Dog Days - Finding a Publisher

The first step is to do your research. Thoroughly. The objective is to identify the publishers in your genre who are likely to consider your book. Smaller publishers tend to specialize in certain areas, while larger publishers are divided into imprints - divisions that concentrate on certain types of books. The best way to find these publishers is to purchase a guide such as the Literary Market Place or subscribe to an online database such as Using these references, you can identify publishers that work in your genre, accept unagented submissions and work with debut authors. Compile a list of at least twenty publishers. Most will have a website describing their capabilities (I'll come back to this).

Rank the publishers and begin sending out query letters, maybe a couple each week. The query letter has to be a great piece of writing, since it represents you and your book to the publisher. In one well-written page, introduce your novel, provide a one paragraph bio, and offer to send your manuscript. The query must conform to the publishers requirements, which should be on their website.

Most publishers receive hundreds of queries each week, and reject well over 95% of them, so it has to be persuasive. And if you're expecting this to be a fast process, forget about it. Most publishers take two weeks to four months to reply. If you wait for a publisher to reply before you send out the next query, you should complete the process sometime around 2015. That's why you send out a couple of queries a week.

Then the magical day occurs --- a publisher calls and says she wants to publish your book. It's all over, all you have to do is sign the contract and let the publisher take care of everything.


Even though you have found a publisher, don't be too quick to sign on the dotted line. Here's a nasty little secret: some publishers aren't very good. Signing with such a publisher would lead to a mess. I'll explain.

A writer I know was offered a contract by a small, newly formed publisher. The publisher was enthusiastic about his novel and had a nice website, so he signed. Well, it turned out that the publisher was a novice in publishing and, even worse, underfunded as well. It was a disaster; the publisher provided little of the marketing that had been promised and then went out of business. Not a great situation for a debut author.

So it's important to check out a publisher thoroughly before you sign. First, look into the publisher's financial stability and professional success. How many years has she been in business? Her most successful books? Are the key marketing, editing, cover design and operations performed by employees? Will she provide any financial information?

Find out if the publisher has a distributor, which is an organization that sells and stocks the books. Without a distributor, it's difficult to sell to libraries and bookstores, leaving Amazon and the other online booksellers as the only outlets. Independent Publishers Group is one of the top distributors.

To sell through bookstores, the publisher must allow returns. If the book doesn't sell in a few months, the stores will ship them back to the distributor for a refund. It's a crazy system, but if your publisher doesn't allow returns, you won't see your novel in bookstores.

It's essential to learn if the books will be printed in manufacturing runs or POD (Print On Demand). POD books are printed one at a time as orders come in, which is expensive, but keeps the publisher's investment to a minimum. A manufacturing run of five or ten thousand books is less expensive per book, and it illustrates a greater investment by the publisher in your book. From an author's perspective, manufacturing runs are far more desirable.

On-line marketing is critical in today's marketplace. Although it's important to obtain pre-release book reviews in the major trade publication such as Booklist and Publishers Weekly, social networking, blogging and other online activities are critical. If a reader hasn't heard of your novel, he can't purchase it. The importance of getting the word out, getting readers interested in your work, can't be overstressed.