Does An Aspiring Author Have A Chance With A Traditional Publisher?

Posted at 11:26am on 2nd February 2011

Hi Mel,

Thanks for your advice the other day. I think I would like to have a shot at publishing my novel. Is it correct that no publisher, however small, will even glance at a submission without an agent? It all seems a bit of a Catch 22 situation. Where do I start to find an agent that will target the small publishers? I do have the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook but don't know where to start. It seems that agents won't accept a submission via email either.



Mel's Comment:

Hi Freda,

Many apologies for the delay in responding to your message. I've been inundated with requests for my book (via the Woman Alive Book Club) and wanted to do justice to my answer to you.

Publishing is, indeed, a Catch 22 these days. Many of the larger publishers will not accept un-agented manuscripts. However, that is not always true of the smaller publishing companies, some of which will accept online submissions. My advice would be:

1. Determine your book's genre

You have already told me that you’ve written a novel, but it’s surprising how rarely it seems to occur to an aspiring author to consider genre when approaching publishers or agents.  You need to determine what category your book falls into: is it romance; a thriller; crime; chick-lit; erotic; spiritual?

2. Highlight publishers and agents in W&A who publish similar books

The Writers’ & Artists Year Book, and Writers’ Handbook both list publishers and agents.  It’s a long, slow process, I know, but you need to spend time, at this stage, matching your book to publishers.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is to find published authors whose work you admire, and whose style and subject most closely resemble your own, and make a note of who publishes their books.  Those are the publishers you should target.

3. Highlight publishers online

As this article in Suite 101 urges, give small publishers a go!  Yahoo publish a Directory of small press publishers for fiction and there are others online. Many use print on demand (POD) and I shall be writing about this at a later date.

4. Establish their manuscript submission guidelines

If you can’t find out the manuscript submission guidelines for the publishers and agents you’ve selected from W&A, look online.  Some will accept e-mailed submissions, but you need to follow their instructions to the letter: no cold calling; no attachments; no partial manuscript until invited.  Multiple submissions used to be a no-no; that is no longer the case, but many publishers will want you to be up-front if you are targeting others simultaneously.

5. How To Write A Proposal

Read my article, Manuscript Submission Guidelines: How To Write A Publishing Proposal For Your Book.   Use the information gathered in 2 above, in your query letter: “I see that you publish Jodi Picoult, and I believe that my book is a similar genre because . . .”  Keep your letter short â€" one page â€" and include details of your book; your platform (marketing skills) which for you, Freda, will include the fact that you’ve been in the business of promoting a product; network (people / organisations that may help in marketing your book); and any expertise you may have, or speaking experience.

5. Join Relevant Organisations.

LinkedIn have many forums, including one for Aspiring Authors, where you can exchange ideas and experience with others wanting to know about writing and publishing a book.  For real-time fellowship, the Association of Christian Writers in UK will furnish you with invaluable help and support.

I hope that helps Freda.  I’ve kept the second part of your letter for another day, when I’ll address the whole issue of print on demand and self-publishing.

Take care,


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