First Time Traditional Publishing

So, I’m aware of how self-publishing works, but I’m not exactly sure how traditional publishing works. All I know is you send your manuscript to an agent (if you have one or you’re looking for one) and/or a publisher/publishing house. And I only know this because I met a literary agent and an author before for a semi writing and “learning” session in school, but it was never explained thoroughly.

I’m just curious of these few things. For those who have traditionally published before or know a lot about the topic, do you approach an agent or a publisher, or have they approached you? (aaimed at people who have written on Wattpad then traditionally published)

What is the criteria for sending in manuscripts or does each publisher have their own? And what to expect on your first time doing this? Because every time I look on publishing houses websites, it’s very intimidating, since I have no idea where to even start (If I want to go for it in the future, which will be most likely.)

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Good questions.

99.999999% of the time you query agents. It’s rare for (legitimate) agents to approach writers. It happens, but, then, so does winning the lottery. I wouldn’t say the odds are appreciably different.

For fiction, before you start submitting, you want to put together a query package. This consists of a query letter, synopsis, first three chapters of your novel (formatted for email), and complete (polished) manuscript in standard manuscript format. Different people will request different combinations based on what they use to make their decisions. You want to send each one EXACTLY what they request.

Decide up front whether you’re going to submit to agents or publishers. I strongly recommend starting with the former since most large publishers are closed to unsolicited (unagented) submissions. Don’t submit to both at the same time. You can find agents who rep your novel’s genre using a tool like

What to expect? A pace as slow as death. A VERY competitive environment – statistically, agents accept fewer than 1% of manuscripts queried to them. Closer to 2-3 per 1000. And of those manuscripts that snag an agent, about half to three quarters will be solid. It can take many manuscripts and many years to get an agent. Or it can happen with your first one. It just depends on the individual manuscript!!

There’s a book on my profile that goes into all of this in detail.


Thank you!!! I’m definitely going to check it out. While we’re on the topic, I have one more question: do literary agents usually charge you for their services? The literary agent I met at my school a while ago suggested the same thing to me, that I find a literary agent before submitting to publishers, but that’s all I know.

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They charge nothing up front. They are paid when you are paid – after you sell your book. They get 15% (generally) of your share of the books advance and royalties.

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Thank you, you’ve helped so much.


I submitted a query to a small indie press simply because I wanted to have a partner when stepping off WP. Submission guidelines are found on their pages and querytracker listes the presses open for submission. Sometimes bigger ones open up for submissions (e.g. angry robot for fantasy). It’s like pitching your manuscript to an agent You need a cover letter, synopsis and lots of information on comps (other books like yours etc).
It is also very unlikely that a publisher would ever approach you!

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A typical query consists of a query letter, synopsis, and 1st 3 chapters (or maybe 1st 50 pages). Every agent/publisher has their own requirements. Follow them to the letter. Some may want it email. Some on a form on their website. Some want attachments while others want it in the body of the email. Again, don’t deviate from their rules. They are not guidelines. And that goes for how the manuscript is formatted. If they say Times New Roman 12pt with 1 inch margins all around and double spaced, format it that way. If they want the synopsis to be no more than 1,000 words, limit it to 1,000 words. And whatever you do, absolutely no typos in the query letter or synopsis.

The query letter is really a marketing pitch. It’s introducing you and your novel and briefly what it’s about (think of the blurb on the inside cover of a book which gets you to buy the book). The query letter includes things like genre and number of words. Its intention is to pique the agent/publisher’s interest in your novel so that they ask for more. Take it to the next step.

The synopsis tells them the details of the novel. The plot arcs. Who the characters are. Basically what the story is about including spoilers and the ending.

The first 3 chapters are to sample your writing. Maybe it’s to see if they are hooked as well.

The next step would be a request for the full manuscript. Keep in mind, most times if they are not interested they won’t bother sending you a rejection. They just leave you hanging. And even if they respond it could be months later. I had one take 9 months to respond.

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Depends on what you’re writing, trade publishing a short story different process from novels.