The Traditional Publishing Process Part 2: Research and Querying

typewriterThis is the second installment of my mini-series on the traditional publishing process. In Part 1, I discussed the first step in the traditional publishing process—which, of course, is writing your book. Now, let’s take a look at the next steps. Once you’ve written your book, how do you start to pursue publication?

(As always, keep in mind that all of this is based solely on my own experience. As both an author and an editor, I’ve had the opportunity to see the process from both sides, but it can vary wildly from house to house, editor to editor, and book to book. Therefore, you should consider this representative of my experiences, but not necessarily everyone’s.)

Once you’ve finished your book, here are my suggestions for the next steps in the process:

  1. Define your goals

This is a really important step that I think many writers skip. The idea of publishing your book can seem so alluring that it’s all too easy to lose sight of why you want to publish in the first place. What is it you hope to accomplish? It’s crucial to know what you want from this process, because that will determine your next steps. Are you looking for a long-term writing career, or are you only interested in publishing this one book? Do you want to try to reach as many readers as possible, or a specific niche audience?

You might discover, during this process, that traditional publishing isn’t the right route for you, and that’s fine. Better to realize that now than further into the process! You might also realize that what your publishing career will look like is unconventional, and that’s also fine (and pretty common, from what I’ve seen). Ask yourself as many questions as you can about what you want and clearly define your goals so that you’ll be able to make the best decisions for yourself and your book further down the line.

  1. Research the industry

Publishing is a strange industry that isn’t quite like any other, and it’s important to have a basic understanding of how it works before you begin to navigate it. Fortunately, there’s an incredible number of resources online that can help you with this. And the good news is, if you’re reading this post, you’re already doing research! I also have some other resources on this blog that might help you, including this glossary of publishing terms and a links and resources series that provides links to numerous other helpful resources that will get you started.

Also, remember how I told you back in Part 1 to read everything you can? You should still be doing that. You have to keep reading in order to understand the current market. Read everything you can in your genre, and read outside of it too. This is just as important as any other research that you do.

  1. Get involved

Another great way to learn about the industry is to get involved in the literary community, both online and off. Chances are there’s a vibrant community of other writers near you; regardless, you can meet many others on social media. Meeting other writers is a great way to both learn about craft and the industry as well as grow a support network. Writing is a solitary activity, but publishing doesn’t have to be.

  1. Research agents

I strongly, strongly recommend that all writers considering traditional publishing get a literary agent to represent them. There may be a few exceptions to this, but they’re very few. (I even know literary agents who hire other agents to represent them, because it’s so incredibly difficult/disadvantageous to represent yourself.) The vast majority of authors find their agents by sending them a query letter, which I’ll discuss in a moment. But before you can send a query, you need to know who to send it to, and this is where the research comes in. I’ve written an entire post about researching agents, so I won’t go into detail here, but do keep in mind that research is important, and this is not a step you can skip. And if you’re still not convinced that you need an agent, check out some of the links in this post.

  1. Write a query letter

There are many ways to find agents, such as pitch contests and attending conferences, but most writers find them by sending a query letter. This might seem like a terrifying prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve written several different posts about how to write query letters, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. Again, the important thing is to do your research.

  1. Send queries

I’ve already written a post about this too, so check that out for more advice about the querying process itself. And if you aren’t sure you’re ready to query, check out this post.

  1. Evaluate the responses

If your query letter gets nothing but rejections, it’s time to take a step back and critically evaluate both your query letter and your manuscript. Are they both as good as they can be? Is this manuscript really ready? Should you move on? This is discussed further here.

If you get a revise-and-resend request, then you’ll need to evaluate whether or not you want to revise based on those suggestions. I have a post about this too, which you can find here.

If you get an offer (or several!) then you’ll need to evaluate whether or not to accept it. Surprisingly, I haven’t written a post about this yet, but many other people have, so check out their words of wisdom for more advice.

  1. Accept an offer!

Eventually, after all the pain of the querying process is over, you’ll make it here. Congratulations!

You’re now ready to move on to Part 3, which I’ll be discussing in a few weeks, so stay tuned! In the meantime:

What do you think? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments!

More Related Links:

The Traditional Publishing Process Part 1: Writing and Revision

Query Letter Red Flags (Part 2)

Researching Agents 101: Links and Resources

Agent Red Flags


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