Breaking into Traditional Publishing

Traditional Publishing

So you wrote a book. Congratulations! The hard part is over with and now it’s smooth sailing until your book is on the shelves in book stores all over the country… right?

Wrong. So, so wrong.

Yes, writing a book is hard, fall to the ground and cry, doubt your purpose and place in this world hard, but traditional publishing, well—I hate to break it to you—is so much harder. And I wish I could tell you it’s all talent and perseverance, but I think that would also be a lie.

Publishing is talent, perseverance, timing, and luck.

There are so many talented authors who still haven’t nabbed that elusive publishing deal with a big five publisher, and I cannot stress that enough. Just because you aren’t traditionally published does not mean you aren’t an amazing author.

Breaking into traditional publishing involves two key steps: finding an agent and finding an editor. Let’s take a look at those processes.

Obtain an Agent

Traditional Publishing Agent
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

After you write “The End” on your book baby, send it to a critique partner (which you can read about here), and polish it to the best of your capabilities. But after that, what is the first thing you need to do in the road to traditional publishing? First, grab a glass of wine (or five) and get a solid night’s sleep, because you’re going to be here for a while. Then hydrate, because you’re heading into the trenched… the query trenches.

There are different ways to get attention on your manuscript, but every single one of them includes a query letter, so take your time and make it as strong as possible.

If the timing—yes, there’s that word again!—is right, you might luck out and get to pitch your manuscript in one of the many pitch contests you can find on twitter like #KissPitch. Just beware, there are thousands of pitches happening and only a handful of agents, so not getting a nibble isn’t a big deal. Alternatively, getting a nibble isn’t a shoe-in way to an agent. Your pages and query have to be strong, and the agent has to feel a strong connection with your work. It’s basically like finding a unicorn, something my three-year-old will tell you is not an easy feat.

The most successful way to an agent is traditional querying. Make a list of the agents who are accepting your genre. Research. Take note of their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. I know this is a hair pulling, stressful, and long (sometimes LONG), but if you aren’t aware, let me fill you in now: publishing is a slow industry. Get used to waiting.

Find an Editor

You did it! You found your agent soulmate, and now you’re a shoe-in for that publishing deal.

Sorry again.

Once you get your agent, that manuscript you worked on until your nails bled and is as perfect as it will ever be will get more edits. Yes, more edits.

After you and your agent are happy with its current state, it’s time for submissions!

Submissions? What are you talking about, Alexa?

Submissions is basically querying… but with editors at the publishing houses you’ve dreamt of working with since you knew you wanted to become a writer. No pressure, right? Ha.

Having an agent is the key to unlocking these doors. Most major publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, which is why an agent is the first step in this journey. Unfortunately, it still does not guarantee a book deal.

Now, I am not an agent and I cannot speak for everyone’s experience during this step. For me, my agent created a pitch letter and sent me a list of ten editors she was going to submit my manuscript to. She told me to settle in and sent it out. Then we waited… again. This wait can vary. Some people will get an offer instantly, some will take a few months, there are some who have to go on multiple rounds of submissions, and there are always cases where they realize this book may be the book that got them an agent, but it isn’t the one to get a book deal and that’s okay, too.

This is also why finding an agent who loves your work is so important.

Since you don’t have much say in this process, being able to trust that you have an ally who is going to fight for your work is more important than you can imagine. You want to know that no matter the outcome, your agent went to battle for you.

The other thing to know when going through the submission process is that, unlike finding an agent who is the only person who has to love your book, the same cannot be said for an editor. <b>Acquiring a book at a publishing house is a team activity.</b> There are lots of voices that have to be heard and an agreement has to be made. This can result in an editor loving your book, but it ultimately getting passed on. Also, keep in mind that the reason it might be passed over might have nothing to do with your writing. Many books are passed on because the publishing house already has an enemies-to-lovers book or a sports romance.

Again with the timing and luck.

Your Path to Publication

At the end of the day, traditional publishing is only one path to publishing. It’s long, it’s hard, and it’s not for everyone. But for those who want to wait it out and ride this crazy rollercoaster,  it is so exhilarating… even if it makes you want to throw up at times.


Feature image by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Alexa Martin
Alexa Martin is a writer and stay-at-home mom. She lives in Colorado with her husband, four children, and German shepherd. When she’s not telling her kids to put their shoes on (again), you can find her catching up with her latest book boyfriend or on Pinterest pinning meals she’ll probably never make. Her first book, INTERCEPTED, is out now with Berkley.
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