A Brief Overview of the Publishing Process (If You Want To Try Traditional Publishing)

Someone asked me about traditional publishing a while back, and I’m just now getting around to writing this post.  (I’m sorry for the delay in getting to this post.  I have to be in the mood to write a blog post or else it’s going to turn out flat.)

Now, I’m not going into the specifics because each publishing company has their own way of doing things.  This is just a broad overview of what I gathered from my research over the years.  If anyone has more information they would like to add, please do!  (Be sure to read the comments.  There might be better information there than what I can provide.)

A quick note: a reputable publisher will never take money from you.  Money should flow to the author, not from the author.  If a publisher wants your money, run away.

Traditional Publishing Blog Post
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1. Submission

This is naturally the first step.  You will need to go to the publisher’s website and see what their rules are for sending submissions.  Usually, you send in a query letter.  This letter basically tells them what the book is about, why it’s a good fit for their company, and what you can bring to the table in ways of helping them sell your book (such as your current author platform, any past sales, and your writing credentials).  Sometimes they’ll ask for the first couple of chapters along with the query letter.

Now, it’s important to only target publishers that are a good fit for your story.  You don’t want to send something incompatible their way because you’re only wasting their time and yours.  For example, don’t send a romance to a science fiction publisher.

Do you need a literary agent?  For small publishers, no.  The big publishers?  Probably.  Check their guidelines to find out.

2.  They get back to you (sometimes).

If they reject your story, they might or might not get back to you.  Their timeframe on getting back to you could be a few days to months.  I read somewhere it can even take up to a year, depending on how large the publisher is.  This makes sense because the larger the publisher, the more submissions they will be sorting through.

Can you send your story to other publishers in the meantime?  Some publishers will say not to do that, but as a traditionally published author once told me, “What’s the worst that can happen?  Both publishers want your book and will fight over it.” So go on and submit to multiple publishing houses.  Then work on your next story.  Don’t sit around and do nothing in this time.  If the publisher wants this story, they might want to know what else you have.  It’s a good idea to have something on hand if this happens.  And if it doesn’t, you can always publish it yourself.

If they are interested in the story you submitted, they will either suggest changes to make to better fit what they’re looking for and ask you to resubmit it or they will ask you to send the whole thing.  I’m not sure how long this step takes while they will look over your book.

3. They will either take the book or not.

If they want the book, you’ll get a contract to sign.  Do check it over carefully.  Some contracts are more friendly to authors than others.  Most of the time, the contract will be easy to understand without a third person looking it over.  When it doubt, have a lawyer look it over to explain anything you don’t understand.   You will sign the contract if you like it and send it back to them.

4. They will go over the book.

I’m going to ballpark this stage at taking a couple of weeks to a couple of months.  But it really depends on the publisher.

What you’ll get back are recommendations for changes they would like you to make.  Depending on the publisher, you might or might not have the choice to say no.  That should be specified in the contract, which is why you need to understand it before you sign it.

Once you make the changes or decide not to make the changes, then send the story back to them.  I have a friend who went through two rounds of this stage.  I don’t know if that is typical or not.

5. The publisher will send you the cover and interior file to look over.

You may or may not have input into the cover.  It depends on the publisher.

The interior file is formatted book in its final form.  I believe you can make any last minute changes in this stage.  Say you find a typo the editor missed or something else is off.  This is the only time you have to make the final change (if the publisher allows it).

6. The book is published.  

Getting a book together and uploaded takes time, and there will be other authors the publisher is also working with, so be patient.  This is why indie publishing goes faster.  The author might do everything themselves, but they are only publishing their own work.  Publishers need to deal with a variety of authors.


That is all I can think of in the stages to getting a book published with a traditional publisher.  Having self-published for years, I can appreciate the time it takes to go through all of these steps.  It’s not something you want to rush through.  A good publisher will take time to make sure the final product is professional.

If anyone with more experience than I do wants to chime in, please do.  I’m not an expert in this area, so feel free to correct me if I got anything wrong. 🙂


  1. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    I just had to reblog this very informative post by Ruth Ann Nordin; it is an eye-opener to anyone considering traditional publishing. https://selfpubauthors.com/2017/05/05/a-brief-overview-of-the-publishing-process-if-you-want-to-try-traditional-publishing/#like-9128

  2. One thing I would want to know up front, and it should be in the contract…what can the publisher do for me that I can’t do myself? If a publisher is going to take part of my royalties, they need to give something valuable in return. Unfortunately, these days, if you’re not publishing with the big guys, you usually won’t get marketing help. The biggest challenge for an author is marketing, and small publishers usually don’t do that. And in some cases, the publisher makes you get your own editor and book cover artist, which you would have to pay for. If that’s the case, you’re better off self-publishing. So, like you said, read that contract carefully,or start a dialogue before you even have a contract. Find out up front everything the publisher will and will not do. Then you can see if it’s a good fit for you.

    1. Usually, authors are so happy to get a publisher to take them that they don’t ask what the publisher can do for them that they can’t do on their own. But I am of the opinion that there is nothing a publisher can do that an author can’t do on their own, except maybe get into brick and mortar bookstores (which doesn’t translate into making a living).

      I know an author who prefers a publisher so she doesn’t have to take care of formatting and uploading the book to the retailers (which I’m hoping to convince her isn’t as scary as it sounds).

      I know another author who used to be with one of the big publishers in the US, and she is much happier self-publishing and makes a lot more money. She isn’t earning a living with her writing, but she’s earning a couple hundred a month, which is more than she ever got with the publisher even though they had promised TV interviews with big networks and book signings. They ended up canceling these things on her. So just because a publisher says they’ll do something, it doesn’t mean they will.

      Another author I talked to who is with a popular romance publisher (you’d know it if I told you what it was) said she earns enough from her royalties to buy a purse. She said it’s not anything like you would think, even though the publisher has a large email list they pitch new releases to and get her into bookstores.

      Then I read an article from an author who was with a big publisher who was on the major news networks, had hit the top lists, was a New York Times bestselling author, made it to the top charts of Amazon and iBooks, etc, and he said when taxes were taken out, he had only made $12,000 at the end of the year. The publisher got most of his earnings. I believe the poverty level in my state is $18,000, so his book would not have earned him enough to live on.

      Unless people are already buying a lot of an author’s books, I don’t see what a publisher will do to help them effectively market books. Even if a publisher did chip in, I don’t see how the average mid-list traditionally published author will make a living at it. I wouldn’t go with a publisher with the intent of making lots of money because they are not likely to effectively promote the book for you.

      I see nothing wrong with authors finding a publisher, but I do think they shouldn’t assume a publisher is going to mean they won’t have to do the marketing themselves. Getting noticed is hard, and it continues to get harder every year. (Now, if you can get in with an Amazon imprint, then you can probably sit back and relax, but in order to get there, you have to prove to Amazon you can sell as an indie first. So either way, the author is on their own for getting people to know their books exist.)

  3. Very useful, considering I’m trying to do the hybrid thing.

    1. Let me know if there’s anything I missed when you go through the process. I keep thinking I missed something in here. 🙂

  4. KAsinbe says:

    As part of marketing, you are now expected to build a “platform” which includes at minimum some kind of presence on line. It seems that it is a good idea that you have this “platform” built before you even start writing. I’m at a total loss about what I would say about myself on an author’s website. Interestingly, I can write reams about fictional characters, but don’t ask me to describe myself.

    1. This is definitely a challenge, and I hear a lot of people saying to build a platform before you publish anything. I can’t think of anything all that interesting to share about myself either. You’re not alone in that. Some authors have the best real life stories, and I always feel like my life is boring compared to them. Maybe you can focus on your characters instead. Sometimes I like to bring my characters in for interviews or discuss what I’m working on. I know this can be hit or miss. It doesn’t always bring in the most hits. What has brought in the most hits is when I give an opinion on a topic that is related to the genre I write. For example, I recently did a post on hero myths that I hate, and it got more interest in that than the other stuff I’d been posting. Is there anything in your genre that you can talk about? Things you love about or things you hate? Or maybe looking at things a different way than the tropes and stereotypes suggest?

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