So, you’ve finished your book, you’ve had it critiqued by a professional, tweaked and road-tested, inspected and corrected, line-edited and copy-edited and proofread. You’re satisfied that it’s as good as it’s going to get, and you think it’s…well…pretty great. (Yay, you!)
I would imagine your thoughts are running something like this:
- Am I likely to find a publisher?
- Do I need an agent first?
- How likely am I to even get an agent to read my book?
- If I can’t find a publisher or an agent, should I give up or dare I self-publish?
- If I self-publish, do I have any chance of selling the book to anyone besides friends and family?
These are THE questions!
Every situation is unique, but I’ll offer some guidelines to help you get your thoughts together.
Are you likely to find a publisher?
It depends on your genre, how professionally written and edited your book is, and whether you have marketing savvy that you can demonstrate.
Sit down and write out an elevator speech that quickly describes what’s amazing about your book. In two sentences or less, state why someone will want to read it. If you come up with a very compelling statement, you may have a shot at finding a publisher and/or an agent. Also, ask yourself who is the audience for your book and how you will locate that audience. If those questions have quick, easy, and specific answers, then that is an additional factor in your favor.
Truthfully, it is not easy for a novice writer without a marketing platform or an established fan base to find a publisher. On the other hand, certain genres (like romance and mystery) attract fans who are insatiable readers. Publishers are always looking for something new and good to offer in those categories. The combination of a well-edited, taut, engaging novel and an author with proven media-savvy will impress publishers who need content.
Do you need an agent?
If you want to try the top-tier publishers, yes, absolutely, you will need an agent. If you zero in on small publishers or university presses, you are often invited to submit your manuscript without one. However, realize that your book will be part of a very tall slush pile tended to by a small staff with not enough time to give each book much attention. Judgments are made very quickly.
How likely are you to get an agent to read your book and consider representing you?
Truthfully, it’s a long shot. Agents reject about 97% of submissions. The ones I know look mostly at manuscripts that are recommended to them by established writers or esteemed colleagues. Agents are inundated with submissions, and there are only so many hours in a day. If you have something of value to offer them, sometimes it does work out. But be prepared for the very real possibility that it will not.
If you happen to have a good relationship with a published author who respects your work, ask him or her to introduce you to an agent. That’s the most effective route. It’s best if you have some sort of personal connection to the agent that will allow you to stand out in the crowd.
Should you self-publish?
Why not? I would think that if you went to all the trouble of writing a book, you should get it out there one way or another. You owe it to yourself. Self-publishing is no longer routinely derided as mere vanity. It’s now seen as a legitimate entrepreneurial undertaking, if done right. And mainstream publishers are increasingly looking to self-published books (the ones that sell, that is) as a source of proven value. Just go into it with realistic expectations. Don’t get ripped off by an exploitive POD press. Do your homework. And hire your own editors (that’s essential!). (I will post something on this issue another day.)
Don’t expect to sell thousands of copies of your book unless you are a super-savvy marketing whiz and/or have written on a niche topic that lends itself to a pretty straightforward marketing plan. A typical literary novel about a suburban family in a rural town in Utah will be much harder to market than a mystery or a romance set in San Francisco that features zombies.
If your book is really good and appeals to others, and if you are savvy and persistent about marketing it, you might be able to sell several thousand copies. And if you do, there’s always the possibility that a publisher will pick it up.
So darn many ifs and so much to think about. But all for the love of writing!