A Guide to Landing a Publishing Contract the ‘Write’ Way!

**I had the privilege of hosting a workshop at the Jonesboro Library branch in Clayton County last week where I shared my experience of querying my first novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken. Here are the highlights of that workshop!**

The publishing industry is changing.

When I started writing in 2009, eReaders where a new fad and self-publishing a new frontier. I figured if I went anywhere with my writing, self-pub would be what I did because the chances of getting signed to a publisher were thin. Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a whole new ball game. Kindle has seen several different generations along with new eReaders from companies such as Barnes & Noble, and free reading apps for Smartphones, iPhones, laptops, iPads.

How does this affect the publishing industry?

Authors now have a choice. They no longer had to venture the traditional route of querying the Big Publishers (Random House, Penguine, etc.). Why, when not only can they publish their own work, they didn’t have to share the royalties with anyone else except for the company who is making their work accessible to the public. (Amazon, being the biggest supporter to Indie authors.)

With that said, why bother querying in the first place?

I am not here to tell you what to do. I support authors who are brave enough to step outside the box and go through the self-pub process. I know of many authors who have found success in doing so. But I am here to tell you, regardless of what route you take, in order to be successful, you have to put in the work.

Here are the reasons why I went the query route:

A chance to earn validation from my peers and the publishing industry. After having my story read and reviewed by beta readers, friends, and family, I felt I owed it to myself to see if agents or publishers would have the same faith in me and my writing. Even though the chances of being signed to a publishing company are astounding, my family encouraged me to roll the dice and see what happened.

Avoiding the hassle of self-publication and to save money. Self-pubbing can cost zero to little dollars, depending on what route of publication you take. It also takes knowing how to work the technology and having the time and patience to try again and again to get it right. I had the time, but not the patience. While places like Amazon charge you zero to little to upload your book and sell it, you need to have a quality product. That means it should be professionally edited, which is where the most money would come in.

Having the support of a publishing company and fellow authors within the company would attract readers who shy away from self-pub books . Some readers pay attention to the name on the publisher line. Ebook publishing has evened the playing field for authors wishing to get their work published. It has also allowed those who refuse or who are unaware of the steps it takes to get their work as clean as possible to publish books without following the editing process. Readers, feeling the average quality of a self-pub book isn’t worth the money, tend to think twice before making a purchase.

So, what does that mean for you?

It means you have options, and before making a decision on which route to go, know this….it can either make you, or break you. You only have one chance to publish your first book and introduce your name and product to agent, publishers, and readers. Moving too soon can cost you. Make sure you complete the steps in order to come out on top!

There are several different ways to go about the query process without loosing too much hair. With a little bit of planning, you can make your search for representation less stressful and even a little bit of fun. ***Included in this post are several links to previous blogs I’ve written on the subject)***

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!

The complete manuscript to A Heart Not Easily Broken, hand written and ready to be typed and edited!

Your manuscript should be completed and edited to the best of your ability. If you have paid for editing, or are considering finding an editor, be aware there are several different types of edits available. Full edits, line edits, and proofreading. At the very least you should have your work proofread to make sure the story line and development makes sense. It’s also the least expensive. Why should this be done? Because during the query process, an agent or publisher may ask to read portions of your manuscript if not the whole thing. Having your work as clean as possible will make you stand apart from the rest and can lead to request for full manuscript evaluations. Expecting an agent/publisher to read a manuscript that is full of mistakes, fall in love with it, and be willing to pay for the editing is a thing of the past. Your manuscript is your business card. It shows the level of dedication your willing to put into making sure your work is as clean as possible. Remember, first impressions mean a lot. Send them crappy work and it says you are not ready to put in the work. (By crappy, I’m referring to editing issues. No matter how seasoned an author you are, the first drafts are crappy and full of holes. The work is perfecting it as much as possible!) (To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire and Editor…That is the Question!)

Create a spreadsheet in order to document the name, date, agent/publisher name, information sent, and comment/feedback received.

This way you will avoid sending duplicate queries to the same place. Be prepared to receive an automatic response via email to confirm receipt of the query letter. Also, be prepared to never hear a peep from them at all! (I made the mistake of querying the same publisher twice in a month and they did not hesitate to tell me not to query them again! And though my first book has been published for nearly a year, to this day, I still haven’t heard back from an eBook publisher who requested the full manuscript!) **TIP! If you don’t want to create your own spreadsheet, create an account on sites like QueryTracker.net who can keep up with the information sent as well as alert you to agents accepting queries, and get real feedback on agents and publishers from other authors who have queried them.)

Read the requirements for submission for each agent/publisher you’re interested in BEFORE YOU SEND YOUR QUERY!!!

Get to know the company before wasting your time and theirs. If your book is a Historical Romance and the agent you query has a wish list for Sci-Fi, they will automatically reject your query. Also, some will tell you upfront if they are willing to work with unpublished authors or if they are only looking to work with previously published authors (self-pub can be included and will sometimes be specified). This same goes for publishing companies. If they have a certain type of story line they are looking for or page count, be sure you meet those specifications.


A Heart Not Easily Broken is available in eBook and paperback. While most readers purchase eBooks, having access to paperbacks are great publicity tools!

Other information to look for are the royalty amounts, potential publication sites, publication formats, and national and international royalty amounts. Most of this can be found on the their submission, Q&A, or About Us page. Knowing upfront what they offer will help you decide what is best. Royalty rates can be between 30-40% . Industry average is around 40%. Some publishers will publish in only eBook format until your book sales a designated number of copies. Others offer the option of both eBook and Paperback via on-demand publishing from the time your book is published. While eBooks are the most popular and money making format, some readers still prefer paperbacks, so keep that in mind! (What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You! )

When sending out your queries, don’t just send one and sit around staring at your inbox!

It’s one of you, and hundreds of agents and publishers! Select one day out of the week and send to at least 10. Again, some agents/publishers will reply to you within a couple of hours, others weeks, months, or not at all! Increase your chances and shorten the time it takes to find an interested party. But of course, if you find yourself with more than one party interested in your story, be sure to let them know that you have another offer on the table. Doing so will be the professional way to handle it, as well as give the other interested party a chance to give you a better offer if they are serious.

Expand your query reach by not only querying agents and major publishers, look at the smaller publishers and smaller imprints of the larger publishing houses. For the most part, you are able to query them without having an agent. If the big publishers are your goal or you prefer representation, look for an agent, but realize, the agent may end up approaching the same publishers you can without an agent, except now if they get you signed, a portion of your royalties will go to them.

Clean up your online presence!

If an agent/publisher is interested in you, they will research you. If you are connected to any online social networking platform, all they have to do is Google your name. Negative, inflammatory, political, or racial comments, likes, etc. posted on your page can ruin that well written story. Your online image is everything. Think carefully before you post, share, tweet or ‘like’ it! And the same is true if you sign a contract. I heard the horror story of an author who was offered a contract, and in his excitement, posted a portion of his email with the agent on his social networking site. Before his contract was sent to him to sign, the publisher did one last look at his online presence, and though the email was not derogatory or revealing of private interoffice information, they rejected the offer. Another good example…Paula Dean…enough said!

5PP Logo

My publisher!

What are the benefits of working with an small publisher?

A smaller publisher means more one-on-one service. You’re not lost in a sea of big name publishers. You can get more feedback and have your questions answered within a reasonable amount of time.

Your work will see the light of day much sooner than when dealing with a traditional publisher. On average, at least 6 months or less, depending on how much editing is needed. The cleaner you manuscript is when you get signed, the easier it is to get to publication. Because of the amount of manuscripts and authors they have to deal with, typical wait time with a large publisher can be up to 18 months before your work is published…and this is AFTER you’ve signed a contract. Add to that, once your work is published, it takes at least three months from the date of release for sales numbers to be calculated and for you to receive your first royalty check. (This is average no matter if you self-pub or deal with a smaller publisher)

You’ll have more say in the format of your book, publication date, and the cover. Traditional publishers have a marketing team which will take the concept of your story and make a cover they feel works best (hey, look how the 50 Shades of Gray team worked it!) Sometimes that works wonders, other times it can take away from the story all together, but once you sign the contract, your say doesn’t matter. Some small publisher will allow you a bit more creative freedom in expressing your cover concept. To some of you this may not matter, but to me, it did! (How Important Is Your Book Cover?)

And of course like everything in life, there is a down side….

What is the down side to working with a small publisher?

While the publisher assumes all of the financial risks to get your book published, they may not have the finances to promote do major marketing and promotions.

Expect to be on your own when it comes to marketing and promoting your product. This can be time consuming, but with practice, a wide network of other authors, and selling yourself, you can put together your own blog tours free of charge (or pay a service to do so), find free promotion sites to shout your book out, and schedule your own blog and phone interviews, and pretty much whatever else you want to do. But again, it takes work, time, and in some cases money. How much is up to you! (Social Networking for Writers: Good, Bad, or Just a Waste of Time?)

Making use of the current sales trend of marking your book as Free or .99 cents as a promotional tool has to be approved through your publisher. I only recommend this sales tactic be used after your book has been in publication for close to a year. Doing so earlier can work against you instead of help you.

Alright, peeps, I have armed you with a load of helpful suggestions to get you started! As a bonus, I am attaching a few of the handouts I used during this class. Feel free to upload and print them out for your personal use.

How to Make the Query Process Less Painful!

Basic Outline for Writing a Query Letter

For more writing tips, visit WritersMarket.com where they will show you how to track down an agent that can work for you!

I wish you the best. And again remember….

Querying takes time, dedication, the desire to succeed, patience and a crap load of hard work!


Thank you for stopping by! I love to make new friends. Got questions or comments? Leave a comment, or connect with me online! If you’ve enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter by following this blog!


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6 thoughts on “A Guide to Landing a Publishing Contract the ‘Write’ Way!

  1. Pingback: Milestone #10….October 15, 2013 | M. J. Kane

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