Saturday, March 1, 2014

Should I Find a Publisher for My Book On My Own? Or Should I Find an Agent?


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Here’s a question I’m often asked by writers, whether they want to write a book or have already written one:

"Should I try to find a publisher for my book on my own first, and work directly with them? Or should I find a literary agent to represent me?"
My recommendation is that you work toward both. Simultaneously.

Years ago book authors were supposed to query or submit to one book publisher at a time. Simultaneous submissions (approaching more than one publisher at a time) were pointedly discouraged.

The same rule kind of held true for approaching agents, I think.

However the thing is, if we approach one publisher or agent and wait for six months...or twelve months...or longer to hear a "no thank you" (they are not interested in our book project), and then approach another publisher or agent and wait a year... Well, it could take years to find the one publisher or agent who is interested.

Let me note that today it seems many agents and publishers respond more quickly -- at least their guidelines say they do. They often say they respond in three months, or that after that time if we haven't heard from them they are not interested. My experience in the real world, at least the world that used to be, they often took longer than what they said it would to actually make a decision. The "if you don't hear from us by a certain time, we're not interested" is a somewhat new practice that started in recent years simply because agents and publishers have so many writers querying them that keeping up with responding to every query has become too much.

I think I can speak for most authors when I say we’d prefer not to be published posthumously. (Tweet that!)

So for myself, after years of querying or submitting proposals to publishing houses and agents one at a time, I realized there's no reason to not approach both. Simultaneously.

Furthermore, we can now approach multiple publishers and agents simultaneously. The industry is much more accepting of that now than it used to be. This is what I recommend you do.

So which is better to land first: a publisher or an agent? Either!

If you find a publisher who is interested, it might help you land an agent to negotiate that contract for you. If you land an agent first, their job is then to help you land a publisher.

So how do you go about doing this? To approach agents and publishers about your book, you need three things:

  • a list of agents and publishers you want to approach
  • a query letter
  • a book proposal


Let’s talk about creating your dream list of publishers and agents you want to approach. Then next month we’ll talk about how to approach them through query letters and book proposals.

Special note: If you are writing a Christian book—whether for a “Christian” audience or for an audience which might not be Christian but your book contains the Christian faith, then you need to look for a Christian publisher. (Yes, even if you want your book to reach beyond Christian publishing and into the secular market. It is still only a Christian publisher who will be interested in publishing that type of book.)

First things first. How are you going to find book publishers and agents to submit to?

I suggest you try traditional publishers first. But here's where I want to ask you to be really careful.

The problem here is that it is harder and harder for writers to figure out which publishers are truly traditional publishers.

When I talk about self-publishing companies that are not "traditional" publishers, I'm talking about companies like:


  • Author House
  • iUniverse
  • Xlibris
  • Outskirts Press
  • Trafford Publishing
  • Dog Ear Publishing
  • Xulon Press

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these publishers, nor am I recommending any of them. I'm just telling you these are not traditional publishers. If you want to self-publish your book, you need to check each one out for yourself and understand what you're getting into. Here's a directory of self-publishing companies from Writer's Digest.

My January blog post describes different types of publishers and how to tell the difference. If you haven't read it yet, you can read it here:  What You Need to Know about Book Publishers BEFORE Publishing Your Book. Some of the information listed below might be repetitive from that post.

So if you're trying to interest a traditional publisher in your book project, many of them will require you to submit through an agent. Some, however, still accept queries and proposals directly from authors. But before you can submit anything, first you must find who to submit to. So the question is, how do you figure out who you want to submit to? Here are three ways:

Find Publishers and Agents in a Market Guide


If you have a budget to invest a little, you can buy a market guide or borrow one from the library.

If you are writing for the general market, there is the annual 2014 Writer's Digest Market Guide.

If you are writing for Christian readers and looking for a Christian publisher, there is the 2014 Christian Writer's Market Guide.

Each is updated every year. You can buy them on Amazon. These books list many of the Christian agents and publishers along with their contact information, web sites, what they’re looking for, and oodles of more information.

Be aware, however, that besides listing traditional publishing companies, these books also list self-publishing companies and co-publishing companies. So just because it's listed in one of these books doesn't mean it's a traditional publisher.

Find Traditional Publishers by Visiting a Bookstore


Secondly, find publishers by visiting a large, chain bookstore and/or your local Christian bookstore (not an online bookstore, because online stores carry everything, not necessary only the traditional publishers). As a general rule, the brick-and-mortar stores carry only the "big" traditional publishers because shelf space is at a premium.

Check out the shelf where your book would be shelved. Find books that are similar to yours. Write down the classification of those books, the genre they are listed as. Look for this above the bar code on the back.

Look for books with similar styles, tones, topics, etc. Look for books that seem like that publisher would also be interested in yours. Then write down the title, author, and who published it.

You can also check the “Acknowledgements” section of the book, the preface, or “About the Author” and see if the author listed the name of their agent.

Make a list. If you want a traditional publisher, this is probably your top, most desirable, publishers to approach. Possibly you've also found some agents to check out also.

Find Publishers and Agents at a Writer’s Conference


Thirdly, if you have more in your budget to invest, you can attend a writer’s conference. For Christian authors, I highly recommend attending the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference in May.

At a writer’s conference you can take workshops, meet publishers and agents in person (very valuable), as well as mingle with, network, and make connections with other writers and authors who are also working their way through the publishing maze.

Get hooked in to the "system." Get to know how the publishing industry works. Make contacts. Network. Find other authors you network with. Form a team so you can help and encourage each other.

So your homework for this month is to follow these instructions to create your dream list of publishers and authors. Have that done by next month and then we’ll talk about what to do with your list and how to approach these publishers and agents.

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If you haven't heard, my first e-book for writers in my new "Getting Published" series is now available exclusively on Kindle! You can find it here:



$2.99  Exclusively on Kindle