Decided you just couldn’t live without seeing your book baby on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, huh? That’s great! Traditional publishing is a tough but rewarding business. If you play your cards right (and if, you know, your book baby is actually good), you can make a nice career for yourself. But how do you start?
Choose a genre and category
Before you try to snag an agent or a publisher, you’ll need to decide on a genre for your book. To decide what genre your book fits into, imagine you’re walking around a book store. What section would your book be in? Romance? Fantasy? Historical fiction? Whatever section your book fits into, that’s your genre. Easy, right?
It gets a little more difficult from there. As it turns out, within each genre, there are also multiple categories. For example, within romance, there are a ton of distinct categories: historical, paranormal, contemporary, young adult, chick-lit, romantic comedy...we could go on (but won’t…you get the picture). There are lists of book categories all over the internet to help you decide where your book should live (try Writer’s Digest to start) but keep in mind, categories change all the time. Knowing that, consider simply checking out Amazon and Goodreads to see what categories are drawing the most readers. That info alone might help you decide which category your book belongs in.
But my book defies classification!
All writers think they’ve created something that simply cannot be contained within the constraints of a genre and category. But truthfully? Every book fits into a genre and category. Just try to come up with a concept that doesn’t. Dare ya. We’ll get you started: Mutated merman is infected with a zombie virus and falls for the scientist who is working to cure him. Sounds original, right? Guess what? It’s a romance. Anytime the crux of a story is a romantic relationship, the book belongs in the romance genre. Beyond that, it’s a paranormal romance because it contains supernatural elements. (And if anyone wants to write that book, go ahead. We’ll totally read and review it!)
But don’t pout. The fact that your book can be classified is a huge asset when you’re trying to sell your novel to an agent or publisher. If an agent doesn’t know a publisher who’d buy your book, they can’t sell it (so they won’t take you on as a client). And if a publisher doesn’t know how to shelve your book, they won’t buy it, no matter how well written it is.
Getting an agent
You can always send your manuscript to publishers directly, but the sad truth is that the major houses won’t even look at it unless you have an agent. Without an agent, you end up in what’s known as a slush pile on some editor’s desk. A slush pile is the pit of despair for your book baby. It’s where manuscripts go to die. It is literally a pile of manuscripts that may or may not (with a heavy emphasis on the “not”) ever be read. Trust us: you don’t want to end up in the slush pile.
One way to avoid the slush pile is to get an agent. In a perfect world, you’d be able to pick an agent out of an online catalog and hire him or her to do your bidding. But this isn’t a perfect world. You have to try and win an agent. You have to entice them to work with you and try to sell your book to an editor at a publishing house. And agents are in great demand. Attracting their attention isn’t easy. And like little baby bunnies, they are skittish and easily frightened off. So how in the name of all that’s holy can you attract one of these elusive creatures? With a well-written query letter.
A query letter is a one-page business letter designed to entice an agent (or editor) into reading your work and eventually offering you representation. It’s basically a sales pitch for your book. But that doesn’t mean your letter should be cold and super serious like a typical business letter. Your query letter should reflect your distinct writing voice. If your book is funny, the tone of your letter should be light and humorous. Other elements that should be included in your query are:
Query do’s and don’ts
What agents do
Once you’ve written the best query ever and landed the agent of your dreams…then what? What does an agent do for you? We could lay it all out for you, but probably not any better than Writer’s Digest does.
After all of this, have you reconsidered self-publishing? If so, check out part 3 of our series for more info.