Selecting a Publishing Method

Selecting a Publishing Method

Choice of Publication Methods

During a one-hour phone conference, my Kirkus editor reviewed the options for publishing my manuscript of Hattie’s Place. She also talked to me briefly about marketing. The choices would be:

  •  to procure a literary agent to promote the book and get it into the hands of a publishing company.
  •  to contact a publishing house directly and attempt to get a publishing contract.
  •  to publish the book independently, through one of the many online publishing services.  Create Space (, Lulu (, Xlibris (

My editor felt that it would be worthwhile to approach a literary agent who specializes in women’s fiction. She encouraged me to emphasize the romantic aspect of the story in my cover letter or query. She stressed that there is a large market for romance novels.

I ultimately decided to go the independent publishing route. However, I did send queries to seven different agents before turning back to Create Space, as I had done previously with my memoir, Retirement: A Journey Not a Destination. 

I’ll explain why later on. First, I’ll share what I learned about the publishing process.

Services Offering to Locate Agencies an Added Layer of Cost

My Kirkus editor had said that I should look for names of literary agencies that advertise an interest in publishing women’s fiction and romance. When I began googling agencies, most of what came up were services offering to locate agents, not the agencies themselves.

That seemed to me like one more layer of cost that I was not willing to assume. Besides, I had read that a reputable agent would not charge anything up front. Instead, they’d work on commission, once they accepted an author’s manuscript and actually located a publisher.

I finally found several sites containing the information I was looking for. They became my go-to places for learning the fundamentals of the publishing and marketing process.

Go-To Sites on Publishing

Preditors and Editors This non-profit organization has acted as a guide for locating publishers and publishing services since 1997. It has many helpful tips on approaching literary agents and publishing companies. It also posts a warning section that lists businesses and people to approach with caution.

Writers’ Digest The magazine is published monthly, but can be accessed online. There is a wealth of information about how to do just about everything related to writing and publishing, in every genre.

I found the articles on how to write a synopsis of a book, and how to compose a query and cover letter, to be of particular help.

There is a great deal of free information. However, it is a magazine, full of advertisements. Many of those ads come in the form of opportunities for writers to spend their money on everything from conferences to tutorial videos to books.

Writers Market is an online resource offered as a part of an online subscription to Writers Digest. It’s an entire data base to help authors sell whatever they have written.

You can filter the data by genre and sort it according to types of services. Possible sorting fields include literary agencies, publishers, conferences, writing contests, just to name a few.

The user can personalize his/her search and store the information on a personal dashboard. For example, I searched literary agents specializing in women’s fiction, from the 2013-2015 list.

I could save the names that interested me to my dashboard and visit them at a later date. Writers Market also sends me a memo whenever they add new sources to the general data base on literary agencies specializing in women’s fiction.

Research on Publication

From the sources listed above, I researched how to contact a literary agent, how to prepare a query letter, and how to prepare a synopsis of my book for a literary agent.

I’ll write more about that in the next blog for those interested in a more detailed description of the process. However, as I stated earlier, I ultimately decided to reject the idea of a literary agent and go the route of independent publishing. I did this for a number of reasons, based on my research.

  • Literary agents receive hundreds of queries from which they choose the top 5-10 percent. That means they pass over many excellent manuscripts.
  • First time authors like me are at a decided disadvantage.
  • Most agents look for clients likely to produce sequels to the books in their genre. For obvious reasons, the agent seeks a client with prior successful publications. That, or one with strong writing credentials such as a masters in creative writing.
  • Due to the large number of queries that any given agent receives, it can often take up to two months for a response; and, many agents do not respond at all unless they are interested in the manuscript.
  • If an author is fortunate enough to land an agent, there is no guarantee the agent will find a publisher for the book.
  • Even when a publisher is found, it can sometimes take months before the book is ready for the market.
Road to Finding an Agent Paved with Disappointment

Nevertheless, I read numerous examples of authors who reported that through persistence and determination, they ultimately landed an agent and succeeded in publishing their books.

For many, this translated into their sending over a hundred queries in the course of one to two years. A fortunate few reported that their manuscripts were accepted after the first round of queries.

The conventional wisdom suggests that the road to finding a literary agent is paved with rejection and disappointment, even when the book is well-written. However, the writer should take heart in knowing that the process is extremely subjective and not take rejection too personally.

Any agent’s list is determined by the specific genre, style, and content that the given agent is seeking. Unless your manuscript fits with the specific criteria of that given agent, the agent will not even review it, much less choose it for the list.

So, the trick is:
  • to select an agent who is seeking manuscripts from the genre in which you have written, with the specific style and content that meets the agent’s criteria.
  • to write a query which conforms to the agency’s submission guidelines and, at the same time, communicates to the agent that your manuscript should be selected over the hundreds of others manuscripts that are queued up in his/her e-mail account.
  • And, you need to do all of this in 300 words or less.
Writing a Query Forces the Author to Identify Market Niche and Audience

The writing of both the query and the synopsis is a rigorous but essential exercise. Any writer would do well to undertake it, regardless of whether he/she seeks an agent or decides to publish his/her manuscript independently.

Writing the query forces the author to identify the market niche and the audience to which the book will appeal.(e.g., Readers who like upmarket literary fiction, young adult fiction, mysteries, nonfiction, etc.)

That may sound simple, and I suppose it would be for an author who had set out from the beginning to write in a specific genre. However, my book cut across several genres and so I was unsure which one to choose.

Writing a Synopsis Helps in Understanding the Essence of the Novel

That was, until I composed the synopsis. The discipline of distilling 90,000 words into a 500 word summary, made my brain hurt. But it helped me to understand the essence of my own novel. It forced me to cut out everything but the basic plot, themes, and main characters.

It was the mental version of a forensic scientist separating flesh from bone to study the skeleton of the organism under examination–not a pretty process.

Once I completed the synopsis, it was easy to see that my novel would appeal most to readers/agents seeking character-based women’s upmarket literary fiction. Writing the synopsis helped me write the query and helped me to distill the content of the book into a sentence or two.  And so, when asked what my novel is about, I will say:

Set in rural Pickens County, South Carolina in 1907, Hattie’s Place is a coming of age story that explores the nuances of friendship, love, and loyalty, from the perspective of nineteen-year-old Hattie Robinson.

For more information on this topic, see Writing a Query Letter.

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