You’ve written a romance novel and it’s awesome! Now what?
It’s a tough question to answer, and just as daunting for a writer to consider. After all, there are many options for finding a publisher nowadays, and today’s romance writer will want to weigh them all before choosing a path. The good news is there is no shortage of information out there, and one can usually find suggestions within the romance community itself.
In this vein, I’d like to tell you about my experiences in finding a publisher without an agent. Yes, it can be done, and there are many romance publishers who work directly with authors.
Why did I choose this path? Well, to be honest, when I started in this business, I liked the idea of dealing directly with the publisher. I sent submissions everywhere and as it happened, a publisher gave me my first positive response. I liked what they had to say and decided to give it a go. Going forward, will I continue to work the same way? I can’t say for sure. However, I have no trouble recommending this avenue to others.
I’ve worked directly with four publishers (and five imprints) since 2012. Of those four experiences, three have been good and one was not so good (I consider that one a lesson learned.) Since that time, one of my publishers has closed down, and another has changed direction and no longer publishes hot romance. The business is constantly in flux, and this is something we all need to remember, no matter which paths we take.
A List of Pros and Cons for Finding a Publisher Without an Agent
As in any situation involving a major decision, you will want to do your homework and investigate the pros and cons. I’ve listed some here and hope they will offer you some clarity. However, I would also suggest you talk to your author friends and consider their experiences. In fact, that is exactly what I did while preparing this article. I reached out to the authors of Romancelandia and many shared their views with me. Thank you to everyone who answered the call.
So, shall we do some pros and cons?
You are in control. Yes, this can be just as terrifying as it is exhilarating, but you are the one who decides which publishers and imprints to target. Granted, once you sign with a publisher, they will have the final word in most decisions, but all my publishers have sought my input for things like blurbs and cover designs.
It’s a great learning experience. You will be crafting your own queries and selling yourself, and frankly, we probably all need practice doing this. Even if you land an agent, you still need to know how to present yourself professionally.
No agent fees. Of course, you will not receive all your royalties—the publisher will typically take most of those, but the rest come to you alone. On the other hand, one could argue that having an agent will lead to higher royalties because they might get you a better contract.
Direct communication. If you have a question for your publisher, you can just ask them. The ones with whom I’ve worked have always had staff members who handle marketing, contracts, graphic arts, etc., and they have always answered my questions.
You will not be able to submit to certain publishers. It’s just a fact and it’s generally right there on the publisher’s submissions guidelines page. For some, if you don’t have an agent, you are not welcome to submit.
Contracts are not everyone’s cup of tea. If you aren’t comfortable handling contracts, you might find it helpful to have an agent on your side. I have author friends who have told me their agents have saved them from getting lost in the mire of contract negotiations.
Finding an agent is another step in the process, and another set of submissions, and that all takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. For most of us, it doesn’t happen overnight. You need to decide what sort of timeline works for you.
An agent doesn’t guarantee success and big money. There are horror stories out there involving just as many agents as publishers. Again, ask around and do your homework.
What to do Ahead of Time to Make Sure your Manuscript is Publisher-Ready
As an author, I’ve always believed the buck stops with me. I am ultimately responsible for my books, and that means I do all I can to get them ready for my publishers before submission. Because I haven’t had an agent working with me, that’s one less set of eyes on my manuscript. All the more reason to spend adequate time in crafting the novel and polishing it.
Bear in mind, when a publisher takes you on, they will assign you an in-house editor. In fact, you may get a couple. With my current publisher, I regularly work with one editor who knows me well. With previous publishers, I have been assigned teams of editors for each book.
So, your book will not be thrown to the wolves. It will still receive help, but it’s our job to make it sparkle as much as possible before that help arrives.
Use beta readers and sensitivity readers. Seek feedback from friends, ones who aren’t afraid to be honest. Hire a reputable editor. This is your product. You can’t afford a half-assed approach. Romance readers are smart. They will see right through a shoddy piece of workmanship.
What to Expect When Working Directly with a Publisher
First and foremost, if a publisher accepts you and demands money, run for the hills. No reputable publisher will ever ask for money to publish your book. That’s why part of the royalties go to them, after all. I can’t stress this enough.
Secondly, you can expect to do a lot of work. Your publisher will likely assign you an editor right away and establish a publication date. At that point, you are officially on deadline. Congratulations! As such, you will have several rounds of editing (hopefully) and will need to respond promptly to any questions. And even if you are with a big publisher, you can expect to promote your own work constantly.
In fact, some publishers will look at your social media platforms before they take you on. So, develop a presence early on and continue working on it.
I would also like to suggest you keep an open mind. Yes, someone has offered to bring your book baby into the world, but it’s also their baby now and your publisher will have opinions on how to raise it. That’s why it’s so important to find a reputable publisher, because at some point you will have to place your trust in them. And you may not get final say in some decisions. You may need to concede a few points along the way. Advocate for your book and for your vision, but choose your battles as well. Remember: they want your book to be successful. Work with them, not against them.
I could probably continue talking about this topic for another five blog posts and not run out of things to say. No matter how you choose to publish your book, you will learn things along the way. We’ve all had good and bad experiences. We’ve all made mistakes. When contracts and deadlines are involved, those decisions can seem impossible to make.
My ultimate suggestion to you? Don’t let anyone rush you through the process.
Of course, you can’t keep publishers and agents dangling forever, waiting for answers, but they shouldn’t rush you either. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for some time to consider an offer.
Please remember, even if you decide to go it alone, you’re never truly alone. The romance community is a valuable resource and many of us have made great friendships here. Talk to others until you feel comfortable.
And never forget to celebrate the wonderful accomplishment of writing a romance novel!