So. You’ve put the finishing touches on your book proposal. You’ve taken your idea, fleshed it out into an outline, and concisely explained who will read it, what they’ll get from doing so, when they’ll need your book, where they’ll find it, and why you’re the best person to deliver the goods.
This is a huge step in your journey to becoming a published author. Kudos! Congrats! Brava! You’re well on your way, friend.
Now. How are you going to get that book proposal in front of a publisher so that they can help you get it out into the world?
To answer this question, you’ll have to make a series of choices. And while I can’t make these choices for you, I can certainly give you the information you need to make them for yourself.
Choice #1: Should You Find an Agent?
Most aspiring authors have heard of the “Big Five” publishers–that is, Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Each of these mega-conglomerates contain dozens of imprints, a.k.a. smaller book brands working under them. (Imprints you might recognize include Bantam, Crown, Doubleday, Viking, Dutton and Putnam–and that’s just a few brands of the Penguin Random House empire!)
Across the board, these big publishing companies accept solicited submissions only. Which, in laywoman’s terms, means they only accept proposals that are coming to them from a reputable literary agent.
And getting one of those agents is a task in itself. Finding them isn’t particularly hard; you can always browse agencies online at Publishers Marketplace, a subscription service which, despite its not-so-fancy website, is in fact where everyone in the industry goes.
You could also go to a writer’s conference like the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the San Francisco Writers Conference or The Muse and the Marketplace, many of which give aspiring authors the chance to meet with agents in person.
Or, you can try the very simple–yet highly effective–method of looking in the acknowledgments section of books like yours, because nearly every author thanks her agent in the acknowledgments.
In any case, identifying agents who work with books like yours is the easy part. Securing their representation is the hard part. (And I’m not going to lie to you: For most first-time authors, “the hard part” is actually pretty hard.)
Agents get paid based on the book contracts they sell to publishers–and the actual books that are sold to readers as a result of that deal. What does that mean? It means that though agents are wonderful people with a wide range of tastes, they’re reluctant to touch anything they aren’t certain they will be able to sell.
- In the Self-Help world, that means a well-written, big idea book on a popular topic, from an author who boasts a significant platform.
- In terms of Fiction, that means a gripping, knock-your-socks-off story filled with compelling, unforgettable characters that has been perfectly crafted and can be easily marketed to a specific group of people.
- And when it comes to Memoir or Children’s Books, it usually means all of the above.
Add to each of the above scenarios that your agent has to fall in love with your book on a personal level, too–because they will need genuine enthusiasm when they pitch to their editorial contacts–and I may have you saying Yeesh! You wouldn’t be wrong.
That said, many smaller, indie publishing houses still accept unsolicited submissions. That means you can submit your work to these houses without having to secure an agent.
For your convenience, and also just because I like ya, I’ve put together a list of Twenty-Five Publishers Who Want Your Proposal. This list contains links to submission guidelines for 25 smaller houses specializing in self-help, personal development, spirituality and wellness. All of whom are happy to receive unsolicited submissions!
This brings us to the next choice you’ll have to make:
Choice #2: What Should You Submit?
Each publishing house has its own submission guidelines, and researching the particulars of each and every house is not optional. There is an entire community of overworked assistants just waiting to throw out your submission for being sent via snail mail instead of email, via email instead of snail mail, being a tad longer or shorter than they requested, including a cover letter or not including a cover letter…you catch my drift. (I know this because I was once said assistant myself!)
Whoever sits on the first line of submission review is charged with passing the very best submissions up to the acquisitions editors. Since this review is part of an already overly full assistant task list, you can guess what happens to submissions that don’t follow house rules. (Cue the crunchy sound of the electronic trash can being emptied.)
House submission rules vary. But in general, most houses will follow this basic formula:
- Non-fiction Books are pitched with book proposals rather than full manuscripts. A proposal includes sample chapters, but not the whole book. In fact, in many cases, non-fiction authors don’t even write the whole book until after they’ve been acquired by a publishing house!
- Fiction Books are pitched with either entire manuscripts or, on rare occasion, sample material accompanied by synopses that give a blow-by-blow breakdown of the plot.
- Memoir could follow either one of the above options, depending on the publisher.
- Children’s Books, including picture books and short chapter books, are pitched by submitting entire manuscripts.
But don’t take my word for it! I definitely recommend that you research each publisher individually and make sure that everything is exactly as they’ve requested it before you submit.
And here’s how they make it easy for ya: Every publisher’s website (and every agent’s website, too!) includes clear instructions on how they accept submissions. How clear, you ask? Super clear. This includes whether or not they are currently accepting submissions; whether they expect your submission to be agented; whether they want a proposal, synopsis or an entire manuscript; and everything else, down to the font size and the file format. Read carefully, friends.
Because I’m what my friends call “a highly organized individual,” I like putting these requirements into a handy-dandy spreadsheet, including name of publisher, URL of their guidelines, contact email address or link to their submission portal, length and formatting requirements, and any other weird and random request the publisher might make. Also include a column for when you sent the proposal, and when and if you heard back.
In the Twenty-Five Publishers Who Want Your Proposal download that I’m offering you absolutely free here, I include links to each publisher’s submissions page, to help you streamline your process.
Choice #3: What Should You Do Once You’ve Submitted?
Now, here’s the hard part: Once you’ve submitted to a publisher, it’s very likely you will wait weeks or months to hear back, or that you won’t hear back at all. Ugh! Isn’t that the worst?
The book publishing industry in general is a slow-moving beast. So it’s no surprise that it can take the editorial staff up to six months to wade through the pile on their desk. (Okay, so it’s a pile in their inbox these days–but same difference.)
Let’s now pause and take a moment to cross our fingers that the submissions process turns in your favor, and you quickly hear back that the house wants to publish your book.
**Firmly crosses fingers, squeezes eyes closed and sends out a little flare of intention to the universe**
But for the rest of us–and, I hate to say it, for the vast majority of us–there will be an extended waiting period from submission to response.
So what should you do while you wait to hear back? Should you call the publisher to make sure they received your email? Should you send a second email–and then maybe a third, for good measure? Should you track down the assistant and send her balloons? Should you show up at the front door of the publisher dressed like a character from your novel?
The answers, as I hope you can guess, are no, no, no and no. Such behaviors will win you no favors, and may result in you losing your shot with that house.
So what should you do? Here are some really great possibilities:
- Set an audacious submission goal for yourself–like submitting to all 25 of the publishers on our list!
- Research more and different publishers, and keep submitting.
- Look into your Plan B option…self-publishing! Read, research and educate yourself about how to DIY if you don’t find a publishing partner.
- Cross your fingers, do some self-care and start working on your next book!
And if you do get a rejection letter (or two…or six…or ten…) please, keep going. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 20+ years of being in the book business, it’s that when Life wants a book in the world, Life finds a way.
There’s always another house, another agent or another creative publishing pathway waiting around the next corner.
I hear from authors all the time who have seen such miracles. Maybe they’ve finally scored a publishing deal after multiple rejections….maybe they’ve had great success self-publishing after giving up on the traditional route…maybe their second or third book was picked up for publication, after they tucked their first manuscript in a drawer.
All of these options are possible for you, too. I believe in you, your book, and Life. If Life didn’t want your book, you would not be feeling called to write it.
Please, keep going.
And if you do use our submission list, let us know how it goes!
Friends, I wish you the absolute best in this next stage of the journey. May the submission guidelines be simple, may the assistants be merciful–and maybe, just maybe, may you have fun in the process!