Want to Traditionally Publish a Fiction Novel? Here Are 11 Things You Need to Know.
With the huge push toward self-publishing, one would think traditional publication is a thing of the past. However, that is not the case in the least. Still today, there is an overwhelming amount of writers still pushing toward traditional publication. I am, too. Here is what I’ve discovered since I started my journey toward traditional publishing:
The book needs to be finished before you start thinking about publication.
With memoirs and some non-fiction work, you don’t necessarily have to have the book completed before you start querying. This is not the case at all with fiction. You have to have a finished, edited manuscript before you start querying for publication. Get that novel done before you start shopping it around.
You won’t be submitting your manuscript from the get go.
Manuscripts are a lot to read. A standard novel ranges from 50,000 to 175,000 words. Even at the lower end, that’s still at least 100+ pages to read through. When publishers and their editors are having to sift through thousands of submissions, reading every single manuscript isn’t feasible. Thus, you won’t be submitted your manuscript. You’ll be submitted what’s known as a query letter.
A query letter is a one page description of your novel. From that, the editors will decide whether or not your novel is right for them, then they will request your manuscript. I say all this to tell you not to start mailing out your 300 page manuscript. More than likely, it won’t be read. If the editor feels strongly enough, they might not accept any future submissions from you. It’s important to follow the process.
Don’t post your work online.
I made this mistake, and I see many others make this mistake. If you want to send your work out to agents and traditional publishers, it’s best that you don’t post it online. There are some publishers and agents that consider online publication as being previously published, including on your own blog. Granted, every publisher and agent have their own opinion as to what “previously published” means, but I find it best to avoid posting it all together. Want critiques? It is best to go through private channels (i.e. email, beta groups, private online groups, sharing printed copies, etc.).
However, just because you put something on your blog doesn’t mean it’s all over. You can edit your work to the point where there is little connecting the two pieces, thus, you have created something new. I have done this with a lot of older pieces. Keep this in mind if you find a lot of your work fits into the “previously published” category. However, also keep in mind, this isn’t always a sure fix. Don’t rely too much on recycling. It’s always best just to keep your work off the web from the start.
Read the submission guidelines thoroughly.
The number one reason for rejection is because people did not read the submission guidelines. Don’t make this careless mistake when it is so easily avoided. Most people assume that if they follow the standard manuscript format, they’re in the clear, but every publisher works differently. Don’t assume the standard can just be passed around everywhere. Just read the guidelines.
Most publishers require a writer to be represented.
Most publishers require a writer to have representation to be considered for publication, which protects them as well as you. Think of agents as the gatekeepers to the publishers. If you can impress an agent, then a publisher will be more likely to take you on. On the flip side, agents help make sure you get the best deal because that’s where they get their money. Find agents, submit to them, then they will help you submit to publishers. Remember, agents think like publishers. Agents aren’t going to take on every writer, and they have rules just like publishers, so make sure you read the submission guidelines.
Simultaneous submissions – to do it or not to do it?
What is a simultaneous submission? A simultaneous submission is a submission that has been sent to multiple organizations at the same time. There aren’t many novel publishers that accept simultaneous submissions. It sucks, but they do it so they’re not wasting time on a manuscript that could be picked up any minute. Think of it this way, let’s say I send you a query, you like it, and you request the manuscript. You’re in the middle of it and you think it is awesome, but right before you can tell me how much you love it, I send you this email:
Sorry, I signed a contract with someone else.
It sucks waiting around for what might be a rejection when you could be submitting to other places and increasing your chances of success, but there is a reason they do it. When they are reading through a huge amount of long-form submissions, they can’t risk wasting all of that time, staff, and money on something that could be snatched out from under them. Getting rejected after such a long wait time makes it all seem like a waste, but getting rejected means you get the chance to rewrite and make it better for the next submission.
Don’t lie about simultaneously submitting a manuscript, or its status as being previously published.
The worst thing you can do is lie. It only takes a second for a publisher to find out if you’re lying. A quick google search of your manuscript and boom, there is your story posted for all the world to see. They will probably reject your submission. However, you might also risk being blacklisted. The less bridges you burn, the better off you’ll be.
As far as simultaneous submissions, you do have a higher chance of getting away with this. It is worth noting that you might set yourself up for an awkward situation. If you get published through one of the publishers and the other hears about your book while they are still deliberating over your manuscript, that will not look good for you in the industry. Publishers do talk. You will probably still get published, but the next time you are looking to publish might not be as easy.
It can take months before you hear back, but be patient.
With the rapid advancement of technology, publishers have become more accessible to a much wider base of writers than when most submissions were solely through the mail. This means they’re getting mass amounts of submissions daily and sifting through that slush pile takes a long time, especially when they’re trying to find something worth publishing.
Unfortunately, unless your name is Stephen King, your manuscript will be somewhere in that slush pile. Don’t be offended, Stephen King was in the slush pile at one point, JK Rowling, too. Many great writers have been rejected and trudged through the slush pile. Just wait it out. Most publishers will give you a general wait period in their submission guidelines, as well as a time you can inquire about your manuscript if you haven’t heard back – just one more reason to read the submission guidelines.
Sometimes, you just won’t hear back.
The way things are now, with such a large slush pile, you may never hear back. If their noted response period ends and you’ve inquired on your query, but you don’t hear back within a month, you’re probably safe to start querying again. If you’ve already started querying and the publication gets back to you much later, you can explain that you’ve already started querying again. As long as you’ve waited until after the response period and you’ve tried to inquire, you are well within your right to move on.
If you are rejected, do not argue with the publisher/agent.
Just move on. There have been way too many horror stories involving writers fighting with publishers over being rejected. They took the time to reject you. They don’t even have to do that. Don’t become one of those horror stories that gets passed around. Publishers talk, agents talk, and you don’t want to be one of those writers that they all blacklist due to attitude.
You read the guidelines, but you still aren’t sure if everything is right.
Send the publisher or agent an email. It can’t hurt. If anything, they will probably be happier you did. Not many people take the time to contact them about their guidelines. You aren’t wasting their time, trying to elevator pitch them over email, and you are saving them the trouble of rejecting you over small things. This could also help with your query letter, when filling that out, as you may now have someone specific to address it to. However, never address someone unless you know for sure that is who needs to receive it.
So, are you trying your hand at traditional publication? Have you been successful? Have you experienced any of these things? Let me know, and comment below!
Thanks for reading.
Thank you so much for the addition Ann. In my semi-rant I forgot all about “fixing” the mistake. I shall be adding this, if that’s alright with you. 🙂
May I ask, what would count as simultaneous submitance? I suppose I really mean how long should you wait until you can consider that story ‘rejected’ and submit it elsewhere? My guess would be six months, but I would like your opinion.
It depends on the publisher, honestly.
Check submission guidelines, as most of the time they will have a general waiting period. Then, if you don’t hear from them in that time, you should message them. If you don’t hear back from them in a week, then start submitting. That’s always been my method.
But generally, six months is the usual wait time.
Thanks, that’s helpful. Will be carefully reading guidelines and setting reminders because 6 months is a lifetime.
It, unfortunately, is. Not all follow the simultaneous submission rule anymore, so maybe you can work around the six months.
Good luck and keep me posted! 🙂
Great advice. Thanks for this… traditional route is pretty intimidating
Intimidating, but well worth the legwork. 🙂 You can do it.
Would it still count under the previously published rule if you had posted something you had written online but removed it before you submitted it to a publisher? Say I had posted a story and decided to edit it and try my hand at getting it published and I took down the original post, waited for a month or so and submitted it; would that be acceptable? I know a few people who have had previously posted work published and they’ve all said the same thing – publishers don’t really like publishing anything that has been online, but some authors do manage it. They were rejected by particular publishers who have strict rules about it, but it seems there are a few that as long as there are no current copies available online they’ll consider you if they like your work enough.
This was a really helpful list.
This is very muddy water. It all goes back to those submission guidelines. Overall, yes. It has been published.
Certain publishers will not count that, though.
This is the age of technology, and things are changing. 🙂