If you've never published a book before, it can get a bit confusing. There's many steps and different processes involved with the traditional publishing route. In order to be thorough and help you set your goals accordingly, we decided to break down the many steps involved with publishing a book through the traditional publishers.
Step One: Write the book. Yeah, this one is kinda a no-brainer, but with how long it takes for the next steps to complete, there are a fair few people who're taking the traditional publishing route who still haven't actually finished their book yet.
Step Two: Editing. I already sense confusion in my readers. See, netting the agent will actually require a product that is as close to perfection as you can get it. You will, at the very least, want to have 3-8 Beta Readers lined up to give you their honest opinion of the story and point out the places that it can be improved upon. BEFORE you submit your first query letter.
Step Three: The Query Letter. NEVER SEND AN UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPT TO A LITERARY AGENT!! They can and WILL throw it directly into the trash. Instead, you need to stop and look on their site (most literary agents have a website) and find what their submission requirements are. More often than not, they'll ask for a Query Letter. Don't know how to make one? We'll tell you how in the next 101 article.
Step Four: Casting a wide net. You know you've written a masterpiece, I know you've written a
masterpiece. But a book agent... they won't know. And more than likely, they won't give your project more than 20 seconds of their time. It cannot be understated exactly how cutthroat this market is. Whether or not an agent bites can depend entirely on what their real life circumstances are. You could be handing them the next Harry Potter and they'll toss it out just because they've been in a bad mood recently and desire something a little more edgy. It's a lottery.
Which means you need to hedge your bets. Find about 20-30 literary agents and send them your query letters. Chances are, at least one of them will bite. But if not, you may be in for a second wave of querying. And, on the off chance you get more than one bite, (first off, CONGRATULATIONS, that's one heck of a fine story you have there) they will compete for you. Have fun dealing with the agents and choose your teammate wisely. They will be your lifeline for the rest of this process.
Before moving on, let's talk about what a literary agent is. A Literary Agent is someone who advocates for your book, they take your story and pitch it to publishers and other bookish influencers to try and convince them that your book is marketable in today's economy. They talk with editors, artists, lawyers. They pretty much are your mouthpiece in the big business world. So it's important you go with someone who you trust. It's not rude to set up a video call, or ask them to help you go over your book for a round of editing and typo-catching. They're supposed to be your advocate. You have a right to feel secure in your agent. If you don't. Leave them. That intangible feeling of uncomfortableness is often the only sign you'll get that this person isn't a good fit for you.
A few other red flags to watch out for is if they ask you for money, either to submit your manuscript or to take it to a publisher. Agents are paid by sales commissions. They get money when your work is published and sold. If they're asking you for money, they're scamming you.
Lastly, try to avoid any kind of database that offers to "lookup" an agent for you. I've seen several. A fair majority of them are connected to fishing websites trying to bait new authors so certain self-publishing outfits can try to hook you for thousands of dollars. Self-Publishing through Amazon is the safest and cheapest outlet available to newbie authors at the time of writing this. Those places asking for thousands of dollars as "marketing fees" are straight up stealing your money.
Now, there are databases of agents to look through. The key difference between the legit ones and the scams is that the legit ones have thousands of agents to look through at your leisure, and options to filter the results by genre.
The scam sites ask for your personal details and then "look up a compatible agent." Don't fall for it.
Step Five: More Editing. Yes, for real. Likely this phase of editing will be what we call "The Developmental Edit," but they'll be focused on filling out your story and changing characters, lines, or other details to be more marketable.
Step Six: Wait. Your agent will start negotiations with book publishers. These may be indie presses, or a branch of one of the big five publishing houses, that doesn't matter to you. You just have to sit and twiddle your thumbs while the negotiations proceed.
Step Seven: Panic. At some point, your agent will submit your book to be edited by an editor under the publisher. This is also out of your hands.
Step Eight: Rejection... or success. The Publishing House Editors can reject your manuscript at this phase without giving you any reason. If they reject you here, you'll have to keep editing and your agent will have to re-submit your manuscript to the editors... or find a new publisher.
Step Nine: Grinding. Repeat Step Eight until something breaks.
Step Ten: More waiting. Now that one of the editors has accepted your manuscript, you have to wait while your agent continues to sweet talk the publishers.
Step Eleven: Optional. Your publisher may want you to come in and have an interview directly. This will mean travel. And possibly a suit.
Step Twelve: Miscellaneous details. This is where your book will be getting cover art, back of the book synopsis, and other trivial details that will be taken entirely out of your hands except to approve of at the last minute.
Step Thirteen: Marketing. Marketing in the hands of a traditional publisher is not dissimilar to marketing without one. The most key difference is that you'll be working with a team to sell your book by appearing on talk-shows and other news outlets. Versus the self-published route, where you'll have to sell each book individually to each prospective customer. (Including local bookstores and libraries.)
Step Fourteen: Profit. All-in-all, to reach this step will take you anywhere from ten months to ten years. Below, since I'm a link junky now who, at this point, needs to leave a link for you guys, I'm linking a YouTube video of Lindsay Ellis, a somewhat popular YouTuber who recently underwent this process for herself. It's an inspiring story that closely matches what many others who've been through this rigmarole for themselves describe.