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.
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. 🙂