Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published

How to Get Your Book Published

Updated March 2015

It’s the most frequently asked question I receive: How do I get my book published?

With this post, I hope to offer the most critical information and address the most pressing questions, as well as provide a starting point for more fully exploring what it means for you to try and get meaningfully published.

What Does It Mean to Get Your Book Published?

This post is focused on how to get your book traditionally published. This means that you don’t pay the publisher; the publisher pays you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time. Traditional publishers assume all costs and pay the author an advance and royalties. You only pay to publish if you sign with a self-publishing service (sometimes called a “vanity” publisher).

How do you get a traditional publisher? You have to persuade them to accept your work and offer you a contract. You can do this by pitching them via mail or at a conference, or by finding a literary agent.

The Difference Between Pitching Fiction and Nonfiction

Novelists (fiction writers) follow a different path to publication than nonfiction authors.

  • Novels and memoirs: You must have a finished and polished manuscript before you look for a publisher or an agent. While you may have heard of some novels or memoirs being sold based on an idea or proposal, this is rare for first-time authors without a strong publishing track record.
  • For most nonfiction: Rather than completing a manuscript, you should write a book proposal—basically like a business plan for your book—that will convince a publisher to contract and pay you to write the book. For more information on book proposals and what they entail, click here.

If you’re writing a hybrid work—such as personal vignettes mixed with your own poetry, or a multi-genre work that includes essays, stories, and poetry—then you will have a difficult time getting a publisher to accept it because it doesn’t fall into a single, salable category. (More on this later.)

A Brief Note for Young Writers

I receive emails daily from young writers (not yet 18) who wonder about age requirements for getting published. You don’t have to be any particular age to write and publish a book. When I worked at a traditional publishing house, I even signed an author who was still in high school, but his parents also had to sign his publishing contract because he was a minor. However, before you decide to jump into the publishing world, consider the following:

  • You get better at writing as you do more of it. Focus on your writing, not so much on publishing.
  • I highly recommend looking for a teacher or mentor who can guide you. Look for other writers your own age and share work with each other. Start a writing group at your school if there isn’t one.
  • If you’re itching to get your writing out there, and want readers beyond your own circle, consider Wattpad. It’s a friendly community of writers and readers, with many people your own age.

3 Basic Steps to Getting a Book Published

Getting your book published is a step-by-step process of:

  1. Determining your genre or category of work and assessing its commercial potential.
  2. Researching the appropriate agents or publishers for your work.
  3. Reading submission guidelines of agents and publishers, then sending in your materials.

For Novelists With an Unfinished Manuscript

Finish your manuscript before approaching editors/agents. I meet many writers who are very excited about having a story idea, or about having a partial manuscript, but it’s almost never a good idea to pitch your work to a publishing professional at such an early stage. Finish the work first—make it the best manuscript you possibly can. Seek out a writing critique group or mentor who can offer you constructive feedback, then revise your story. Be confident that you’ll be submitting your best work. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is rushing to get published when there’s no reason to rush.

For Nonfiction Writers With a Book Idea

You need to methodically research the market for your idea before you begin to write the proposal. You’ll be building a business case for why your book will sell, and why you’re the best person to write it. Research other titles that are competitive or comparable to your own; make sure that your book is unique, but also doesn’t break all the rules of the category it’s meant to succeed in.

1. Determine Your Work’s Commercial Potential

There are different level of commercial viability: some books are “big” books suitable for Big Five traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins), while others are “quiet” books, suitable for mid-size and small presses. The most important thing to remember is that not every book is cut out to be published by a New York house, or represented by an agent, but most writers have a difficult time being honest with themselves about their work’s potential. Here are some rules of thumb about what types of books are suitable for a Big Five traditional publisher:

  • Genre or commercial fiction: romance, erotica, mystery/crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, new adult
  • Nonfiction books that would get shelved in your average Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore—which requires a strong hook or concept and author platform. Usually a New York publisher won’t sign a nonfiction book unless they anticipate selling 10,000–20,000 copies minimum.

Works that can be a tough sell—again, if you’re looking at traditional publishers:

  • Books that exceed 120,000 words, depending on genre
  • Poetry, short story, or essay collections–unless you’re a known quantity, or have a platform
  • Nonfiction books by authors without expertise, authority, or visibility to the target audience
  • Memoirs with common story lines—such as the death of a loved one, mental illness, caring for aging parents—but no unique angle into the story (you haven’t sufficiently distinguished your experience—no hook)
  • Literary and experimental fiction

To better understand what sells, buy a subscription to, and study the deals that get announced. It’s a quick education in what commercial publishing looks like.

If your work doesn’t look like a good candidate for a New York house, don’t despair. There are many mid-size houses, independent publishers, small presses, university presses, regional presses, and digital-only publishers who might be thrilled to have your work. You just need to find them. (See Step 2.)

The Question of Quality

If you write fiction or memoir, the writing quality usually matters above all else if you want to be traditionally published. Read in your genre, practice your craft, and polish your work. Repeat this cycle endlessly. It’s not likely your first attempt will get published. Your writing gets better with practice and time. You mature and develop.

If you write nonfiction, the marketability of your idea (and your platform) often matter as much as the writing, if not more so. The quality of the writing may only need to be serviceable, depending on the category we’re talking about. (Certainly there are higher demands for narrative nonfiction than prescriptive.)

Deciding If You Need an Agent

In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire are sold to them by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work.

Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher. The best agents are career advisers and managers.

Traditionally, agents get paid only when they sell your work, and receive a 15% commission on everything you get paid (your advance and royalties). It is best to avoid agents who charge fees, though standards are changing.

So … do you need an agent?

It depends on what you’re selling. If you want to be published by one of the major New York houses (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, etc), probably.

If you’re writing for a niche market (e.g., vintage automobiles), or have an academic or literary work, then you might not need one. Agents are motivated to take on clients based on the size of the advance they think they can get. If your project doesn’t command a sizable advance (at least 5 figures), then you may not be worth an agent’s time, and you’ll have to sell the project on your own.

2. Researching Publishers and Agents

Again, be aware that most New York publishers do not accept unagented submissions—so this list includes where to find both publishers and agents.

  • Thousands of listings can be found here—it’s by far the best place to research book publishers. You’ll have to pay a modest monthly fee to access their database. You can also purchase the print edition, which comes with free access to the online database.
  • This is the best place to research literary agents; not only do many have member pages here, but you can search the publishing deals database by genre, category, and/or keyword to pinpoint the best agents for your work.
  • About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process.
  • About 200 publisher listings and 1,000 agent listings.
  • Preditors & Editors. Hundreds of listings; been going since 1997. Waves a red flag on publishers to avoid. However, unclear how often the information is updated.
  • About 100 listings, focused on science fiction & fantasy.
  • A modest listing of publishers and other markets.
  • Poets & Writers. Hundreds of listings, serving primarily the more literary side of the writing community.
  • Geared toward the literary market; very useful if you’re shopping around poetry, short stories, essays, or literary novels. Subscription required.
  • AAR Online. This is the official membership organization for literary agents. Not all agents are members of AAR.

3. Read the Submission Guidelines and Prepare Your Materials

Every agent and publisher has unique requirements for submitting your materials. The most common materials you’ll be asked for:

  • Query letter. This is a 1-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work. (More on this below.)
  • Novel synopsis. This is a brief summary (usually no more than 1-2 pages) of your story, from beginning to end. It must reveal the ending. Here’s how to write one.
  • Nonfiction book proposal. These are complex documents, usually 20-30 pages in length (minimum). For more explanation, see my comprehensive post. 
  • Novel proposal. This usually refers to your query letter, a synopsis, and perhaps the first chapter. There is not an industry standard definition of what a “novel proposal” is.
  • Sample chapters. When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Don’t select a middle chapter, even if you think it’s your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable.

The All-Important Query Letter

The query letter is the time-honored tool for writers seeking publication. It’s essentially a sales letter that attempts to persuade an editor or agent to request a full manuscript or proposal.

Important: Almost no agent or editor accepts full manuscripts on first contact. This is what “No unsolicited materials” means when you read submission guidelines. However, almost every agent or publisher will accept a one-page query letter unless their guidelines state otherwise. (If they do not accept queries, that means they are a completely closed market.)

After you send out queries, you’ll get a mix of responses, including:

  • No response at all, which is usually a rejection. (But re-send just to be sure.)
  • A request for a partial manuscript and possibly a synopsis.
  • A request for the full manuscript.

If you receive no requests for the manuscript or book proposal, then there might be something wrong with your query. If you succeed in getting your material requested, but then get rejected, there may be a weakness in the manuscript or proposal.

How Long Should You Keep Querying?

Some authors are rejected hundreds of times (over a period of years) before they finally get an acceptance. If you put years of time and effort into a project, don’t abandon it too quickly. Look at the rejection slips for patterns about what’s not working. Rejections can be lessons to improve your writing.

Ultimately, though, some manuscripts have to be put in the drawer because there is no market, or there isn’t a way to revise the work successfully. Most authors don’t sell their first manuscript, but their second or third (or fourth!).

Protecting the Rights to Your Work

You have nothing to fear in submitting your query or manuscript to an agent or publisher. If you’re worried about protecting your ideas, well, you’re out of luck—ideas can’t be protected under copyright, and no publisher or agent will sign a nondisclosure agreement or agree to talk with a paranoid writer who doesn’t trust them. (Just being blunt here.)

If you’re worried about protecting your copyright, then I have good news: your work, under law, is protected from the moment you put it in tangible form. You can find out more about protecting your rights here.

Do you have to “know someone” to get your work read or considered?

No, but referrals, connections or communities can certainly help! See the related question below about conferences.

The Self-Publishing Option

Typically, writers who get frustrated by the endless process of submission and rejection often look to self-publishing for satisfaction. Why waste countless months or years trying to please this or that picky agent/editor when you can easily get your book available on Kindle (or as print-on-demand) at almost no cost to you?

Such options may afford you the ability to hold your book in your hands, but it almost never leads to your physical book reaching bookstore shelves—which ends up surprising a lot of authors who’ve heard lots of praise surrounding self-publishing.

Self-publishing also doesn’t lead to many sales unless you’re willing to put significant and persistent effort into marketing and promotion. It usually takes four or five books out on the market before you can really gain momentum, and most first-time authors don’t like to hear that—they’re not that committed to writing without an immediate payoff or some greater validation.

Finally, most self-published authors find that selling their book is just as hard—if not harder than—finding a publisher or agent.

That said, independent authors are fiercely passionate about their work and their process, and some are much happier and satisfied going it alone. But those who succeed and profit often devote years of their life, if not their entire lives, to marketing and promoting their work, and have a flair for entrepreneurship. In short: It’s a ton of work, like starting a small business (if you do it right).

So, you can self-publish, but it all depends on your goals and what will satisfy you. To read more, check out my companion post, Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book.

Posting Your Work Online

Many writers wonder if they’ll ruin their chances at traditional publication if they self-publish an ebook, use Wattpad, or put chapters on their website. In brief, no, you are not ruining your chances. Read more about this issue here.

What You Need to Understand About the Publishing Industry

  • Publishing is a business, just like Hollywood or Broadway. Publishers, editors, and agents support authors or projects that will make money and provide a good return on investment. It used to be that this return on investment could happen over a period of years or several books. Now, it needs to happen with one book and in less than one year.
  • Professionalism and politeness go a long way toward covering up any amateur mistakes you might make along the way.
  • Unless you live under a lucky star, you will get rejected again and again and again. The query and submission process takes enormous dedication and persistence. We’re talking about years of work. Novelists and memoirists often face the biggest battle—there’s enormous competition.
  • Never call an agent or editor to query or ask questions (or just chat) if you are not a client or author. Never query by telephone—and I wouldn’t do it even if the guidelines recommend it. You’ll mess it up.
  • Agents and editors do not want you (a non-client or author) to visit them at their offices. Do not plan a visit to New York and go knocking on doors, and don’t ask an agent/editor for a lunch or coffee appointment if you don’t have a relationship already. If you’d like to interact with an agent or editor, attend a writers conference.
  • When working with a traditional publisher, you have to give up a lot of power and control. The publisher gets to decide the cover, the title, the design, the format, the price, etc. You have to go through rounds of revisions and will likely have to change things you don’t want to change. But you must approach the process like a professional, not a high-maintenance artiste.
  • You’ll be far more attractive to a publisher if they believe you’ll be an active marketer and promoter of your book. If you come to the table with media savvy or an established platform (audience or readership), you’ll have an easier time getting that first deal.
  • For nonfiction authors: Don’t go looking for a publishing deal because you need the authority or platform that a book can give you. Rather, you must already have the platform and authority, and thus be qualified to write a book. YOU bring the audience to the publisher, not the reverse.

Why You Should Attend Writing Conferences

Your education and insight into the industry will advance exponentially. You’ll gain an understanding that’s often impossible from just reading about it. You will meet agents and editors, and start to see them as real people. If you have an appointment or consultation with a publishing professional, it will shorten your path to publication. You can get the reasons, immediately, that an agent or editor may not be responding favorably to your work.

Many writers are familiar with the reasons to attend conferences, but not all understand how to get more out of them. Here are 3 ways you can get the most out of your experience.

  • Select a conference where you can meet with a specific author, editor or agent who is absolutely ideal for your work (after lengthy and intensive research). Get a critique session or an appointment—but only if you feel like you’ve taken your work as far as you possibly can on your own. This is important.
  • During any formal appointments or critiques, plan to talk about 10-20% of the time. Before meeting, develop a specific list of questions that, if you had the answers, you would know specifically what your next steps are (for your project or your career) when you leave. Do not attend any appointment expecting to be offered a deal or representation. Go for the learning experience and the opportunity to have a professional consultation. That’s what it is.
  • Closely study the backgrounds/bios of every speaker, agent, and editor who is attending. Be knowledgeable for any chance conversations you have; having this knowledge will also spark questions you could ask during panels or social hours. Don’t be the person who asks the obvious question you could’ve figured out by paying attention to the program. Delve deeper. Make your questions count.

When to Hire Professional Help

Should you hire a freelance editor to help improve your manuscript before submitting? There’s no one right answer for everyone, but I discuss considerations and guidelines here.

Reasons You Might Fail to Get Published

  • You rush to submit your work before it’s ready. This is particularly true of writers who are dizzy with excitement after having just completed their very first book-length manuscript. But if you’ve just spent months (or years!) writing a manuscript, why rush it to an agent or editor, and why rush it to just ANY agent or editor? And why rush it if you’re new to the publishing business?
  • It’s tough to achieve objectivity. When you finish a significant manuscript or proposal that took a long time to complete, you need time away and distance to assess it without feeling attached. And especially if you’re trying to identify, from a market or commercial standpoint, why your work is appealing to agents or editors, a great amount of distance is required. This is my theory on why so many queries and proposals fail. The work itself may be outstanding, but the writer hasn’t achieved the necessary distance to either evaluate or communicate the commercial merit of her own work.
  • It’s tough to make progress without a mentor. A good critique partner can be invaluable to your growth as a writer. When you don’t have the time or willingness to take enough steps back from your work, or see its flaws, others can offer a really hard push.
  • It’s easy to take validation from family and friends as a sign you ought to write and publish. Has your family encouraged you? Have your friends told you that you’re a brilliant writer? Do your children love your stories? While you need support, you also need to ignore what these people are telling you. They’re not publishing professionals. You need to write because you can’t do anything else. Because you would suffer if you didn’t. Your motivation to write has to come from within. Don’t write (only) because you were given validation or permission by someone close to you. What you really need (require) is your own inner conviction.

Think Beyond the Book

A lot of writers have dreams of publishing a book because it’s a dream that’s embedded in our DNA from an early age. We are trained to believe that authors have some higher authority or credibility, and that we’ve really “arrived” once we deliver that book into the world. But there are ways to be more successful, and spread a message to even more people, that have nothing to do with authoring a book. Make sure that your goals are best served by the book format. Increasingly, in our digital age, a book is a poor option (or merely one format) for your message or service.

Publishing 101 by Jane FriedmanAlso consider: What is your motivation for trying to get published? A little self-reflection might be in order before you chase after an agent or publisher. Read my post 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask.

Final Note

I’ve met thousands of writers over the years, and I often encounter attitudes that are ultimately harmful to one’s publishing goals. Read my post about 5 attitudes toward publishing you should avoid. Mostly what this game boils down to is patience. If you don’t have it, you will get frustrated and give up.

If you’d like an in-depth guide on getting published, consider my book on the topic: Publishing 101: A First-Time Author’s Guide. 

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
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  1. You mention the marketing aspect involved in self-publishing and the expectation of the same with a traditional publisher. What do you see as the difference between marketing a self-pub and a traditionally published book? In reading other people’s thoughts, the author’s involvement appears to be key in either situation.

    • The author’s involvement is necessary/critical either way, yes. 

      When working independently, you often need to build credibility for yourself and your book because you don’t have a traditional publisher backing you. This means getting people of authority/importance to help vouch for your book (via blurbs, reviews, etc). 

      You also don’t have the automatic ability to get reviews and mainstream media attention for a self-published work, and unless you have friends in high places, you’ll have to hire a professional publicist to work with you—someone who DOES have connections to the media and can help pitch your work. This is nearly impossible to do effectively on your own.

      Of course, these activities assume your book is appropriate for mainstream media coverage. If you’re appealing to a niche market, and you’re known as an authority in your niche, these things matter very little.

      • So either way, an author needs to go into the process expecting to be involved in the marketing. There is no magic pill like in weight loss or easy money-making process like in the lottery.

        Along with publishing expertise and marketing avenues, the primary value in traditional publishing then is the weight of authority.

        • Yes, authority/credibility is one value. 

          Also: physical distribution is next to impossible without a traditional publisher. 

          Also: experience and savvy in putting together a marketable package in book form that is competitive.

          Also (hopefully): editorial excellence.

        • Yes, authority/credibility is one value. 

          Also: physical distribution is next to impossible without a traditional publisher. 

          Also: experience and savvy in putting together a marketable package in book form that is competitive.

          Also (hopefully): editorial excellence.

      • I’ve decided with this amazing post ( bookmarked) I will create an online quiz. It will be multiple choice with questions like ” Do you have to earn your advance before drawing royalty checks?” and “Do you have to do any marketing or will your pub do it all?” so when I’m asked this they can just refer to the quiz and post.

        Great one Jane.

    • Thanks, Jane. I passed your link to a few likely folks who need to know what reality looks like. One point I’d like to make is that publishing houses rarely offer book editing and normally not for new authors at all. That is to be accomplished on the author’s own dime prior to submitting. The in-house editor is more like the manuscript’s champion, not the partner in publication. It is also true that the book doctors and editors sometime make more $$ from a book than the author! 

      • I don’t know that I’d say publishers offer editing “rarely.” But I agree that mileage may vary, and it remains a contentious issue how much time editors do now spend on actual editing.

        I think the editor (and publisher) still serve as partners (otherwise what’s the point?), in varying ways, and the best editors/publishing houses ensure editorial excellence without the author having to find outside help.

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  3. Great post, Jane!
    There are two things I’d like to mention on the subject.
    First, finding a critique group of like minded writers is invaluable because, as you wrote, “it’s tough to achieve objectivity” about your own writing.
    Secondly, small press publishers bridge the gap between the large publishing houses who require you to have an agent and the other option: self-publishing.

  4. Hey Jane, bookmarking this doesn’t seem enough. I’ve said this before about your articles and I’ll say it again for this post: I just want to make wallpaper out of it and use it. What you offer here is thorough, detailed and informative insight and it feels like it’s coming from a friend. The advice is genuine and objective. Thank you.

    Rosie Pova

    • Many thanks for your kind comments!

      A bad query can definitely kill a good manuscript—and based on some of the poor queries I see, it’s not uncommon.

      A great query letter can get a mediocre manuscript read or requested, but not represented or sold.

  5. Jane,
    Outstanding post. This really covers everything an aspiriring writer needs to know. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights.

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  12. Thanks for the great info. I don’t want to be too cynical, but how can I best protect my work if a mentor or trusted advisor tries to rip off my ideas?

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  16. I found this thorough and enlightening post two months after publication, but better late…  It reinforces my decision to drop my pursuit of traditional publishing in favor of self-pub primarily because I reject being at their mercy on virtually everything.  (Experience: three non-fiction books.)  Also, how about this for a stalled-on-the-tracks-with-with-trains-coming-from-both-directions dilemma?:  One of the big 6 publishers said she loved the characters but couldn’t believe the conflict, while another said she loved the conflict but the characters were not real enough.  I’m happy to have a viable alternative to the old way.

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  23. Thanks, I really appreciate this.  I am in the process of writing a book, and I have found your info. to be extremely helpful.

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  26. The advice you gave Jane was great. I am a 31 yr old single parent. No college experience just a hair stylist and writing is a great hobby of mine. I have hand written my first book which is front and back I must day sadly but its a start.its not your tradional love story nor is it blood and murder but its really great. Just need it read by someonr who knows something! Laughing at myself… thanks Jane

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  30. This may be a dumb question, but can I expect to spend a large amount of money trying to get published? Not counting gas for tripps, etc. I mean, should I be expecting to pay anyone up front for anything? This is very important as I am on a very fixed income but writing is my life and have decided to give it a go. Very beginning stages here.Where can I find a list of agents or writers conferences? 

  31. Jane, your information is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it! I do have a question for you. Beyond going to writing conferences to find peer groups, mentors and critiquers, where else may these be found? You mention that using family and friends may not be the best option because they may inadvertently cause a kind of ‘big-head’ syndrome. Where might I find objective mentors/critiquers if I do not have the ability to attend conferences?

    • Online writing communities and critique groups are another good options. Some of the well-known ones are mentioned in this blog post:

  32. I have a question. I’m young almost 13. Would I still be able to go to writing conferences to help me with my possible book?

    • Yes—just be aware you’ll be surrounded by adults! You may want to research writing conferences that focus on teens/young adults, especially those in your community or region.

  33. Also, this may not be the smartest question, but even if the book isn’t finished would it help to get a head start on the publish and finding a trustworthy agent

  34. sorry for another question but when in the process of the book is it a good idea to get a professional editor?

  35. Jane,
    Thanks for such an informative post. I am a first-time novel writer and am getting so confused by the plethora of information via the web on book publishing. It’s almost enough to make me think of giving up ever getting published! But I have stories to tell, and I know enough to expect rejection. Still, most of these posts seem to discourage new writers. Any views or ideas that may be encouraging to me?  

    • I might be so bold to say: If you’re discouraged, then that’s a good thing. Maybe you ought to stop writing.

      But that’s not a very nice thing for a new writer to hear!

      I recommend you run—not walk—to buy THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield.

      Alternatively, check out my writing advice archive and read some posts from the very top of the list (under “Getting Started”):

      • I said I ws getting discouraged, but that doesn’t mean I will stop. I NEED to write, do you understand the feeling?  Anyway, thanks for the advice. I’ll get The War Of Art.

  36. jane, your words were helpful for me..but i write all kinds of stories..the problem is i dont really know what i should consider them nonfiction,fiction,novel. some would say im dumb for not knowing but most my stories are true..just changed names. but to me most novels sound like a mistery or nonfiction or fiction put together.

    • If what you’ve written are true stories about yourself, then you have a memoir (if it’s book-length) or personal essays. In the case of true stories, whether you change the names or not has no relevance to the genre.

  37. Your post has encouraged me. I am a writer, its what I do. Ive always gone to writing when times are tough, or even good in my life and I feel that I am good at it. I have been told my friends and family that I am good; however, i’ve always had praise from english teachers as well. I am finally turning my writing into a book instead of short stories and poems. I am ready for rejection and ready to be patient. You have defenitly given me a lot of information and I plan to do more research on the business before i venture out. I just wanted to say thank you. :)

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  81. Just out of curiosity, your comment about memoirs being a hard sell, “Memoirs with average or common story lines and no unique angle (death of a loved one, mental illness, caring for aging parents)” Do you mean that memoirs about said topics (death of a loved one, etc.) are ones with common story lines and no unique angle, or that memoirs of those topics DO have a unique angle? Just couldn’t tell what that part meant.

    • Thanks for checking! (I’ll try to make it more clear in the original.) Many (many!) people write memoirs about the death of a loved one, or about mental illness, or about caring for aging parents, but their story doesn’t have any distinguishing qualities or story arc that would help it stand out from the thousands of others being circulated—whether unpublished or published. These are such universal experiences that you have to find an entry point that doesn’t sound the same as everyone else’s story. Hope that helps.

  82. Jane, thanks for sharing such invaluable information. It sets out everything (I think) those of us yet published need to know. I’d like to include this post in an upcoming newsletter and will give “first posted on” credit to you and your blog.

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  84. I appreciate this information, thank you so much for this post! I am still a bit confused about the first rights issues, however. I had been planning to post my story as a web serial online in installments so I could get a feel for what people liked and how I can improve, I’ve put the first 3 chapters up already. But almost every single webpage I’ve visited has said that’s a bad idea, that if I post the whole story I am giving up first rights and no one will touch the manuscript. Is this really true these days – even if you delete the content prior to querying? (Obviously the first rights will still be gone, but is a publisher truly going to reject my work just because a few fellow bloggers have read it first?)

    • Hi Nina,

      It is not true that no one will touch the manuscript. As an example, 50 SHADES OF GREY started out as a fan-fiction serial, given away for free, and you can see the success it’s had. There are also a range of success stories related to Wattpad users who give away their stories for free, and later sign publishing deals. Posting your work online does not eliminate it from consideration by publishers later.

      “Giving up first rights” is kind of an old-school way of thinking, which goes like this: Once a work is “published” (or put into public), it loses its value and ceases to be attractive to publishers and agents. But nothing could be further from the truth, and people who don’t understand this haven’t caught up with what’s happened to publishing in the digital age.

  85. Excellent article. Re. the self-publishing option. This market, especially the eBook market is getting very crowded. At the time of this post – and we will have to update this section often – the facts of Kindle eBook publishing market are as follows:
    3.1 million eBook titles in the Kindle Store
    More than 70,000 titles are added every month
    Kindle book supply grows at 30% per year.
    The ebook market is still growing and you can earn a lot of money, if you get things right and have a bit of luck. But the eBook market is also maturing; and mature markets have their own rules and are characterized by one factor: fierce competition, survival of the best. Writing the book is one thing, getting noticed in this “ocean of books” is another. Indie writers find themselves spending more time and money on marketing than on the writing.
    The problem often starts with the question what topic/market/niche actually has some demand from readers, but still at a low degree of competition from other authors. This is where approaches like this help a lot: This video investigated more than 340 book market segments on Kindle in terms of sales potential vs. level of competition. Given the high market share of Amazon Kindle in the U.S.A (some argue 60%), this can be indicative for the market as a whole.

  86. I believe you mentioned that romance is a good category. I have read many romances and I am currently working on one of my own. I found this information to be extremely helpful as I never quite understood just how much it takes to get a book published. I do have a question though. I write more of short stories and i was planning to write several related ones and put them as one. Do you think that i would have trouble finding someone to publish it?

    • Hi May – It’s very difficult to traditionally publish a collection of short stories, regardless of genre, unless you’re already publishing full-length novels with a publisher. (A traditional publisher is more likely to use short stories & novellas to fill in the gaps between an author’s novel releases, using them almost as a marketing tool.)

  87. This was very informative Jane, I have recently finished a NEW Version of The Bible, completing the New Testament, and part of the Old. I am looking to publish the New Testament by itself first and release the Old after. What advice would you give me in finding a publisher, any help would be much appreciated.

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  89. Hi! I would love to have my book to be publish but I don’t any credentials and I fear this will be my downfall. I also, have no idea what kind of contests I should enter as well or even had proper feedback as my novel as whole. However, I have been in a creative writing club in high school for two years. Do you any suggestions to how I can get out this pickle?

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    • It’s hard to publish a collection of short stories, but you can still publish them individually in literary journals & magazines. I recommend using or to search for markets.

  91. I am from Romania but I want to contact publishers from the US. Perhaps I should add that it is a historical-adventure novel (written in English) set in medieval Norway that I researched in-depth during my scholarship in Scandinavia. In this case, should I mention my nationality in the query and if yes, how should I approach this? Thank you!

  92. Great information, but how can a teenager with little to no experience easily find an agent or publisher? I’ve finished a book, but I’m incredibly naive when it comes to publishing, and your article did little more than confuse me. How can I know whether or not I made a good choice in finding a publisher? What’s the simplest, yet most efficient option?

    • I wonder why, as a teenager, you’re in a rush to get published or find an agent?

      If you want to find a publisher or an agent, however, the easiest thing to do is go buy a copy of Writer’s Market, or subscribe to their database of publishers and agents at They have more instructions about what to do if you’re confused.

      • Well, I have an entire series planned out, and am already halfway done the second book. I would like to have to first one published before then.

        And also, how much does it generally cost to publish a book via a publisher? Or would self-publishing be cheaper?


        • A traditional publisher pays you; you receive an advance and royalties. It’s very difficult to get a publishing deal, regardless of your age.

          If you self-publish via Amazon KDP or Smashwords, then the cost is zero. But you’ll need to figure out things like your cover design, and make sure you upload a file that will convert well into ebook form.

          For someone your age, I’d recommend taking a look at Wattpad. That makes more sense to me than going off in search of a publisher or agent—or formally self-publishing.

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  96. I am a teenage boy from Romania that’s writing a book in English. I really am into fiction, and I’m not worried about how good I am at writing in English, but mostly that I’m using Microsoft Word to do it, and I’m concerned that publishers in USA won’t want to publish my book because I live overseas and not because it’s not good. Any advice?

    • Vlad, how about focusing on improving your writing first, then publishing when you’re older? But if you must publish now, consider community sites like Wattpad. You would likely waste your time (right now) if you tried to get published in the US.

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  98. hi Jane, i have taken a lot of your important tips, and placed them under a saved Microsoft word file, and also have printed me some copies to keep around for a little tip and advice. thanks a bunch. i wish u well into the future.

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  100. Hello Jane,
    I have finished 3 novels and one advanced young readers story that I am ready to explore becoming published.
    When approaching these professionals, would I identify with my legal name or my registered pen name?
    Thank you.

  101. Jane,

    I am working on my first book and have just completed Chapter 1. My book (Finding My Way Back Home) will be about my call to the ministry, going to seminary at age 41 (Duke Divinity School) and growing up in rural South Carolina. I came from a very humble background and we experienced many hardships, the death of my sister and my dad being one. Any suggestions you can give I would greatly appreciate? I have been in contact with Westbow Press regarding publishing.


  102. Hi I’m sixteen, I’ve written a book and it’s a fiction book and I’ve read that you need to write a manual script but I’m not sure what to put in the manual script because of so many websites all saying different things. Can you tell me what to put in the manual script?

  103. When submitting a query letter and manuscript (part of one), should I send it to several agents and publishers or just one at a time?

    • I recommend sending in waves of 5-6 agents at a time; many writers end up revising their query letter based on the responses they get. (If you decide to query agents, I’d wait to query publishers.)

  104. Hello!

    I’m 14, and I just finished writing a memoir about some depression stuff that ended up putting me in the hospital, and I was wondering if there is even a market for something like that. I would also like to know if any publishers will take a piece from a 14 year old. Thanks for the amazing article!

    • Hi Camden – It’s excellent to hear you’ve written about your experiences. The best thing for you to do right now is keep writing. Worry about publishing later.

  105. Thank you for your excellent advice! I was looking into publishing a novel I am writing, and after reading this website, I realized I had all the wrong ideas. This was very helpful. Would it be helpful for me to create a Wattpad account and post my novel there? From there, I could see how much interest it attracted, and go off of that to see if it would be succesful when it came to publishing it. Do you have any advice for me?

  106. Well first of all I would like to say thanks for the extremely helpful article. I was curious however as to the marketability of certain genres. Would my best option simply be to pay attention to what is popular in the media, or are there websites showing profitability or marketability of certain genres? Any help you could offer would be wonderful, and I would greatly appreciate the time you took to reply. To be more specific I was curious about the demand for an alternate history book, or the competition for a book of this type. I apologize for asking so many questions but I promise this is the last one(for now). Is it better to write a book that belongs to a niche with less writers but a smaller audience, or a popular topic with more competition? This is of course speaking in terms of a currently unpublished writer.

    • Hi Tom, I’m afraid these questions are too broad for me to usefully address in a comment, but if you want a good idea of book marketability or trends, the best thing to do is subscribe to, and see what book deals are being made. Or read Publishers Weekly in the US or The Bookseller in the UK. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer as to writing for a niche audience or in a competitive category. The more important question relates to your own goals and what you hope to achieve.

      • Thank you for the leads! I will be sure to check them out. I completely understand, my questions were quite broad. Thanks once again, and have a good day!

  107. Hi… I am a first time novelist, and this is all pretty new to me, so I apologize if there are seemingly obvious answers to the questions I might ask (and some people do tell me I bombard them with too many questions with obvious answers). Thanks to the link you posted on an earlier comment, I have a manuscript for my novel typed out, but I was wondering if there is a way to find out precisely how many words are in my entire manuscript. And I have come across multiple fonts that can be used in a muanuscript… is there a specific one I should use? On the link I mentioned earlier, it said to use a twelve-point font, but some other sites I found helpful reccomended fourteen. Is twelve an average size for most manuscripts? After my manuscript is accepted by a publisher, how long could it take before my novel is actually put on the market? And is there a specific place where I could find someone to do my cover art (I have a cover designed, but I’m not the best at putting things in color)? Sorry to ask you so many questions- I am naturally confused by some things and rereading sometimes just doesn’t do it (I don’t mean that you are confusing me, it’s probably just me).
    Thank you again for the amazing article! This has helped me beyond measure!

    • Hi Elizabeth: Assuming you’ve used a standard word-processing software (e.g., Word), then look for the menu item or tool that gives you the word count. As far as fonts, stick with Times, Arial, or Courier, 12-point. If you don’t have an agent or an offer yet, you’re probably a minimum of 1-2 years away from seeing your book released by a traditional publisher—but that’s assuming you can get one. (Unfortunately, the odds are against you.) You would only design your cover if you’re self-publishing; you might check out Damon Za:

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  110. Hello, I’m Autumn 15 years old I don’t know if you got my email, but I wanted to talk about the story I’m writing right now. I’m working on just the rough draft now but I’d like to know what I need in the story and what I do not need. Please help :(

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