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How to Traditionally Publish   

This post is focused on how to get your book traditionally published. This means that you don’t pay the publisher; the publisher pays you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time. Traditional publishers assume all costs and pay the author an advance and royalties. You only pay to publish if you sign with a self-publishing service (sometimes called a “vanity” publisher).
How do you get a traditional publisher? You have to persuade them to accept your work and offer you a contract. You can do this by pitching them via mail or at a conference, or by finding a literary agent.
The Difference Between Pitching Fiction and Nonfiction
Novelists (fiction writers) follow a different path to publication than nonfiction authors.
- Novels and memoirs: You must have a finished and polished manuscript before you look for a publisher or an agent. While you may have heard of some novels or memoirs being sold based on an idea or proposal, this is rare for first-time authors without a strong publishing track record.
- For most nonfiction: Rather than completing a manuscript, you should write a book proposal—basically like a business plan for your book—that will convince a publisher to contract and pay you to write the book. For more information on book proposals and what they entail, click here.
If you’re writing a hybrid work—such as personal vignettes mixed with your own poetry, or a multi-genre work that includes essays, stories, and poetry—then you will have a difficult time getting a publisher to accept it because it doesn’t fall into a single, salable category. (More on this later.)
A Brief Note for Young Writers
I receive emails daily from young writers (not yet 18) who wonder about age requirements for getting published. You don’t have to be any particular age to write and publish a book. When I worked at a traditional publishing house, I even signed an author who was still in high school, but his parents also had to sign his publishing contract because he was a minor. However, before you decide to jump into the publishing world, consider the following:

- You get better at writing as you do more of it. Focus on your writing, not so much on publishing.

- I highly recommend looking for a teacher or mentor who can guide you. Look for other writers your own age and share work with each other. Start a writing group at your school if there isn’t one.

- If you’re itching to get your writing out there, and want readers beyond your own circle, consider Wattpad. It’s a friendly community of writers and readers, with many people your own age.

3. Basic Steps to Getting a Book Published
Getting your book published is a step-by-step process of:

1. Determining your genre or category of work and assessing its commercial potential.
2.Researching the appropriate agents or publishers for your work.
3.Reading submission guidelines of agents and publishers, then sending in your materials.
For Novelists With an Unfinished Manuscript
Finish your manuscript before approaching editors/agents. I meet many writers who are very excited about having a story idea, or about having a partial manuscript, but it’s almost never a good idea to pitch your work to a publishing professional at such an early stage. Finish the work first—make it the best manuscript you possibly can. Seek out a writing critique group or mentor who can offer you constructive feedback, then revise your story.
Be confident that you’ll be submitting your best work. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is rushing to get published when there’s no reason to rush.
For Nonfiction Writers With a Book Idea
You need to methodically research the market for your idea before you begin to write the proposal. You’ll be building a business case for why your book will sell, and why you’re the best person to write it. Research other titles that are competitive or comparable to your own; make sure that your book is unique, but also doesn’t break all the rules of the category it’s meant to succeed in.

1. Determine Your Work’s Commercial Potential

There are different levels of commercial viability: some books are “big” books suitable for Big Five traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins), while others are “quiet” books, suitable for mid-size and small presses. The most important thing to remember is that not every book is cut out to be published by a New York house, or represented by an agent, but most writers have a difficult time being honest with themselves about their work’s potential. Here are some rules of thumb about what types of books are suitable for a Big Five traditional publisher:
- Genre or commercial fiction: romance, erotica, mystery/crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, new adult
- Nonfiction books that would get shelved in your average Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore—which requires a strong hook or concept and author platform. Usually a New York publisher won’t sign a nonfiction book unless they anticipate selling 10,000–20,000 copies minimum.
Works that can be a tough sell—again, if you’re looking at traditional publishers:
- Books that exceed 120,000 words, depending on genre
- Poetry, short story, or essay collections–unless you’re a known quantity, or have a platform
- Nonfiction books by authors without expertise, authority, or visibility to the target audience
- Memoirs with common story lines—such as the death of a loved one, mental illness, caring for aging parents—but no unique angle into the story (you haven’t sufficiently distinguished your experience—no hook)
- Literary and experimental fiction
About the writer: Bryan Richardson (bryanrichardson.com) is an internet published author who believes that writing is rewriting and there should be more free publishing sites for writers of any age!

Follow Bryan on his Twitter handles: @Oliversouls, @bryanrich4rdson and @aboriginalteach