There are 2 main routes to getting your work published: traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Traditional publishing

With traditional publishers, the vast majority of submissions come through literary agencies, not directly from authors. Your first step in securing a publishing deal is likely to be finding an agent to represent your work.

Biggest benefit

Traditional publishers take all responsibility and cover all costs. You receive money up front (an advance) and get more when you've earned your money out in royalties. Generally the author takes 5%-15% of royalty on the recommended retail price (RRP). Working with a publisher also gives you more time to write. 

Biggest drawback

They take lots of the control so may not allow your input as much. It can also take a while to go through traditional publishers as they work with lots of authors at the same time.

Useful info

  • On average publishers have 100 submissions a week and read in their spare time.
  • Agents are looking for a compelling story.
  • A useful resource is the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, which gives great advice about how to prepare your submission and lists of agents.
  • When submitting to an agent, be sure you do exactly what they ask for – follow their guidelines.
  • Capture their imagination in the first few lines of your submission letter.
  • It is recommended to get a professional editor to read your book before submitting it to a publisher.

Dealing with setbacks in publishing

Why do you write? Do you feel it's personally fulfilling and you simply write for your own enjoyment? Or do you have stories you wish to share with the world? Any other reasons?

It's important to remind yourself of this on a regular basis – remembering why you love to write will help keep you grounded.

Also, if you're not able to write for a period of time, come across setbacks or receive negative feedback from other writers or publishers, just remind yourself why you write and why you enjoy it. Any roadblocks mean you'll come back stronger.

If you receive feedback that you don't feel is accurate or has upset you in any way, remember that it's simply an opinion and you don't need to take it to heart.

If it's constructive feedback, try to use it to improve your work.

Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. If all reviews are positive then it could look suspicious (as though you may be paying people to write good reviews!). Not every story will suit everyone.

And if you're ever feeling down about your work, remember that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected by 12 publishers before it was picked up!

Working with agents and publishers

Your submission letter

Opening paragraph

Personalise each of your letters. Why do you want to work with the publisher or agent?

The more you say about them, the better. For example: "I heard you speak at an event recently" (say which event) or "I hear a lot of great things from your authors" etc.

Second paragraph

Include a really good blurb for your book, in the style of your genre.

Third paragraph

  • What is the hook for your book?
  • How do you position it in the market?

Fourth paragraph

What is your personal story? Do you have a following? Could this add to good PR about you?

Remember that the author is marketable, not just the book. Think J K Rowling – you are the 'brand'.

Don’t forget to sign off with a thank you, and make sure you include your contact details.

Presenting your letter

  • Keep it to 1 page of A4, and make sure it is attractive looking and well-formatted.
  • If you struggle with writing the blurb, ask someone to write it for you and edit it yourself.
  • Mention any ideas for other books you're planning to write in the same genre.

Questions to ask your editor/publisher

  • Are you going to get my book into supermarkets?
  • How will you get my book ranking high up on Amazon?
  • What about online listings and newspapers?
  • What will drive people into a bookshop to be at my book signing?

The editor is a key person to develop a close relationship with. It's also good to consider your own efforts with promotion in addition to theirs.

Once a deal is made for your book, it is likely to take up to 18 months until it is released, depending on your agreement of the most appropriate time of year to release your book.


Download this activity (PDF, 26KB)