If you want to find a traditional publisher for your manuscrupt (MS), you must prepare it with the utmost care, and enlist all the people you need to help you eliminate any errors. You must also write an excellent query letter, a synopsis or a summary, and a suitable biography.
Your search for a traditional publisher means that you have already considered self-publishing—including vanity and indie publishing—and decided that it’s not for you. A traditional publisher knows all the ropes and has the expertise to help you negotiate the work that is still to be done: final editing, formatting, cover choice, printing, distribution, and marketing.
To embark on the search for a pubisher takes time, patience, and a willingness to cope with the rejection that is sure to come your way, but the final result is worth the effort.
It’s a Rocky Road Ahead—Are You Ready?
First of all, congratulations on having written a book. It means that you have already accomplished what so many other people only talk about: “Oh, I could write a book about that”; “I have a book in me and I know should write it”; One of these days I’m going to write a book.” Yes, indeed, but the problem for most people is that they have have had an interesting experience, or a great idea, or an exciting fictional plot worth sharing, but they don’t have the will to sit down and invest the hours, days, weeks, and months necessary to plan the story or organize the information and write everything down. And they also don’t have the will to spend the hours, days, weeks, and months on editing and re-editing until the story is told or the information is divulged in an understandable and interesting fashion. These are particularly difficult tasks when you don’t know whether anyone will want to read your book or not, never mind want to publish it.
Since you have already written the book and edited it until you are cross-eyed with bordom and fatigue, what now? Take the next steps.
Beta Readers Aren’t Just a Good Idea, They are Crucial
Have a number of beta readers lined up to read your book and make suggestions or ask questions. Make sure these people understand their job, which is not to make you feel good by telling you what a marvellous book you have written; their their job is to help you correct problems with the plot, the descriptions, and the explanations.
- If you give them fiction to read, they are expected to notice that you changed the spelling of your hero’s name half-way through the book; that your heroine who has been described as having short, blond hair is suddenly running her fingers through “her dark, glossy mane of hair”; that the country road with grass sprouting between the tire tracks is the route followed by a major cross-country bus line; and that you never explained where the heroine found the gun.
- If you give them non-fiction, remember that they are not your fact-checkers. You have to hire someone else to do that if you need it. Beta readers look for inconsistancies and what you have not explained clearly enough.
- When your beta readers have had their say, you must follow up on anything they suggest—or, at least, consider making some alterations—unless, of course, you realize your beta readers are a collection of fools who don’t know what they are talking about. Assuming that good sense comes to your rescue, make the necessary changes to your masterpiece, edit the whole thing again, and take the next steps.
An Editor is a Must
When you are satisfied that you have plugged most of the holes in your storyline, explanations, and descriptions, your MS must go to an editor. Yes, you need one. Unless you are a professional editor, you need an editor to check over your work before submitting it to an agent or a publisher.
- If you are confident about your own editing, you must find a copy editor at the very least. A copy editor will make sure that you don’t have any dangling modifiers, misspellings, missing verbs, or major grammatical errors. You may have a best friend who is an English teacher and willing to make a deal but, if not, hire someone who advertises a copy editing service.
- In case you are toying with the idea of skipping the professional editing or copy editing step, remember that agents or publishers will be turned off very quickly if any errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation appear in the first few pages of your manuscript, and they will stop reading. If there are general problems with the organization or the development of your plot, characters, or ideas, your MS will be rejected.
Write a Query Letter, a Summary, a Synopsis and a Bio
You need to write a query letter, two summaries—a one page and a two page (either may be requested)—and a synopsis (short summary), and your biography, which are important accompaniments to your MS. Look online and in writers’ resource books, and spend the necessary time studying samples of all of these items and in preparing your own. They are your introduction to the people who will decide whether or not your MS is worth reading. Write them with the expectation of streamlining each query to interest individual agents and/or publishers.
- You may be asked for a query letter that includes a snopsis of your MS and your biography, or the agent or publisher may ask you to send three separate documents. Your query letter should be no longer than one page. If you are asked to send a query only, trim all the information to fit one page and keep trimming until you have accomplished that.
- A synopsis can be as short as a paragraph within the query letter, or the agent or publisher may ask for a one-page or two-page synopsis. If asked for one or two pages, include the conclusion:
– identify the murderer and why and how he committed the murder
– explain who the heroine chooses to marry and why
– note whether the gallant hero lives and how he escapes execution
– explain which of the gallaxies wins the war and how they outwit their enemies
- A summary is much more detailed and longer than a synopsis but contains all the same information including the conclusion. If you are writing a self-help or how-to book, you will be sending a summary rather than a synopsis and it should include the chapter headings.
- A biography should include your education and any experiences or training that has given you the expertise to write about the subject of your book. If your biography is to be part of your query letter, keep it brief.
Take the Plunge—and Keep Taking it
When you have done everything to prepare your MS and accompanying information to submit to an agent or publisher, you can begin your search. Keep track of where you are sending your work, and what you are sending—query only; query and synopsis; query synopsis and the first chapter; etc.—and the date sent. Expect rejections and, in many cases, no response at all. Start writing your next book.
If you have heard nothing for six months after submitting a query letter and any other documents requested, you can send a request for information, but you may not receive a response even after that nudge. Move on. After a few rejections, read your MS again, and review everything else. You will probably find your MS could do with another re-write, or a new introduction and maybe an improved query letter, synopsis, etc.
Keep working on all these things and keep submitting until you finally succeed. This, too, is part of the business of being a writer. (Fun, eh?) When you finally find a publisher, it will all have been worth it.
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