Want to traditionally publish a fiction novel? Here are 10 things you need to know.
Here is a list of things every writer should consider/do/attempt when going for traditional publication:
The book needs to be finished before you start thinking about publication.
With memoirs and some non-fiction, 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.
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, don’t post it online! It is considered previously published if you do so, and this includes on your own blog, etc. 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 with a private setting, etc.). Better yet, just pass around physical copies to people you know. *Edit* Of course, as my dear friend Ann pointed out in the comment section, there is a chance you can remedy this mistake. You can edit. 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. It works especially well when recycling works. 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 the 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.
Publishers feel a writer needs 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. 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 just anybody, and they have rules just like publishers, so read the submission guidelines and you may save yourself from a rejection.
Simultaneous submissions – to do it, or not to do it.
Simultaneous submission – a submission which has been sent to multiple organizations at the same time. There aren’t many publications (of the novel variety) 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 manuscript for publication consideration. You’re in the middle of it and you think it is hella sweet. This is quite possibly the best manuscript you have ever read in your life (this may be a bit exaggerated, but work with me here), and right before you can tell me how much you love it, I send you this email:
Sorry, not sorry, I signed a contract with someone else. Peace.
Yeah, not cool. I know it sucks waiting around for, quite possibly, a rejection when you could be submitting to other places and increasing your chances, but there is a reason they do it. Don’t burn bridges by not following the rules.
Don’t lie about simultaneously submitting a manuscript, or its status as being previously published.
The worst thing you can do is lie (other than not following the submission guidelines, but we’ve already talked about that). It only takes a second for a publisher to find out if you’re lying. A quick google search of your manuscript, boom, there is your story posted for all the world to see. Those are potential customers they are missing out on because you’re just giving the work away for free. Why would someone pay for something they can get for free? Not a publisher or an agent. Don’t get yourself stuck by lying about simultaneously submitting.
It can take months before you hear back. Don’t pester. 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 must 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 you’ve inquired on your query and they’ve rejected your work, at least you heard back. If you wrote them and they still haven’t responded, just move on. There’s no point in dwelling on it.
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. It sounds strange, but you should be thankful they took the time to reject you. Don’t become one of those horror stories that gets passed around.
You read the guidelines, but you still aren’t sure if everything is right.
Give the publisher or agent a call. 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 the phone/email, and you are saving them the trouble of rejecting you over small, stupid things. This could also help with your query letter, when filling that out.
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.
Good list! There is a way to salvage stuff you’ve put online without realising it counts as published. Change it.
If you take a short story or a poem and make a few changes, it’s no longer the same piece of work. A writer friend who used to write stories for women’s magazines would submit stories to another magazine even after they had been published elsewhere, just by making enough changes to call it a new story.
That way you can keep your original inspiration but word it differently enough to use again.
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. 🙂