The first thing to do with your list of publishers and agents is to start looking them up in your market guide book and review the information about them there. If you missed the discussion in February on market guides, you can find it here: How to Write and Get Published by Magazines and Book Publishers.
Next, find their web site online. Their web site will be listed in the market guide, or if you don't have a market guide do an internet search.
You've already learned a great deal about them when you did your homework at the bookstore. Now, study further what each publisher is publishing and/or what each agent is representing. Does your project truly fit what they are doing?
Keep in mind that you are not looking for a book that is exactly the same as yours. If you find one that is too similar, realize that publisher won't want to publish a book that will compete with one they already published. Also, an agents won't want to represent an author who is going to compete with an author they are already representing. That might sound like bad news. But it can also be good news because other publishers and agents will want to have a book that competes with successful or popular books by other publishers. So you may not want to approach the publisher who published a book similar to yours, but you use that information to entice another publisher or agent with your competitive title by showing them how great a book is doing on that topic.
When you've found publishers and agents where your book would be a good fit, then find their writer's guidelines on their web site and print them.
Armed with this information from each publisher and agent, you will then fashion your query letter and book proposal for each of them individually. You'll also have their contact information.
Nowadays, most of the big traditional publishers in Christian publishing won't accept a proposal from you as the author (unless you meet them in person at a writer's conference, but few of them attend anymore). Instead they require submissions come through an agent. However some publishers will still consider queries or proposals from authors. Their guidelines will tell you if they will.
A query letter is a one-page letter (no longer!) which is a sales letter. Basically you will want to:
- introduce yourself,
- introduce your book,
- tell them who your book's audience is,
- and give your credentials for writing the book (work experience only if it's relevant to the book. Publishing experience, but if you've never been published you need not point that out).
I suggest you fashion about one paragraph for each of those four items. You might also include a paragraph that says, "This book is similar to [insert title of an already-published book] but is different [in this way]."
Your final paragraph lets them know your manuscript is complete and then will ask, "May I send you the proposal?"
You will need to have a book proposal already written in case they say yes.
Any publisher or agent will ask for a book proposal before they will ask for a manuscript (which is your completed, written book). So you need to have your book proposal prepared and ready to send before you send out your query letters.
How do you know what to put in the book proposal? Again, their writer's guidelines will tell you exactly what they want you to include.
There's a lot of leeway in book proposals--no one right way to do it. Just make sure all the needed information for them to make a decision on whether or not to request your manuscript is there, and written is really great, engaging, sparkling writing. Doesn't have to be long and involved. Sometimes less is more, if you know what I mean.
I suggest you create a "general template" book proposal for your book, then tweak it to personalize it for each and every publisher or agent you submit to according to their guidelines. Yeah, this takes a lot of work, but they want what they want and if you send them what they don't want it's too easy for them to reject your query or proposal and just move on to the next writer. You don't want them to do that! You want to make a great first impression in order to get their attention.
This, of course, presupposes you've already written a fantastic book manuscript.
Have I overwhelmed you yet? I hope not. You may find writing the book was the easy part. Remember publishing is a business. (Tweet that!) Publishers are in business and need to stay in business in order to publish the next book. So treat it like a business proposal and be a good and smart business person and you'll do fine. Take it one step at a time and don't get overwhelmed.
Now is the time to take off your creative author's hat and put on your business person's hat. Now is the time to grow very thick skin. Know that you are going to get "no thank you" after "no thank you" and rejection after rejection. That doesn't matter because you only need one "yes" from an agent and/or one "yes" from a publisher. So do not become discouraged. You're looking for the one person who wants to partner with you. That's all you need. (Tweet that!) When you get a "no thanks," that just wasn't the person.
Yes, it's a lot of work. But if you want to find a traditional publisher or agent, this is how it's done. Nobody told you it was going to be easy, did they? If they did, they lied. Or didn't know any better. But if you've gotten this far to where you're needing to know how to approach a book publisher or an agent, you got farther than the vast majority of people who claim they want to write a book. Keep going. You can do it.
Related Article:For your own protection, please make sure you know the differences between the different types of publishers and which one is right for you, which we talked about in January.
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