Tips for: Traditional Publishing Path

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The publishing industry is overwhelming when you’re new to it. (Well, even when you’re not new to it, too.) It’s a fascinating combination of creatives who are passionate about their crafts and businesspeople who are focused on margins and industry standards. And more often than not, every person must fill both of these roles—whether they like it or not.

As a freelance editor, though, I am able to see and learn just about every stage of the industry, all the while keeping my priority as being an advocate for you, the author. So in an effort to help new authors wade through this world of overwhelm, I’ve outlined what the average path to traditional publishing looks like.

  1. Come up with an idea for a book.
    1. Note: Some people write out their query letter or synopsis here. See step 12.
  2. Write your first draft.
  3. Give yourself a break! Take some time away from the project. I’m talking about a few weeks here, not a day. Let it breathe, and let yourself ruminate. Give yourself time to forget about some parts and work the kinks out of others.
  4. Go back and revise.
    1. Do yourself a favor at this stage and build a style guide.
  5. Often, authors at this stage will find critique partners, beta readers, or friends/family to read the manuscript and give feedback.
    1. Want a critique partner or beta reader but not sure how to find one? I recommend finding writing groups online, like through Facebook or Discord, or through hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. Some popular ones are #WritingCommunity, #AmWriting, #AmEditing, #CP (stands for critique partner), #AmWriting[genre] (e.g. #AmWritingFantasy or #AmWritingRomance), etc.
    2. Note: Be careful about who you share your story with and how many people you ask for feedback. First of all, you should not have to pay for this. Most people do an exchange of services: each author does a critique/beta read for the other author. Second of all, not everyone is kind or has your best interest at heart. It’s okay to take negative feedback with a grain of salt and to throw out/ignore feedback that isn’t constructive. Third of all, if you’re asking family/friends, keep in mind that they might not have any idea what they’re doing or what kind of feedback is helpful.
  6. Revise based on the feedback you receive. If you chose not to seek feedback from someone else, then revise after giving yourself another break from the project.
  7. Consider hiring a professional to take a look at your manuscript.
  8. Revise.
  9. Repeat steps 3–8 as needed, but again, be careful. This is and should always be your book. Getting feedback is great, but to get published, you have to stop at some point. Agents are not expecting you to have a print-ready manuscript at the querying stage. Don’t let your fear of rejection keep you in the revision loop.
  10. Once you feel like your manuscript is in a strong place, make sure it is formatted correctly (or hire someone to do it for you).
  11. Give your book a final proof, or reach out to a professional to do it for you.
  12. Write a query letter and a synopsis.
    1. Note: This step can happen at literally any point before now. Lots of authors choose to write this at the beginning to help guide them while writing the book (see step 1)! Others can’t fathom writing a summary without having the full book complete. As with almost everything in a creative industry, there is no wrong or right way; there is only the way that works best for you.
  13. Send your query letter and synopsis to trusted critique partners, friends, family, and/or a professional for review.
    1. Tip: Send these to people who have not read your book to make sure they can understand what’s going on. The agent reading these will not have the context of all 60k+ words of your story, but they should still be able to understand what you’re saying.
  14. Revise query and synopsis accordingly.
  15. Research agents. So much research. Technically, this can also be done at any stage, and if you happen to find one you think would be a good fit for your story and personality at any of these stages, save their information! I’ve included an Agent Querying template below, with tips. In it, you can keep track of agents you find in the research process on sheet one and of your querying process on sheet two.
  16. Submit to agents. Again, you can download the Excel template below and go to sheet two (named Querying Tracker) to help you track this process.
    1. Note: This is a good time to start working on your next book.
  17. When an agent is interested in your book, they’ll reach out and ask for a partial or a full copy of your manuscript.
    1. Since you already formatted your manuscript (step 10), you’re prepared for this! Send them your manuscript and wait to hear back.
  18. Receive an offer from an agent.
    1. This is very exciting and can be overwhelming, but do not let those things push you into making a choice that isn’t right for you. Not every agent is reputable. Not every reputable agent is a good match for you. Research questions to ask the agent before signing. Ask the agent for a list of clients, and ask the clients questions. No agent is always better than a bad agent.
    2. Also, now’s the time to reach out to every agent you currently have an open query with—especially if they’ve also requested a full or partial from you. As soon as possible, politely inform them that you’ve received an offer. This will spark some agents to prioritize your submission and potentially also send you an offer.
  19. Either reject the agent and repeat steps 15–18, or sign with the agent.
    1. Note: It can take anywhere from weeks to years to go from querying to signing with an agent. This is very common and there is absolutely no shame in it. Take breaks in this process as you need them.
  20. Many agents like to have an editorial process right about here.
  21. Your agent submits your book to their industry contacts to try to sell your book to a publishing house. This is called going/being on sub.
    1. Note: While you can choose how much information you’d like to know at this stage, your agent should be open to telling you every single detail.
  22. Your book sells to a publisher!
  23. Go through the whole editing process again—I know, it never ends!
  24. Rejoice! Your book is published!
  25. If you enjoyed this process, keep going with your next book.
    1. Note: The steps after your debut novel are often a bit different, as most agents and publishers have first right of refusal for future works, so check out your contract(s). Also, if after working with your agent you figured out that you’re not a good fit, it’s okay to find a new one. Individual agents are like therapists—not right for everyone. And just because they sold a book for you doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for you permanently.

If you have any questions or are interested in a helping hand along this path, reach out! And as always…

Happy writing. You got this.

❤ Elanna