It really thrills me to see so many people interested in writing books — people from every slice of the American pie. Your numbers are impressive, but it is your passion that motivates me to encourage you. Your work, whether academic, literary, genre fiction, self-help or the most basic how-to, is valuable, and you should work as tirelessly on behalf of its publication as you did for its creation.
However, you may receive mixed messages from publishing professionals about how to get published. Many publishers and editors contend that only highly literary works deserve ink, and they believe that only full-time, professional writers are publishable — and will piously tell you so. Authors, too, have their misconceptions and frequently believe there are only ten to twenty publishers worth approaching with any project, and they identify all others as vanity presses. Over the past forty years, however, things have changed in book publishing, and it is good news for writers.
Today there are over 80,000 book publishers in the United States. Ten to twenty are huge corporations with myriad imprints, 200+ are substantial presses of all kinds. The rest vary in both size and function, and they include tens of thousands of small presses and self-publishers.
It can be overwhelming to consider approaching even twenty publishers, no less sorting out 80,000 of them. Knowledge will help make your choices clear, and much will depend on your reasons for seeking publication and your book’s target audience. For example, if you have written a popular mystery fiction manuscript, several imprints of the twenty major houses may be right for you. Are you previously published? If not, the top twenty might not even give you the time of day without agency representation. Some agencies may require that you be previously published (the first-time author’s “Catch 22”) before they’ll represent your work. If you are a first-time, un-agented author, you are left with the dilemma of identifying appropriate publishers from the remaining tens of thousands.
To help you research publishers, I recommend that you work with an experienced librarian, either a reference librarian or one who specializes in your book’s genre. Provide the librarian with a concise synopsis of your book and ask for assistance in identifying publishers with similar types of books — books that have been well reviewed in trade publications, such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and Fore Word, specifically for independent presses). Learn about other prepublication review periodicals that might exist for specific genres, such as Christian, children’s and other types of works. Identify publishers’ current and forthcoming titles in the Books In Print series (RR Bowker). As you complete these tasks, you will whittle down your list to a manageable number, and you will know that the publishers are right for your work.
Once you have a list prepared, you must then ready your submission packages. Research publishers’ websites (and their imprint websites) for writer’s guidelines or write for the guidelines and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). You can find listings of publishers at www.literarymarketplace.com (use the free version).
After you have either found online or received by mail the publishers’ writer’s guidelines, send out a submissions query letter to each publisher and adhere strictly to the guidelines, which may differ from publisher to publisher. Don’t wait to hear from the first publisher before sending to the rest. To let each know that the submissions query is being sent to many publishers at once, indicate in your cover letter that yours is a simultaneous submission.
Whether you’re preparing your query letter and manuscript for publishers or agents, or you’re preparing to self- publish, it pays to be professional, prepared and realistic.
Betsy Lampe has 20 years of experience in the book publishing industry. She is president and editorial director of Rainbow Books, Inc., a 30year-old, family-owned, independent publisher of self-help/how-to nonfiction and a very small line of mystery fiction (characte-driven medical murder mysteries and cozies). Rainbow publishes approximately 20 titles per year. It is a house member ofAAP, PAS (founding members) and FPA (founding members), and its books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor and many, many other specialty distributors. Betsy also works as association executive of the Florida Publishers Association, Inc. She can be reached at BetsyLampe@aol.com.