When seeking publication, it is easy to feel as though everything is out of your control. After all, everything is out of your control — as a writer, the only thing that you control is your writing (and even that is an arguable point). But we can all agree that it’s true that whether or not a publishing house picks up your book is completely out of your hands. Or is it?
In reality, there are a lot of things that you can do to increase the likelihood that a publisher will want to pick up your book for publication. And it really boils down to a pretty simple idea: if you want a press to publish your book, it helps if you’ve done most of the work for them. What follows below is a step-by-step guide to helping a publisher want to publish your book, based off of my own experience as a published author who has worked for two (and a half) publishers over the past few years.
- Edit your book. This should really go without say, but it needs to be said nonetheless. If you want a publisher to take you seriously, make sure that the work you send out is the absolute best work that you can produce. Read through it multiple times to make sure that you’re not missing anything. Make sure that the concepts flow properly; make sure that there are no spelling/grammar/punctuation errors (this is a REAL turnoff for most presses); make sure that your submission is formatted correctly. This isn’t to say that your book won’t be edited once it’s picked up by a press (it most certainly will be) but it shows the editor that you took the time to fix what needs to be fixed. And hey, it’ll save them some time once the book enters the proofreading stage — when a single editor is working on 20 or 30 projects all at the same time, even saving so much as an hour’s worth of work becomes a big deal.
- Target your submissions. You will save yourself a lot of time, paper, postage, and headaches if you follow this one step and none of the others — target your submissions to relevant presses. If you’ve written a murder mystery, submit it to publishers of murder mysteries; you’re not going to have any luck with a publisher of textbooks. If you’ve written a textbook, veer away from publishers of popular fiction. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many writers do absolutely no research on a press before submitting their work. And go on their website to see how they like their submissions formatted — some like things done differently than others, and they are usually pretty strict as to what they will consider (if they say to send the first three chapters double-spaced, send them the first three chapters double-spaced and nothing else). You do yourself no favors by submitting blind, or by blatantly going against their wishes.
- Do some market research. Before an editor decides to publish any book, he’s got to convince the publication committee (the people responsible for the press’s bottom line) that the book will indeed make money, or at the very list break even. A big part of this process is compiling some market research. What’s market research? Simply put, it’s data that will help a publisher predict whether or not a book is going to sell, and how many copies they can expect it to sell, and compiling this data can take a bit of time — so if you can even do some preliminary research to help the press out it can be a big boost to the likelihood of your book being picked up. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but this is the standard market research a press likes to have done before agreeing to publish something:
- Competing Titles (similar books published by presses other than the one you are submitting to)
- Comparable Titles (similar books published by the press you are submitting to)
- Author Sales History (the author being you) — if you’ve written a book in the past, tell them how many copies were sold to illustrate you already have a following
- Author Associations (what organizations you belong to that you can use to promote your book) — alumni, professional, social organizations, etc.
- Target Audience (who is going to buy your book and why) — you want a specific target audience that is broad enough to ensure the possibility of large sales
- Avoid artwork if possible. If you’re submitting a photobook or a book on art history or some related topic, then feel free to disregard this step. but if your work does not directly relate to art, heed this warning: including plans for artwork with your submission can severely reduce the likelihood that your book will be published. Artwork will impact almost every step of the publishing process: it impacts layout, it impacts cost (which means they will either make less money on each copy sold, or they will have to increase the cover price, which in turn means they will likely sell fewer copies), and it quite simply adds a lot of extra work for the press. Obtaining rights, photocopying images, formatting images to the correct dimensions, ensuring artist credit is correct…having a large number of images can add hours — days — of work to a book project. The presses I have worked with have turned down many, MANY projects simply because the submissions made reference to artwork. If you’re dead set on including artwork, completing the tasks below will work in your favor, but I still advise against it:
- Send digital files of artwork, no solely physical images. Most presses prefer .TIFF files due to their higher resolution and the fact that they do not degrade with each “save”. Generally speaking, the higher the resolution (ppi, or pixels per inch) the safer you are — but around 300 ppi for photos or 1200ppi for drawings is a good estimate.
- Accompany the submission with an “Art Log” — an excel sheet that assigns each image an identification number (ex.: Fig.1.3, where “1” corresponds to the chapter number and “3” means that it is the third image used in Chapter 1), a brief description, a size, whether or not the image is in the public domain, and where in the book the image will be used (chapter/page). The identification number in the art log should be equal to that image’s file name. You will also want to submit physical printouts of each image, marked on the back with its corresponding ID number, but make sure you send the digital files as well.
- If you are using artwork other than your own: gaining the permissions to use the artwork ahead of time will save the press a lot of time and many headaches. If the image is not in the public domain, you will need to contact the image’s creator or the creator’s agent/representative to gain rights — and be forewarned, this often can, and does, cost money, especially for more famous works.
- Include a SASE. If submitting a hard copy submission, include a self addressed, stamped envelope or you might not hear anything back at all. If you expect to get your full submission back with any rejection, specifically tell them that you want it back, and include enough postage for the weight of the package or it’ll get shredded or recycled. Stamps cost money, and if a press shelled out free postage to respond to each submission they received they’d go out of business. Not only that, but it’s also the polite thing to do. Better still, tell them in your cover letter that they can notify you by email (and make sure to include your email address) — this will speed up response time greatly.
Really, that’s about all you’ve got to do to dramatically increase the odds of your book getting published. Simply put, publishers and editors are human beings, which means that on some level, they’re lazy. Doing as much work for the press as you preemptively can will make a big difference. It won’t be the only consideration (quality will always, hopefully, be top priority) but it’ll certainly help you edge out the competition; victory is in the margins.
When presented with an almost-there project that’ll take a lot of work vs. an almost-there project that’ll take almost no work, which would you go with?