wikiHow to Publish a Novel

You've written your novel, but you don't know how to get it in bookstores. Assuming you don't want to self-publish, and assuming you're a first-time author, you're going to need a literary agent. Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Here's a step-by-step outline for snaring the elusive beast.

Steps

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    Have your manuscript professionally edited. You should only pitch agents your absolute best work.
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    Research potential agents. Top resource books include Writers Market and the Jeff Herman Guide to Literary Agents. Plus, almost every literary agency hosts a website. Consult for the most up-to-date information.
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    Make a list of agents who represent your type of work, be it young adult, romance, science fiction, non-fiction, and so on.
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    Narrow your agent pool by researching titles each agent has represented. Dozens of agents specialize in young adult paranormal fiction; don't pitch them if you've written a young adult book about a kid detective.
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    Craft your query letter. A query letter is an agent's first look at you the writer. It needs to be dynamite. It should 1. Tell what you book is about in three compelling sentences; 2. State why you are querying that specific agent; and 3. Explain why you are the person to write this particular book. One page, max.
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    Follow each agent's query submission guidelines and send your letters. Yes, you can query more than one agent at a time. Just be sure to personalize each query and only solicit one agent per literary house. Note: make sure your first chapter is dynamite. Some agents request a first chapter along with your query letter. This is your chance to impress. You need to make the most of it.
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    If an agent is interested in seeing your work, he/she will request either a partial or full manuscript. Follow submission instructions closely. At this point it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a reading timeline. A reputable agent should respond to a manuscript within 2-3 months.
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    While you wait, keep writing. If you do receive an offer of representation, the agent will want to know what else you're working on. Think of it as a long-term relationship.
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    The offer. If you get it, be prepared with a list of questions. Commission structure? Foreign rights? Editing process? You want to know exactly what you're entering into.
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    Publication. Remember, an agent needs to sell your book to a publishing house. This may take one week. Or one year. Or it may not happen at all. Be patient and professional in this process and let the agent do his/her job.
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    Be persistent. The book The Help was rejected over two dozen times before it was eventually published. Look how that turned out. Literary agents are busy, in-demand folks. But they want to discover the next great novel. Keep after them.

Tips

  • If you do receive an offer of representation, inform other agents who you've queried/sent manuscript to but haven't heard back from. They may request a few days to review your work.
  • Title page
  • Manuscript format
  • Genre and word count
  • 1.5-inch margins all around
  • Work on your marketing platform. It's more important for non-fiction than fiction writers, but still, authors do a lot of their own PR work these days. Your platform can make the difference when it comes to getting representation and selling books.
  • Title - centered, just above the middle of the page
  • Try to build up a portfolio of clips/shorts stories.
  • Name/title in upper left hand corner of each page
  • Font: Times New Roman is the safest bet
  • Prepared for - agent's full name and contact information
  • Attend writing conferences. It's the single best way to make connections to literary agents. If you can't attend, read agent blogs.
  • Your full contact information
  • By (your name)- centered, below title
  • Double-spaced
  • Send queries in groups. Maybe 4-6 at a time. If your agent list is solid but your first ten queries are rejected, your query letter isn't good enough. Revise and send to new agents.
  • Page number in bottom right hand corner of each page

Warnings

  • Beware the agent who charges a "reading fee."
  • Beware the agency without a website.
  • Beware the agency not listed with the Association of Authors' Representatives.
  • Securing an agent does not guarantee a published book.
  • Never address a query letter "Dear Agent." Always use Mr. or Miss or Mrs. + last name.
  • Never pitch more than one agent at a literary house.
  • Never call a literary agency to pitch your book or to follow-up on a query.

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Categories: Publishing