With limited publishing slots available, as well as a high demand for excellence, traditional publishers are highly selective with the books they represent. And with so many established fan favorites already on bookstore shelves today, only a very small percentage of first-timers make it to the list of “traditionally published authors.” It can often take years to get your manuscript read by a team of editors, and books are usually slotted for publication a year, or even two years, from the time of acceptance.
So with news like that, and no guarantees, you may be wondering, “Why should I even try?” Why put in the work required for “possible” publication? Why not just self-publish and get your book out there where you know it belongs?
Here’s one reason: Being picked up by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher may be one of the highest compliments you could ever receive as a writer. Forget paying to have your work put out there --- someone is willing to pay you! And if you are so fortunate as to join your favorite authors at Zondervan, or Bethany House, or Revell … well, not only would it be a personal honor, but your book would have the potential to reach more readers than you could even dream of.
So, if seeing the name of a traditional publisher on the back of your book is something you’re dreaming of, here are six steps to increase your chances of success.
1. Write a good book. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is the absolute number one requirement for getting published by a traditional publisher. Not only does this mean coming up with a good idea or plot, but learning everything you can about how to write a good book. Read books on writing. Take classes. Study your preferred genre. Attend conferences. Join writing sites like FaithWriters.com and take advantage of the benefits there. Enter contests. Join a critique group. Do everything you can to improve your quality of writing. It all starts with a good book.
2. Rewrite your good book. While traditional publishers will consider non-fiction books on a proposal alone (see #4 for more on proposals), fiction authors—especially not-yet-published—will need to have a complete novel before a publisher will draw up a contract. But whether fiction or non-fiction, making sure your book is edited --- and re-edited --- and re-edited --- is essential. Nothing makes an editor grab a rejection form letter quicker than a sloppy manuscript. From punctuation, to grammar, to format, to opening hook, to pacing, to character development, to the ending, everything needs to be as flawless as possible. But don’t let perfectionism prevent you from submitting at all. There comes a point where you just have to say it’s as good as it’s going to get, and let it go.
3. Know your target audience. Many authors want to believe that everyone will be able to benefit from their book. But the truth is that every book is not for every person. It is a proven fact that books sell better when they are targeted to a specific demographic, whether based on age, gender, genre, etc. Your book on speaking in tongues will not necessarily be snatched up by conservative church members. Your target audience, then, is not “everyone,” but perhaps Pentecostals or other specific denominations, who are looking for more information on a topic they already learn about in church. Knowing who your readers are will not only help you write a better book, but it will give you a better direction with marketing and promotion (see #6).
4. Put together a great proposal. Gone are the days when authors could send in their manuscripts with a cover letter and call it good. These days, editors and agents want detailed proposals, laying out the facts of why they should take a chance on that particular book. Proposals are comprised of everything from a description of the entire project, to a detailed marketing plan, to comparable titles on shelves today. Required elements for proposals vary from publisher to publisher and agent to agent, so take the time to visit the websites of those you wish to contact, and amend, as needed. Also look for examples online, or ask your published friends to share those they have created. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on this step. Your proposal will ultimately get your full manuscript in front of an editor or agent, so make it shine.
5. Get an agent. So you have a polished manuscript and a great proposal. Now it’s time to acquire an agent. While some smaller royalty-paying publishers accept manuscripts or proposals without an agent, the larger houses definitely do not. So, if getting your book placed with a more well-known publisher is your goal, an agent is mandatory. A good agent does more than just help you get one book published. Ideally, he or she will do everything they can to further your career as an author. The more books you sell, the better for them. Reputable agents do not get paid to represent you until they sell your book. However, there may be small charges for copies, postage, etc., so be sure to read that contract. Michael Hyatt has compiled a list of several Christian literary agents, where you can access their websites and guidelines for submitting. http://michaelhyatt.com/literary-agents-who-represent-christian-authors.html.
6. Market, market, market. Ah, marketing… usually an author’s least favorite word. But marketing just isn’t an option in today’s world, so you have little choice but to embrace it. There are really two phases of marketing: before publishing, and after. While traditional publishers have a huge edge on subsidy and self-publishing due to the fact that they have an automatic “in” at national brick and mortar bookstores, authors still need to do a good share of their own marketing. But, right now, the goal is to get picked up by a publisher, so your focus should be on networking, and building your platform. Creating a larger circle of friends, or audience, whom you have the opportunity to reach with your books, makes you much more appealing—sellable—to agents and publishers. Connect with others who will be able to help you promote your book once it’s available. Don’t just go through the motions, however. Really get to know people. The more genuine you are, the more friends you’ll make who are eager to help you and your book reach full potential. There are many ways to build your platform, like speaking for church groups or organizations geared toward your book’s topic, through websites, blogs, and social media.
Remember, the number one way to land a contract with a traditional publisher is to learn the craft and write a good book. Once you’ve done that, your chances for success have increased ten-fold. If you are willing to put in the work, follow the steps outline above, and have patience for the process, you’re well on your way to being added to the elite list of royalty-paid authors.
About the author: Lynda Lee Schab got her writing start in greeting cards and has many articles and stories published in magazines and online publications. She works behind the scenes at FaithWriters.com, is a regular book reviewer for FaithfulReader.com, but Lynda’s passion has always been fiction. Her novels, MIND OVER MADI and MADILY IN LOVE, are available in print and on Kindle. Lynda lives in Michigan with her two children. Learn more about Lynda on her website, www.LyndaSchab.com. Learn more by getting Lynda’s book for Christian writers HERE. Please make sure to review it on Amazon.