|Step One: Write Novel|
First, Research Your Publishers
Before I get too much further, that caption isn't a joke. You can't submit a partially completed novel, and hope for the best. Your book needs to be done before you even think about sending it off somewhere. That doesn't mean you shouldn't eyeball the market to see who would likely be interested in your book once it's complete, but it does mean you shouldn't focus on selling a product you haven't finished yet.
|Anyway, back to publisher research.|
So, the first place you're going to want to start is The Writer's Market. This book is put out every year, and it lists publishers both big and small. Every entry gives a description of the publisher, including what genres they're looking for, what times of year they accept books from authors, suggested word count, and it tells you whether they want you to submit your entire manuscript, the first 10,000 words, or just to send them a query.
It also tells you the most important piece of information you need; whether or not you need an agent in order to submit to a given publisher.
Second, Choose Which Publishers You're Going To Submit To
Once you've gone down the list, you need to pick which publisher, or publishers, you're going to submit your work to. Then, go to those publishers' home pages and check their guidelines (they're typically under the tab along the top that says "Author Guidelines"). The reason there's an "or" there, is because some publishers won't accept simultaneous submissions. Which means if you're going to send your book to one of them, then you have to wait until you get a rejection letter from them before you send it along to anyone else. Or you can submit your book to all the publishers who accept simultaneous submissions, and wait until you've exhausted those possibilities first.
|If you prefer the shotgun approach.|
Third: Submit and Wait
Once you submit your book, you typically have to wait four to six weeks to get a response. Generally, if you haven't heard back after 90 days, that's when you're allowed to query to see whether or not you've been accepted/rejected. While getting an email back saying you were rejected weeks ago is bad enough, sometimes you find out that after three months of waiting, the publisher in question never received your submission in the first place. Then you need to choose whether you want to send your submission again, and wait another 90 days before hearing back, or move down the list to one of your other potential publishers.
If all goes well, the publisher will write you back to say they're interested. If you sent a query, they'll ask for the first 10,000 words to get a feeling for your style. If you sent the first 10,000 words, they'll ask for the whole manuscript. Once they've read the whole manuscript you'll get an offer, or a refusal.
Once you have an offer, you'll be sent a contract. Review that contract carefully, make sure you're not getting shafted, and then sign on the dotted line. If the publisher says no, though, then you get to move down the list of potential publishers, and start the whole process over again.
What Was That About An Agent?
Literary agents are sort of like faeries; most people have heard the word, but they don't really have any solid knowledge of the creatures they refer to. So, if you didn't read Do I Need A Literary Agent To Get Published?, let me break their job down for you. A literary agent is someone who has connections in the publishing industry. Often they're a former editor, publisher, or even author, who can pick up the phone and do a direct pitch to a friend or business acquaintance at a publisher. The agent negotiates contract terms, and looks out for the author's interests. In return, the author agrees to pay the agent a percentage of royalties every time the publisher cuts a check.
|Remember, you get what you pay for.|
The only time you need a literary agent is if you're trying to submit to a big publisher, like Random House, which requires all writers who query them to work through an agent. This is typical of big publishers, who use agents as a way to filter through all the projects on the market so that only those considered worth fighting for make their way to the publishers' doorsteps. If the publisher doesn't state they require an agent, then you don't need one. You can still work with them if you do have an agent, but you don't need to piggy back into the club with one.
There is an ironic thing about agents, though; the more experienced (and successful) you are as an author, the less you need one. Agents offer the biggest benefits to authors who are just starting out, and those who are wildly successful. Authors who are new at the game gain access to an agent's network of contacts, and the power of the agent's negotiation skills. Authors who are already established can use agents as a great way to filter out junk project offers, and to make sure as much of the social aspect of the job is handled as possible, while they keep writing. If you already have a list of your own contacts (because you've published several books, attended conventions, and socialized with others in the industry), and you can handle your own affairs, then you can scoot by without an agent, more often than not.
The Self-Publishing Route
The other option you have is self-publishing your book. This is the only guaranteed way to get published. You write your book, format it, design and create a cover, and use a service like CreateSpace or Smashwords to put your book on the marketplace. It sounds easy, but trust me, it isn't. Not only are you now the author, but you're also the editor, format tech, cover designer, chief (or sole) marketer, and you need to sell copies of your book all on your own. It's a lot of work, but if you're willing to do that work, and mix in a pinch of luck, then you can make a living as a self-published writer just as surely as you can as a traditionally published one.
Hopefully that cleared everything up for anyone who was still confused about how the publishing process works. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and toss a few coins in my hat. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you can get all my updates?