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Publishing a book: the top ten tips for finding a publisher.
1. Agency, publisher or self-publishing?
If you want to publish a book, you have to make an important decision after the manuscript has been completed: How do I publish my book? Do I offer it to an agency or a publisher? Or should I bring it out myself?
If you want to look for a publisher for your book and want to take advantage of all opportunities, you should first submit your book to the agencies. Because agencies don't take a manuscript that has already been rejected by a number of publishers. But the opposite is possible: Even if many agencies have rejected the book, I can still try the publishers directly. So in the first step I write to the agencies. If nobody is interested in my book, the second step is to try directly with the publishers.
If in the end neither an agency nor a publisher signs me up, then I can still publish my book myself.
An agency examines a manuscript for its market opportunities. If the verdict is positive, the author will be contracted. The agency will then try to find a publisher to publish the book. Since agents usually have good contacts, their chances are much better of actually accommodating the book. You know many of the editors personally, of course also their wishes and the publishing program. In this way you can offer a manuscript to interested publishers.
Serious agencies only ask me for money once I've signed a contract for my book with a publisher. The agents usually get a success fee of between 15 and 20% - that is, they get this share of all the income that the publisher pays me for the book.
Most agencies specialize in certain genres. They only want to be offered manuscripts that correspond to these genres. Therefore, you should find out in good time which genres and subgenres there are and whether your own manuscript fits them. An overview of the most important genres and subgenres and their characteristic features can be found in my book “Buchgenres compact”.
Before writing to an agency, you should check their website to see whether an agency is interested in the genre that I would like to offer it. An overview of agencies and their main areas of work can be found in the “Handbook for Authors” from Uschtrin Verlag. It contains many other valuable tips for publishing, so it's worth buying. Here, too, there is a list of literary agencies with a focus on their activities.
If none of the agencies contacted is interested in my book, then in the next step I can contact the publishers directly. Before writing to one of the publishers, you should check whether your own manuscript fits into the book program of the respective publisher. For publishers, too, most of them specialize in certain genres and subgenres. Only if your own book fits the genres that the publisher publishes does it have a chance. Usually a look at the homepage or a trip to the bookstore is enough to find out which genres and subgenres the publisher publishes. If you apply directly to a publisher with a book project, you need patience: it often takes several months to get an answer. It is not uncommon for the rejection to consist of a standard letter without a reason. But a rejection is not a quality judgment, because there are many reasons to reject a manuscript: The publisher does not want to publish the book because it does not fit into the program, there is already one with a similar topic at this publisher, the budget is exhausted, and much more more. So you shouldn't be put off by rejections and keep trying.
If my manuscript has already been rejected by a number of large publishers, then it is worth looking out for small publishers. They are often specialized in certain sub-genres, a certain topic, a region or a certain target group. If I find a small publisher that fits my book exactly, then I usually have better chances there than with a large publisher. For example, if an avalanche detection dog plays a major role in my book, then a specialist publisher for books about dogs may be interested.
Incidentally, you can have bad experiences with small and large publishers - and good ones too, of course. Bad or unkind treatment of authors does not depend on the size of the publisher, but on its corporate culture.
4. Self Publishing
If I can't find an agency or a publisher for my book, then I can still publish it myself. To do this, I don't have to set up a publisher, I look for a suitable service provider. Publishing on your own is now called self publishing and is widely accepted in the book market. The Frankfurt Book Fair has set up a “Self-Publishing Area” and the Leipzig Book Fair also has a special program for self-publishers. Many well-known authors such as Nele Neuhaus, Hanni Münzer and E.L. James first published their books themselves before they were "discovered" by a publisher. Of course, publishers are only interested in self-publishers whose books are doing well. A manuscript that flopped in self-publishing or was simply posted somewhere on the internet without attracting much attention will not be accepted by any publisher.
Books by self publishers have to be able to keep up with publishing books in terms of quality: You should recognize at first glance which genre or subgenre the book belongs to. A corresponding title and a professional cover are required for this. Both should exactly match the genre or subgenre of the book. In addition, the manuscript must be of very good quality, with perfect spelling and, if possible, proofread by a professional. Then the chances are not bad of selling a few copies.
Self publishers also have to market their books themselves - and that means a lot of additional work. Anyone who seriously thinks about self-publishing should find comprehensive information, for example at www.selfpublisherbibel.de or www.literaturcafe.de or with the magazine “der selfpublisher” from Uschtrin Verlag.
5. Steer clear of printing subsidy publishers
Printing subsidy publishers are not an alternative. They only cost money and are of no use. You can recognize a printing subsidy publisher by the fact that, as an author, I should pay a lot of money to have my manuscript even printed. At the same time, the publisher leads me to believe that they are serious and have critically examined my manuscript. In reality, the printing grant publishers take all the manuscripts and make money from the authors paying a lot of money to publish them. In contrast, the self-publisher service providers do not fool anyone: They do not present themselves as a publisher, but as a service provider.
More information is available from the alliance of fair publishers, an initiative of German, Austrian and Swiss authors' associations. And here is a list of printing subsidy publishers.
6. The cover letter
As an unknown author, I can only offer my book to agencies and publishers once the manuscript is ready. But then you should definitely not send the full text! To contact a publisher or agency, I need a cover letter, a synopsis and a reading sample.
On the websites of many agencies and publishers you can read about the form in which they would like to have a book offer. The name of the person or the department to whom the letter is to be addressed is also often mentioned, as well as the length of the reading sample and the scope of the synopsis. You should definitely pay attention to this information, otherwise it quickly becomes clear that my letter is part of a mass mailing - and nobody likes that.
The cover letter should of course state that I am offering my manuscript to the publisher or agency. If there was already a contact before, it should also be included. Otherwise it is best to forego any hints about how great I or others think my manuscript - that doesn't work out well and the professionals form their own opinion anyway.
7. The synopsis
Before you can publish your book, you have to write an appealing and entertaining synopsis. For many authors, writing an exposé is hell: I was just stuck in the middle of a complicated story and now I'm supposed to describe the whole thing in a few sentences. That is hard. But it's worth it!
A good synopsis contains:
- Name and address of the author
- Length of the complete manuscript in standard pages or in numbers of characters (including spaces)
- Genre or sub-genre of the book
- When does the plot of the novel take place (year or period)
- Is the book part of a series or a single title?
- Very brief description of the main characters (2 to 3 sentences per figure)
- A brief summary of the story in five to ten sentences
- A long summary on about one or two standard pages (one standard page: 30 lines with 60 characters each)
An exposé is usually around three to five pages long. The concise summary should be written like the blurb of a book. The long summary should end and give a first impression of the writing style.
You can find more about writing an exposé here in my blog post: Writing an exposé for a novel.
8. The reading sample
Agencies and publishers naturally want to know how well and in what style the book is written. A book offer therefore includes a reading sample that comprises between 15 and 30 standard pages (you can read more about the standard page here on my blog: Formatting a manuscript). Many authors choose the beginning of their novel as a reading sample, as this offers a good introduction.
9. The manuscript
Of course, the reading sample and the complete manuscript must be carefully formatted:
- The entire text is formatted in standard pages.
- The beginning of a chapter can be recognized by a number, a letter or a heading.
- Each scene begins with a blank line.
- Dialogues are separated from the rest of the text: the verbatim speech is indicated at the beginning and at the end by quotation marks.
- The literal speech of a character begins with a new paragraph. If another character speaks, their speech begins with a new paragraph.
- The working title of the book as well as the name and telephone number / email address of the author is given in the footer of the entire manuscript.
Here are more details on how a book manuscript should be formatted.
If the reading sample is convincing, publishers or agencies request the complete manuscript. Of course, this has to be almost flawless, completely completed and revised several times. Publishers or agencies rarely bother to tell you what they think is missing or should be different. As a rule, flawless manuscripts that are ready for publication are expected.
But nobody has to have their text proofread at their own expense - in the end, the publishers take care of that once they have decided to publish the book. The only exception: Since Self Publishers do not have a publisher, they have to pay for editing out of their own pocket.
10. Mail or paper?
Nowadays publishers and agencies are offered a lot of manuscripts. In order not to get lost in the flood of paper, agencies usually prefer offers by email. Publishers, on the other hand, often prefer to have their documents printed out on paper and sent with a letter.
Whether on paper or by email - there is usually a note on the respective homepage as well. You should always check the websites of the agencies and publishers beforehand and then send the documents as specified. This increases the chance of being noticed in the flood of manuscripts.
Publish a book
Part 1: How to write a book - the 10 most important tips
Part 2: Writing a book - this is how you start
Part 3: Publishing a book - this is how you find a publisher
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