On Publishing A Novel, Part 2: How To Get Published

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

-Stephen King


Publishing is hard. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve written, it takes an absurd amount of persistence to publish a novel. This is why I’ve always advised people NEVER to write just to make money. Yes, many writers have successfully capitalized on the current fads, particularly vampires and zombies in recent years, but that doesn’t mean you should. Other writers have found success writing for targeted audiences: lonely women (Nora Roberts), teenage girls (E.L. James), extremely macho men (Tom Clancy) et cetera… but in a world where you have a far greater chance of being consecutively struck by lightning than being discovered by the Hachette Book Group, you owe it to yourself to write the kind of novel that you would want to read. If you write an original piece of fiction with original characters, if you make sure your novel has a point and you work and rework your sentences until they sing, you MIGHT be ready for publication. Even then, I’d recommend having several people read your book: friends or, ideally, an editor. Be extremely careful. Making sure your novel as good as possible is vital. You may only get one chance with each agent/publisher – you need to make it count. Once you’re ready to immortalize your work as is, follow the steps below to get to publication.


Buy Writer’s Market (20XX)

Owning your year’s Writer’s Market is extremely useful. The book contains lists of agents, and even a small number of publishing companies that actually accept unsolicited manuscripts. Also, if you write poems or short stories, it can help get some of that work published. Publishing anything at all can go on your resume and in your cover letter to the agents that you decide to solicit.


Perfect Opening Chapters

Most agents specify how many chapters they would like in a query. Some prefer to receive only a query letter. Others prefer anywhere from 1-3 chapters. Very rarely will an agent ask to see more than that. Go over your first three chapters with a pen, read them aloud and post statuses to Facebook begging your friends to edit them. Be sure to open your book with a powerful line. Ideally, open with action. A standard opening line might be, “Bob Paisley was an average man in almost every way, but, unknown to his friends, he had a dark secret.” Here is an opening that might capture the mind of an agent: “It happened again today.” If you started reading a book and read those four words, could you imagine putting it down? Probably not. Upon reading that sentence, your mind is probably filled with questions... What happened? Why did it happen? Who did it happen to? Was it a good or a bad thing that happened? Once you’ve built the tension, keep it there. If an agent reads through your first three chapters, you want him/her to ask to see the rest of the book.


Get Agent List

Before you prepare your cover letter, you should build your agent list to about 200 names. Don’t listen to anything agents tell you about query letters. Given the rate of rejection, if you did what they said and queried one agent at a time and waited for each to respond (which takes, on average, about three months) than it would take you around fifty years to find an agent. The sad fact is that exclusivity, at least as far as the agent is concerned, spells the death of a manuscript. Remember, regardless of how good your novel is, most agents simply don’t have the time to read it.

So how do you get agent emails/addresses?

You can probably get about 50 solid agents out of Writer’s Market. I’d recommend going for addresses here. Very few people send physical copies of anything anymore, so it puts you ahead of the game. Be careful to select only the agents that take books in your genre. If you wrote a romance novel, and Ralph Schnieder only works with nonfiction authors, by sending him your fantastic novel, you’re only wasting everyone’s time and making it harder for other writers to get discovered.

Your best resource for agent emails is a little known site called agentquery.com. It has a (relatively) up to date list of agents that are currently accepting unsolicited queries. I recommend doing a blank search in your category. Don’t type anything in the keyword spot, select your genre and hit “search”. So, if you wrote a romance novel, how many agent emails would you have?


As of early April 2015, 181.

Draft Query Letter

Before you query an agent, you will need to write a generic letter that can be applied to everyone. Remember, this is not the final query you will be sending, just a template for further use. Here is an example.

Salutation: Dear Agent,

Novel Description: Forever Far is an 72,000 word novel about a young girl who is unable to believe her dysfunctional life with her parents will ever end. She looks for escape in the form of a young boy who sometimes lingers around her school. Upon befriending him she finds he is deeply involved in the sale and production of a drug called “Rapture”. With her help, the drug becomes incredibly popular, and she finally sees a way to escape the life she was born into… but at what cost?

Inclusion:  The first three chapters are included.

Short Biography: I am an honors graduate from Occidental College (don’t list your major if it didn’t have anything to do with writing). I have written several short stories and a multitude of poems, and I will be beginning my second novel soon. The completed manuscript for my first novel is available on demand. If you’d like samples of any of my other work, please feel free to contact me.

Closing Note: I hope to hear from you soon regarding Forever Far.

Valediction:  Sincerely, Emma Cartier

Contact Information:

123 Madup Rd, Big City, Ca, 12345




Customize Query Letter/Send Test Run To 50 Agents

So you’ve written a query letter? Wonderful! Unfortunately, your work is not done yet. Let’s say you decide to send a query letter to one of the most famous agents in the industry today. You think that the likelihood of rejection is so high that you might as well send the query to her email address at query@JanesAgency.com. Great. What’s next? Now it’s time to do your research!

You go to JanesAgency.com and check the submissions tab; not every site has one, but most do. There, Jane’s instructions are clearly written: “Include a synopsis and the first five pages pasted into the body of the email. No attachments.” You see a list of the work she’s published in the past. Most of it is science fiction or fantasy. Unfortunately, there is nothing listed on the site as to the nature of the work that Jane personally accepts. You decide to Google her and find an interview online in which she states that she states, “I’m looking for something out of the box, something that doesn’t shy away from the dark nature of the human spirit.”

Using this information, you can write a phenomenal query letter.


Email Subject: Forever Falls (Query)

Dear Jane,

I saw in an interview that you were looking for something that “doesn’t shy away from the dark nature of the human spirit.” Your representation of the novelist Pablo Garcia and his work Push the Sun Away certainly attests to that. I’m contacting you today because I’ve written a science fiction novel myself that I believe is exactly what you’re looking for. It challenges the selfish nature in all of us and poses questions about the selfishness inside us all.

Forever Far is an 72,000 word novel about a young girl who is unable to believe her dysfunctional life with her parents will ever end. She looks for escape in the form of a young boy who sometimes lingers around her school. Upon befriending him she finds he is deeply involved in the sale and production of a drug called “Rapture”. With her help, the drug becomes incredibly popular, and she finally sees a way to escape the life she was born into… but at what cost?

As requested on your website, the first five pages are pasted at the bottom of this message.

I am an honors graduate from Occidental College (don’t list your major if it didn’t have anything to do with writing). I have written several short stories and a multitude of poems, and I will be beginning my second novel soon. The completed manuscript for my first novel is available on demand. If you’d like samples of any of my other work, please feel free to contact me.

I hope to hear from you soon regarding Forever Far.


Emma Cartier


123 Madup Rd, Big City, Ca, 12345




The above is an extremely solid query letter, sure to get the attention of someone who has time to read it and is actually looking for clients at that particular moment. Now it’s time to send a test run of customized queries to 50 agents. Yes, you have to repeat it all over and over again. Nobody said it was going to be easy!


Analyze Feedback

What kind of rejection did you receive?

Form Letter: If it began, “Dear Author, We’re sorry to…” than the agent is simply too busy. There is nothing to be learned here. Take note of the email address and apply again later.

Generic: “Your story didn’t pique my interest”, “we are not taking new clients at this time”, “I’m afraid it’s not the right fit” et cetera… are all generic dismissals. It probably means they’re swamped and didn’t have time to read it. Don’t hold it against them, it’s not their fault. More importantly, don’t send angry messages. Many agents keep a blacklist.

Personal Rejection: An agent takes the time to actually read it, decides he doesn’t want to take it on, and actually tells you why. THIS IS A GIFT. It means your work was better than most of the other queries he’s been reading. If an agent responds with one of these, don’t defend your work. Resist the urge to tell him why your view is right and his is wrong. Instead, thank him for his feedback, do some work on it, and resubmit it in a month or two. Trust me, this kind of rejection is very promising.

An Invitation to Resubmit: Take these with a grain of salt. Most are generic messages sent to everyone and their mother… that said, make a note and don’t be afraid to take them up on their offer.

Glaring Errors: If multiple responses start coming in that say “Your characters felt a little flat” or “I’m not sure this has wide range appeal”, chances are you’re dealing with a flaw in your writing. Try to imagine the writing from an agent’s perspective. What might they dislike? If you left in a few lines of horrific dialogue or choppy description, don’t fret. That’s why you sent your first queries to only 50 agents!


Submit To Everyone

Bring out the rest of the list and send customized letters to each of them. Don’t get lazy and ignore the paper submissions. These can be extremely useful. Contact any friends of the family who are/know agents or publishing affiliates. Take note of everyone who you might submit again to later, and stay on top of your responses. Don’t rush anyone. Agents are busy people.



You’ll be receiving responses for up to a year. If none are favorable, remember that every year the agent list changes. Maybe science fiction just isn’t popular enough right now. Keep writing. Keep creating new material. Rinse and repeat these steps until you make it. It’s grueling and extremely challenging, but at least you haven’t fallen into the trap of submitting to one agent at a time. At least you know how to get your queries to the top of the stack. You have an advantage others don’t have, and you’ve done everything right. Eventually, if you keep working at it, it’ll happen.


Writing Prompt

Draft your generic agent query and send it in for editing!

On Publishing, Part 1: Different Publishing Routes

“As a writer, the worst thing you can do is work in an environment of fear of rejection.”

-Carol Leifer


I heard a joke about publishing once. I’m not sure who to credit for it, but it has become somewhat legendary in the field of writing. It goes something like this: “I could write an incredible novel about rejection slips, but it would probably be too long for a publisher to touch it.” In this day and age, it’s harder than ever to publish a book. Why? It all started to change with the invention of National Novel Writing Month in 1999. Since then, people have spit up hurried manuscripts like they’re going out of style. Carelessly thought-out, unedited November stinkers, sadly, make up the bulk of what is being written nowadays. The problem however isn’t in what’s being written, it’s that almost every single person who finishes a novel thinks they deserve to be published. I don’t know the exact statistics, but I would venture to say that the amount of query letters that agents receive today is roughly ten times what it was in 1998. With over 200,000 novels written every November, the proportion of good novels that agents receive is at an all time low. Of course, the point of this article isn’t to say that a good novel cannot be written in a month – after all, for every 200,000 November novels, 100 novels are actually published – the point is to show what your viable options are at this point. The sad fact is, if you’re an unpublished writer without an agent, almost nobody will actually read the sample chapters you send them – they simply don’t have the time! So for this installment, I will talk about the current publishing routes, alternative or otherwise, along with their advantages and disadvantages.

This is the first part of a series on publishing. Hopefully by the end of it, you will have a solid approach on how to get your work out there. Also, in case you are getting discouraged, the fact that you are reading this shows that you care more about your work than 95% of the other writers who are currently trying to get published. Remember Carol’s words above, and don’t lose faith. I truly believe that if your work is good enough, and you consistently try to get it out there, it will be discovered.


Traditional Self-Publishing

Traditional self publishing was once commonly referred to as “Vanity Press”. In the 80s, there was a certain amount of judgment that one might receive from the writing community if they were to peruse this method of publishing. That’s simply no longer the case. In TSD, you keep 100% of your rights and 100% of your royalties. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you different – if a company doesn’t give you full control over both your rights and royalties, they are not a traditional self-publishing company. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to this method of publishing. Apart from full control of your work, this method allows for instantaneous publishing, it is easily accessible, and there are no deadlines whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are also a few inherent disadvantages. First, it costs quite a bit of money. You have to pay a fee for the use of your chosen self-publishing service, and you have to pay for the initial printing (and all other future printings should you be so lucky). Second, most often, self-publishing services offer absolutely no marketing, which means you will have to do all your own marketing – which again, costs money. If you do get to this point and aren’t sure what to do, I recommend you contact me. I can provide you with the details of a world-class marketer, Heather Hernandez, who can market your book from the ground up. Three, you control your own books. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you are heavily marketing your novel, and are responsible for the books that are shipped out, you might spend a LOT of time filling out shipping labels and putting books in bubble wrap. This also means you will have to rent out a large storage shed or, if you can’t afford one, live in a house filled from top to bottom with unsold books – and that’s a lot to ask of your family, roommates or spouse.


Print On Demand

Print on demand is a method of self publishing that is very similar to TSP. It’s often not quite as cost effective, because you pay for each book individually as it is ordered, but it does solve the space issue.


Kindle E-book

This format is so commonly used that most books that are released will be published in a .mobi format simply because, for many readers, if it isn’t out on Kindle, it might as well not be out at all. Many new authors get confused on this point however. Just because most of us will likely eventually publish on Kindle doesn’t mean that it’s in a new author’s best interest to immediately publish their completed novel in this format. If you decide to pursue a publishing house, publishing in the Kindle format can hurt your chances of a house accepting your manuscript (more on that in a bit). Also, when seeking reputation, the fact is, agents represent clients who have books that aren’t already published. The advantages and disadvantages are fairly similar to that of TSP and POD. In Kindle, you maintain all your rights. You are allowed to change the manuscript at any time and however you see fit. Obviously though, Amazon takes a certain amount of your royalties. The smallest amount they take is 30%, but that is only if your book sells well. Originally, you can expect Amazon to take a bit more (maybe 35-40%). Whether one-click publishing is worth the significant royalty loss and the added challenges when still pursuing traditional publishing is up for each author to decide for themselves. If you do decide on this route, I recommend using CreateSpace to get it done.


Nook E-book

Don’t do it. The world may not have called the Nook/Kindle competition just yet, but the writing community has. Pretty soon Nook will be like Microsoft’s HD-DVD format… extinct.


Assisted Publishing

This one is tricky. When it comes to AP, you absolutely need to know what you’re getting into. For years, people have been getting fooled by assisted publishing companies like Page Publishing and others. The process is simply too similar to traditional publishing. Authors “apply” and get “accepted” by a self-purported “publishing company”. Many of them stretch out their time estimates to make it seem like they are doing something quite challenging, order POD books from separate websites, publish your book on Kindle, and “market” your book by placing it on their own websites – most of which get a few hundred visitors a day if even (most of which are actually prospective clients and not people actually looking to buy books). So basically, to break down the average assisted publishing company, it takes about 10 months to do something you could have done yourself in a month and while keeping the lion’s share of the royalties. If this sounds like a scam, that's because it is. Most assisted publishing services are scams. The only AP services I’ve seen that haven’t been scams have been on websites that market themselves as traditional self publishing or print on demand that just so happen to offer other useful services. The problem with assisted publishing, also known as “co-operative publishing”, is that the most companies do not identify themselves under those labels. Whenever you are offered a book deal from a small company, you need to look at what they are actually offering you. If they pride themselves on offering to publish your book on Kindle while taking “only a small fee”, or if they offer “marketing” that includes placing your book on their own personal website – a website you’d probably never heard of before you were offered your book deal – they are probably not a company you want to be involved with. There may be exceptions, but they are few and far between.


Traditional Publishing

Okay, so what is the big deal about traditional publishing? Every single one of the methods above will give you a book that, if it’s good enough, should absolutely find a way of getting sold… right? Not really. Let’s put it in perspective. There are over three million kindle books available on Amazon. As of March 2015, there are 318.9 million people in the United States, and yet, every year, one million books are published in the US alone. On average, each book sells less than 250 copies in total. Thanks heavily to national novel writing month, without some kind of marketing, your book is just a gem in a sea of mediocrity, doomed to complete and utter obscurity. Traditional publishing sets your novel apart from the rest in a variety of ways. First, it acts as a natural filter. Most people know how hard it is to get a book published, so they automatically favor books that have undergone that process. Second, TP (pardon the acronym) not only offers advances to make it easier for an author to focus on writing, but it often pays for editing and cover work without ever expecting to have that money returned. When your book is traditionally published, it is not just a reflection of you, but of the company that chose to take a chance on your work, so they want it to be the best it can be! Third, they market for you. Every publishing company will market for you. Some take it out of your share of future royalties, while others (most of the largest companies like Random House) consider it a cost of doing business. The fourth and final reason is by far the most important: publishers have platforms.

Lets take the company Random House. Random House has deals with bookstores in multiple countries. When they release a new book, without anyone ever having read it, the cover is immediately displayed everywhere from Powell’s Books to Barnes & Noble. Established publishing houses have credibility, power, an established system of marketing, and a target audience. Whatever happens, they will sell more than 250 copies, guaranteed. If the book doesn’t get enough interest, while the publishing house loses money, the author doesn’t lose anything but pride.

While most people would choose traditional publishing in a heartbeat if they could, it’s not that simple. Very few publishing companies accept unsolicited work from anyone who isn’t already a big name in the literary world. Getting published is a multi-step process, and as far as I know, there are no realistic guides that thoroughly discuss each of the steps in an easy to follow and direct way… which is why I’ve decided to write one as my next blog post.


Writing Prompt

Have you published a book? If you have, how did you do it? What were your experiences? Comment below to help other writers do the same.