How to Put Your Manuscript on the Desk of a Publisher

George J. Ziogas

Image: Ivelin Radkov / Adobe Stock

What begins as an idea has culminated into a draft, with the building of scenes, characters, and conflicts. After pouring hours upon hours into the pages, it's finally become fully fleshed out as a novel. Congratulations! It's no easy feat. But what happens next? What does an author do to take the finished volume from their desktop screen into the hands of readers? Many first time authors have little understanding of what steps to take to move from a manuscript to a published book.

It's Research Time!

Most major publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts and rely heavily upon agents for a supply of material to print and distribute. But how does an author know which publishing houses will and will not accept unsolicited manuscripts? Research! It's the first and perhaps single most important move any author can make toward their own success.

Begin with a visit to a local book retailer with pen and paper in hand. Make notes of the books being sold in the same genre as the finished manuscript. Jot down the names of the publishing houses that produce the books in the same category. Those are the publishers where it's best to search on the Internet. It may be helpful to review the publishers of books by little-known or unknown authors.

To the Interwebs!

Perform a search for those - and other - publishers, seeking the page that contains the information for authors. Many publishers post information directly on their site regarding whether they will or will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, if a query letter is required, the amount of manuscripts published in a year, how long it takes to receive a reply, and if there are other requirements.

The Inquiry - A Query Letter

A good query letter may be, if nothing else, the hand on the doorknob, if not quite the foot in the door. The query letter should be a page in length, a brief bit on information on what the manuscript is about (think the back cover or jacket description of novels) and even more brief personal details about the author. Unless the manuscript is about a puppy who gets lost and finds his way home, the publisher is unlikely to care that the author took a night course in creative writing. If, however, the manuscript is non-fiction and is about new research in curing cancer, the publisher will want to know what makes the author an authority.

Final Thoughts

Let's be honest; publishers are in the business of publishing to make money and not necessarily to make an author famous, although, with luck, it could happen. Publishers look for certain things in a manuscript that help them to decide whether or not it will be successful and make them, and the author, money.

The first is whether a manuscript is well-written. If obvious errors to spelling, punctuation and grammar are present, it's likely to be tossed without a second glance. Second, the publisher will determine whether or not the finished book is distributable; will retailers pick it up and place it on their store shelves and subsequently generate enough revenue to make it worth their while. Lastly, the publisher will look at whether the book can be promoted successfully.

To a degree, for the publisher to take on a new book, have it printed, attempt distribution and market it depends on timing and luck. Luck is on the side of the author though as there is a plethora of information on publishers available at their fingertips.

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