Well, hi, there! Over the years I’ve worked in publishing as an editor and an author, I get questions about how to find and approach a publisher. So with that in mind, I thought I’d provide a few quick tips to help you figure out who you might want to work with to publish your shiny new manuscript.
So let’s say you have a completed manuscript all ready to go. That is, it’s been through a bunch of beta readers and a professional (hopefully) edit/proofread and now you’re ready to send it to a publisher for consideration (let’s assume here that you’re hitting up houses that do not require submissions through an agent).
Here’s what to do:
That is, make sure the house you’re interested in actually accepts submissions in the genre in which you’re writing. Don’t send your carefully constructed manuscript about the last stand of the zombie unicorn apocalypse to a publisher that only deals in cozy mysteries about pensioners along the Black Sea, for example. That’s a waste of everybody’s time but it’s also one of the main reasons authors get rejected -- because they don’t do their homework on publishers. Publishers generally state on their websites exactly what they publish and what they’re looking for.
Start with what you know
But Andi, you may say. How do I “research” publishers? Help me! Okay! So let’s say you have a bevy of authors you read because you love their work and you love the genre they write. In fact, you yourself have thus written a book of the same genre. For example, suppose you like to read romance with lesbian characters and you just finished writing a romance that also features lesbian characters. Who publishes the work of your fave authors in that genre that matches the genre you’ve written? Bingo! You just did some research! Start with those houses.
What to look for - social media, etc
So you’ve been to the publishers’ websites, but you want more info for a broader picture. Something that might be below the radar, as it were. Here’s something you can do. Check the social media pages of the publishers and authors working with them. That will give you a sense of the type of community the house has with its authors and readers, and the types of things that a publisher does in terms of marketing and events.
What about reviews?
Along those lines, it might be useful for you to check the reviews of books published by the house. This may give you a sense of the type of editing books get (reviewers do tend to mention this) and the types of stories they’re publishing that are getting the most interest by reviewers.
Forthcoming versus Backlist
Check the forthcoming releases lists of the publishers you’re interested in. How many are they doing? Has there been an increase or a drop-off in the past or are they consistently publishing about the same number? What new authors/manuscripts have they signed? Are they consistent in terms of what they’re known for? That may tell you something about brand recognition and thus, marketing and public relations in terms of the house’s reputation .
Follow the guidelines
Okay, you did all this and you think you’ve got the house you want to approach first. Now you need to get your manuscript ready to go. Check the submission guidelines, which should be posted on the website in a place that’s easy to find. Each house is different, and has different instructions about how to format the manuscript and what cover materials they want you to send along. They have these guidelines because it makes it easier on them when they have a uniform process in place. This is one of the other main reasons people get rejected by a publishing house: they don’t follow submission guidelines, and publishers don’t have time to try to figure out what you’re doing. So make sure you follow those guidelines. Keep in mind that the major mainstream houses (like, say, Random House) only accept submissions through an agent.
Don't be a pest
And finally, don’t pester a publisher if you don’t hear from them immediately. Most post, with the submission guidelines, an expected timeline for when you can expect to hear back. You will probably get an email acknowledging receipt of your manuscript, but you probably won’t hear anything else until the expected timeline passes. I recommend checking your spam filter throughout the waiting period, just to make sure the house hasn’t contacted you. If the expected waiting period passes with no word, and you find no emails from the house in your spam filter, wait 1-2 weeks then drop a polite email inquiring about the status of your manuscript. How the house responds to that contact will also tell you something about professionalism and timeliness.
Mind your manners
And ALWAYS BE POLITE in your communications with a potential publisher. Manners go a long way in every business, and publishing is no exception. Get a rep early for being polite and professional as an author. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.
Have fun and good luck!