.com/your-5-minute-guide-copyright-piracy-plagiarism/
      //www.standoutbooks.com/literary-agents-authors/
      //www.standoutbooks.com/website-stolen-work-solution/

      Best wishes,
      Rob

  4. Hi Rob,

    Thank you so much for that fantastic answer and quick reply. I truly appreciate it! I’m coming to realize that my situation is a little different than a traditional book publish, so I have one (or a few, lol) more question(s), if I may.

    To be a little more specific, without disclosing my actual idea, what I want to publish also involves artwork (not yet created) and is based on an already licensed theme. The company that owns the rights to this licensed theme has stated that they are open to such ideas (though they do not accept unsolicited material, and they do not work with “individuals”, thus the definite need for an agent here). So, I’m guessing that I’ll first need to find an agent, so that the agent can contact the company to see if my idea will be accepted by the company, before I put any significant amount of work into it. Does this sound accurate? (If not, any advice?)

    In this case, just by submitting even as much as a proposal to prospective agents, the “cat’s out of the bag” without yet actually signing anything that binds them to honor my intellectual property. So, does this information change the answer to my original question (“would an attorney be appropriate before contacting prospective agents?”)? Or is this the type of situation that would require an exercise in trust?

    Furthermore, do you have any ideas of what kind of professional(s) would be appropriate to get something like this started (if someone other than a literary agent applies)?

    Many thanks for your time and consideration,
    Lisa

  5. Hi Lisa,

    Given what you’ve been able to share, it certainly sounds like an agent is the right professional and that one will be necessary. In terms of submission, a certain degree of trust would be necessary, though it’s unlikely that a literary agent is going to try to undercut or steal your idea; their business, contacts and expertise are in promoting authors, and they have many to choose from.

    There are some measures you could take for added protection. A legal professional would be one way to go, but you could also send out your submissions via recorded delivery/read receipt, and should certainly keep copies for later referral. If you’re able to do so, it wouldn’t hurt to book a short session with a legal professional and get their advice, though again, I’d see this more as a belt-and-braces precaution than a necessity.

    Best,
    Rob

  6. Terence Williams

    Thank you, that’s lots of good info for aspiring writers.

    I’m a novelist and on completing my first effort I researched how to take it further. Finally, I decided to use a critiquing service (the one I used was The Writer’s Critique which helps UK writers exclusively) and got a fresh pair of eyes on my manuscript. I subsequently rewrote my novel, and have submitted it to a handful of agents. Getting published traditionally is hard, there are so many boxes to tick, and professional input is the best thing any writer could have.

    Wonderful article.

  7. Loretto Thompson

    Hi Rob,
    Thank you for such a helpful, step-by-step guide, and especially for the nonfiction proposal template. I have seen numerous templates or guides for the query letter, and wondered if you offered a guide for that as well? I’ve read so many that are different, it’s become a blur as to what elements form an ideal nonfiction query letter.
    Thank you,
    Loretto

    1. Hi Loretto,

      Thanks for your comment. I’d recommend the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for that kind of resource, though it’s certainly something we’ll look into providing in future articles. I’ve included a link to our recommended self-publishing reading list below (which contains more info), as well as a service which may be useful in the future.

      //www.standoutbooks.com/services/query-letter/
      //www.standoutbooks.com/best-books-about-self-publishing/

      Best,
      Rob

  8. Hi Rob,

    Is it common for certain imprints to ask you to pay them to help develop an outline or actually help write part of the book as an “advance” to then taking care of the marketing aspects required later on?

    Best regards, Rajul

    1. Hi Rajul,

      I’d take it as a warning sign. Generally, you should only be paying for the service performed, and it should be totally clear what you’re getting for your money.

      Best,
      Rob

  9. Hi Rob. my name is Nono and I have written a Children’s Christian book that I would love to publish. Do you publish that genre or do you have any idea where can i submitt mine for publication. please help.

    1. Hi Nelisa,

      Thanks for commenting. We help self-published authors with their work, but I’m afraid we’re not a publisher ourselves. I’d suggest investing in something like this book, which includes ways to get in touch with agents and publishers.

      Best,
      Rob

  10. Hi Rob,

    Thank you so much for the informative article. I have been writing for a very long time and have decided to move forward with my work. The only problem I have is that I have written many genres of work such as: poetry, theatre, fiction, etc. Do you think it would be possible to find an agent that suits all of my needs or would I have to look at multiple agents for the different genres.

    Best,

    Ciara

    1. Hi Ciara,

      Unfortunately, there’s no single answer. There are agencies that span multiple forms of media, situations where one agent might consult with others but be your main point of contact, and times when it makes sense to have multiple agents to address different markets.

      I’d suggest beginning by working with an agent in the medium you most want to pursue, or in which you hope/expect to see the quickest success. They’ll then be able to guide you in what other representation you might need – if they can’t handle it themselves, they’re likely to give a good recommendation. It’s one of those situations where a rising tide lifts all boats.

      Best,
      Rob

  11. I am an eighth grader in Tecumseh and I am writing a book and I hope to get it published. How would I go about getting a traditional publisher to want and publish my book? I’d also like to know whether or not agents/publishers would look at the writing of a teenager. And finally i’d like to know the best way to advertise your book when it’s being published. I know I asked a lot, but I am looking forward to the answers.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for getting in touch. There are definitely publishers who will be interested in publishing your work (our recent article on Caitlin Moran proved that). As for getting published, the best path is to be able to tell a publisher exactly who is going to buy your book. For a full picture, I’d suggest checking out our article on the elevator pitch and then browsing our archive of articles on publishing for more insight.

      Best,
      Rob

  12. Hi I have written nearly 100 stories.
    How do I go about being published?
    They are all horror as I love writing horror stories

    Thanks
    Ellen

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