Writers love to spend time on content creation. Because of our focus on the art of writing, we may initially find the world of publishing confusing and mysterious. It can be challenging to find a clear explanation of the process of book publishing without chasing rabbit trails across the internet.
What happens first? Who are the main players? At hope*writers, we want to help you avoid hours of googling for the right information. We chatted with Alex Field, literary agent and owner of literary agency The Bindery to learn from his expertise on the process of publishing. He gave us an overview of the eight steps to traditional publication, from idea to contract.
A book proposal is a business plan for your book. It typically includes a summary and outline of the book, a description of your target audience, information about you as an author, and a marketing plan. For nonfiction, it will include at least three sample chapters. Fiction writers typically complete a full manuscript first, and may have an abbreviated version of a book proposal.
Research literary agents or ask fellow writers for recommendations based on your genre. When you find an agent that feels like a good fit, craft a query letter to introduce yourself and your book concept. As an agent who receives query letters weekly, Alex says, “Be clear, not clever, when it comes to your query letter.”
Once you’ve found an agent, they will likely want to spend time revising your book proposal before taking further steps. Agents are experts in the field of publishing and have insider information on what publishers look for in a book. Their advice will be invaluable as you revise and pursue publishing.
Once your book proposal or manuscript is revised, your agent will send it to editors at various publishing houses. Based on their experience, your agent will know which editors and publishers are a good fit for your work. This begins a period of waiting to hear back from editors, which may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
If an editor is interested in your work and believes it is a good fit for their publishing house, they will discuss your proposal with members of their editorial team. This is only one step in the process of editorial review. If the team agrees a book is worth pursuing, it will move to the next step.
The interested editor now takes your proposal to a publishing board meeting. This involves more than the editorial team — it also includes the publisher, other editors, and most importantly, the marketing team. This step evaluates the financial risk associated with your book. If the team believes a book is worth the monetary risk, they will craft an offer and send it to your agent. Authors and agents are not invited to these meetings. That’s why it’s so important to have a solid book proposal to represent you and your book idea in the room.
If the publishing board wants to buy your book idea, your agent will receive the proposed contract from the interested editor and pass it along to you. If you receive multiple offers from multiple publishers (yes, this can happen — we are hope*writers, after all!), your agent will help you negotiate and decide which publishing house is right for you. Once you reach a decision, you are ready for the final step in this process.
Get your pen and your camera ready! You’ll want to celebrate the moment you scribble your name on your first publishing contract. We celebrate with our members in the hope*writers Facebook group every time they share about signing a contract.
While this is an accurate overview of the traditional path to publication, we know that each of these steps can take quite some time and a lot of work. If you still have questions, we have answers! Click here for free access to our entire conversation with Alex and take one step toward balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.