Considering to get your writing published can be a big step, one filled with many confusing and complicated paths.
If you think you want to publish your story but you’re not sure where to start, here is a simple overview. You can learn more about publishing in my publishing tag, in my self-publishing tag, and on my How to Write and Publish a Novel page.
How does one get published? This is an answer that can be quite long, so I advise you to check my How to Write and Publish a Novel link above. In short, the traditional way involves getting a literary agent, signing contracts, and working with an editor. The self-publishing route involves you doing all the work.
Do I need a degree to get published in fiction? Not at all! However, having a relevant degree can be helpful in some cases. For example, if you are writing biopunk, having a degree in biology can help in your accuracy and it can reassure agents and editors that you have formal knowledge of the science in your book.
Do I need to be a certain age to get published? Yes and no. It depends on where you are and who publishes you. Some publishers will publish minors, but many self-publishing sites, such as Amazon, require that you be at least 18-years-old. In the US, a minor (someone under the age of 18) cannot legally sign a contract without a legal guardian’s signature as well, so minors will need to get their parents involved in most cases for traditional and self-publishing.
What is a literary agent? What do they do? A literary agent is someone who represents authors and their books. Agents have their own preferences for genres. Authors can contact them through a query letter. If the agent loves your manuscript, they may offer to represent you. Agents are your ticket to publishers, especially some of the larger publishers who will only work with represented authors. They can negotiate contracts, contact editors, help prepare your manuscript, and a lot more.
What is a query letter? A query letter is a preview of your story. Its goal is to make someone want to read your story. It also involves marketing information (genre, age group, word count) and credentials if applicable (previously published material, relevant education, etc.). You can learn more about query letters here.
How much does a literary agent cost? Nothing! At first, anyway. They work on commission and get paid when you get paid. If a literary agent asks for money, turn away.
How much does it cost to get published? Self-publishing can be a few thousand dollars if you pay for professional services for formatting, editing, and cover design, but it can also be fairly cheap if you do everything yourself. Traditional publishing is free with the exception of extra marketing that you set up yourself. If publishers ask you for money, turn away.
Can I have more than one agent? Yes.
What about pen names? You can use a pen name, but your legal name will need to be on legal documents and you will need to query agents and editors under your legal name.
Do I get to design my book cover? Unfortunately, no.
How do I get paid? How much do writers make? It depends, and not much (most of the time).
How do I submit to a publisher? You can’t submit to some of the larger publishers so you need an agent to get in contact with them. Other publishers do allow direct submissions.
When should I submit my manuscript to an agent or editor? When it is as best as it can be. Do not submit your first draft. Do not submit your second draft. Do not expect agents and editors to think it can be a best seller once it gets cleaned up (it’s going to be ripped apart anyway but don’t send in anything less than your best). Do not submit a project that is not finished.
How do I find an agent or editor? Querytracker is an excellent place to start.
What is the proper protocol for contacting agents and editors? Follow the submission guidelines. Do not deviate from the guidelines. Do not think you are clever and that your unique submission will catch their attention. Do not call. Do not contact an agent or editor who does not take your genre. Do not send angry letters if they reject you (agents and editors talk to each other and they can and will blacklist you if you’re horrible enough). Follow the guidelines, submit your query/proposal, and wait. The only time you can follow up is if the agent says it’s okay to ask about your query letter or your manuscript after a certain amount of time has passed.
How long does it take to get published? For traditional publishing, from the time you sign your contract to the time your book hits shelves, 1 to 2 years could have passed. It can take months to find an agent and then another few months to find a publisher. Self-publishing depends on you.