By Writer's Relief staff:
Now that you’ve finally finished your manuscript, it’s time to consider your next big decision: To which publishing houses will you submit your book? And part of making that decision includes determining if you need to query a literary agent.
A literary agent’s job is to find the most suitable publisher for your book, ensuring that you get the best deal available. They’re well-versed in author’s rights and publishing contracts and often help writers decide whether a deal is right or wrong for them (or just a plain old scam). If you’re hoping your book will find a home with the “top six” big publishers, trying to first secure a literary agent is the smart way to go.
However, if your manuscript doesn’t receive interest from a literary agent, the next step is to begin querying the smaller independent and university presses. Don’t fret—this doesn’t mean that your book is destined for obscurity. Keep in mind that a university press publishes more than just school-affiliated writers and academic tomes. Both university and indie presses publish all types of authors from many genres and reach a wide audience.
The majority of university and small presses do not require writers to have agent representation. Generally, they’ll ask that you send a hardcopy (or two) of your manuscript, but if the press accepts work electronically, you can jump for joy! If they ask you to mail your book, that means time and money (in postage) when you’re not even sure they’ll be interested in your work. Instead, you may be able to first email a query letter to the editor. If the response is favorable, then you can send along your book.
You may have to wait. And wait. Unlike commercial publishers, university and indie presses usually have smaller staffs and are working on a limited budget. As writers, we’re used to playing the waiting game with agents and editors, and it’ll be no different with small presses. The response time tends to be longer for small presses, since they generally read the manuscript in-house and then get a second opinion from outside readers. For writers, patience is truly a virtue.
And if all that waiting pays off with a publication offer…pat yourself on the back, toot your horn, do a happy jig! Then, take a seat and put your thinking cap back on. The small press is going to offer you a contract of publication. It’s recommended you hire a lawyer to read the contract and offer advice, or seek the help of a literary agent who’s willing to work with writers on their contracts. Not all literary agents are open to this, but if you send a query you can find out who’s interested.
But don’t wait to do your part: Support small presses and independent publishers. Small presses shouldn’t be viewed as last resorts or alternatives to traditional publishers. They’re an essential piece in the literary puzzle, and it’s important to keep them vibrant and healthy. If you dig indie publishers, buy their books and help them out! Remember the old saying: What goes around comes around. Someday, the next book that’s hot off their press may be yours.
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