Getting Started with Traditional Publishing



So, I’ve always planned to take the trad publishing route, however, if there’s anyone here who has done that and been successful, I’d love to hear some of the steps you took and how you got there so I can know what to do, what to avoid, etc.

So, a few questions:

  1. How finished (revised and edited) does your book need to be to qualify as a manuscript.
  • I know that just because a book is polished or nearly finished doesn’t guarantee that it will get accepted, (you’ve gotta get past the query letter first) but in order for it to be considered manuscript quality what level of editing and revising would be best. Or, is that up to the publisher?
  1. How would you go about finding the proper publisher?
  • What was more helpful in finding a publisher? Writing conferences? Google? Friends, Family, Connections, etc?
  • Also, what are some publishers you might suggest (if you know of any) for science fiction authors?
  1. Tips on pitching your book and writing an letter to a publisher.
  • I have written a query letter (I hope that’s the right name, it’s been 3 years) before and the publisher was very kind and cordial in their rejection due to the fact that they couldn’t accept my book for copyright reasons (Disney… :expressionless:) but I have little experience and I know that you have to sell the book before they will. So, what are your pro tips for writing an amazing query letter?

I’d love to hear other tips and things that are important to know/find out during the publishing process.

Just as a little information that might help, I am a science fiction author. My book is currently in rough draft stage and is the first book of a trilogy. Books one and two have been rough drafted but not book three. I’m currently revising book one. (I’ve had 3 years of story and worldbuilding.) All three books are/will be full length novels, not short stories, novellas, or otherwise.

Thank you for stopping by with your advice, I appreciate it.


I’m traditionally published in nonfiction, but I can answer your questions.

  1. Your manuscript needs to be written at a professional level and free of grammatical and punctuation errors.

Some people will hire pro editors to get it to that point, but that’s a waste of money. No matter how perfect you think your novel is, there will still be editing done by the publisher, if only for house style and their own advice of how to make the book more salable.

  1. I would strongly recommend finding an agent, not a publisher. There are few large publishers who accept submissions from unagented writers. If you do query a small publisher, make sure it’s one who can actually do more for you than you can do for yourself. Frankly, most can’t.

Use to research agents (or publishers). Conferences are fantastic – so much to learn – but honestly, you have no greater chance of getting representation from a conference pitch than from a cold pitch.

  1. Query letter guidelines:
  • 250 words or less
  • Purpose: To entice the agent or publisher to read your manuscript.
  • Subject line for e-queries: Query: NOVEL TITLE
  • Address the query to a specific person by name: “Dear Ms. Jones.” Not “Dear Agent” or “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”
  • Explicitly state the manuscript’s genre and word count in the body of the letter.
  • The body has three parts: a brief explanation of why you’re querying this publisher or agent, the query pitch, and a paragraph describing your pertinent writing credits or listing similar titles.
  • Of the three parts in the body of the query letter, ONLY the query pitch (and genre and word count) is required. Don’t stress if you don’t have a special reason for querying this person or if you don’t have pertinent writing credits. The important thing is your query pitch. More about the pitch below.
  • Do NOT mention your age. It is irrelevant.
  • If you have a million+ views on Wattpad, mention it. If you have a few thousand… don’t.
  • If your story is the first in a series, state that it is a standalone book with series potential. If the book does not stand alone you are severely limiting your chances of traditionally publishing.
  • Make it perfect before you send it. Not a single grammatical or spelling mistake. Stand out from the crowd by being professional.

Writing the query pitch:

The goal of the query pitch is to entice the publisher or agent to your manuscript. In that way it’s similar to the blurb on the back of a novel, whose goal is to entice readers to buy the book.

There are different ways to write a query pitch. Some people start with a hook, and then move to the more detailed pitch. Others skip the hook and jump right into the detailed pitch. There’s no perfect formula. Experiment until you find a combination that works for your book.

To write the query pitch, I recommend starting with the following information:

  1. Who is the protagonist, how did he get into this situation, and what is he trying to achieve?

  2. Who is the antagonist, and how/why is he trying to stop the protagonist from reaching his goal? The antagonist doesn’t have to be a person. For example, if your protagonist is trying to climb a mountain, the mountain and the weather and his own physical short-comings could be the antagonist.

  3. What horrible thing will happen if the protagonist fails? (This is where most beginning novelists trip up. They fail to have significant stakes.)

When you write the query pitch be specific about what happens. Skip nebulous descriptions and cliches. If you’ve heard a phrase before, it doesn’t belong in your query pitch!

General tips:

–Write the query in third person, even if the book is written in first person. You do want the query to reflect the voice and style of the book, but not to the degree that you’re writing as the character. If the book is funny, the query should be funny. If it’s a tightly-written thriller, the query should be equally tight and exciting.

–Research the individual agent or publisher to find out EXACTLY what they want, and send them EXACTLY that. It may seem like a frivolous hoop for you to jump through to send a slightly different query package to different agents, but each agent is doing you a favor by telling you what they need to make their decision.

–Workshop your query extensively. Expect to do a LOT of different versions before you get it right. Writing a killer query is hard.

–Don’t be surprised if, when writing your query, you find out that your story needs work. It’s better to find this out before you query than after you get a bunch of rejections.

–Read the QueryShark blog ( start to finish. Seriously.

–Consider posting your query here in this club. But be aware, the members here will judge it as an agent or publisher would. We will shred it and point out holes and shortcoming in your story. If you can hack the criticism, you’ll end up with a strong query and, possibly, a stronger story. If you can’t, you likely can’t handle traditional publishing. It’s a brutal, BRUTAL industry.

–Don’t rush. You get ONE chance to submit to an individual agent. If you send a poor query, you may blow your chance with that agent – they may not even glance at your pages. Take your time, and get it right.


How would you suggest finding/getting an agent? How much does it cost? What are the pros and cons?


Thank you very much, but I don’t publish novels I plan to trad publish on Wattpad.


Would you suggest writing all three then pitching the first one then, or pitching all three together if they’re already written?


Thank you!

#7 is where you can find agents who represent your genre. You still need to research them online to make sure they’re legit.

Agents cost nothing up front. If they place your novel with a publisher (or later sell any subsidiary rights) they will generally get 15% of whatever you make. That comes out of your share, not the publisher’s.

The pros are:

  • They have access to publishers you don’t.
  • They know exactly who is buying what.
  • They are more familiar with contracts and contract negotiation than you (but that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to understand the contracts and ensure the contract is right for you).
  • They have contacts to sell subsidiary rights.
  • They will absolutely negotiate a larger advance than you could negotiate yourself. The exception is contest wins and publishers like Harlequin that don’t negotiate at all. (Frankly, I’d recommend avoiding both.)

Cons? Few if you want to traditionally publish.

  • They’ll want to lock you into traditional publishing, because that’s where their money is made. That’s not necessarily best for you.
  • Not all are trustworthy. I strongly recommend adding split checks into any contracts, so you don’t have to worry about an untrustworthy agent taking more money than they should. In fact, I would ask before you sign with an agent if they mind split checks. If so, don’t sign.
  • They have a LOT of experience with publishing contracts, and they are great negotiators. BUT they are not going to point out clauses that are better for THEM than you. They are not lawyers, and ultimately YOU are responsible for making sure you accept the contract terms.


But if you have another story with those kinds of numbers, it would still make an impression. It’s not an automatic in. But it would be a point in your favor.

If you don’t, no problem.


I don’t write romance, so yeah, my books all sit under 1K.

Thank you for the tip, though.


Nope. Write the first one, and make sure it can stand alone. They will buy the first book, and they won’t buy the others until they know the first one sells well. Also, in their edits, they may want changes that affect the later books.


Hmmm, that’s a bit difficult with a trilogy like this. My main issue is that with the trilogy there are plot threads that are not intended to get resolved until book three. They aren’t major in book one but if I were to have it stand alone there would be many loose ends and I couldn’t tie those up without book two or book three.


Think Hunger Games. Not every plot line is wrapped up – in fact, they introduce a new complication right at the end of book 1. BUT the story in book 1 is complete. If they hadn’t published the remaining books, you wouldn’t be left hanging wondering what happened in the arena.

The story in book one has to be complete.


Okay, I think I see what you mean. I could leave all the loose threads, just make sure to wrap up the sub-plot. I could do that, but honestly, I know it would be hard, but I want to be sure I can publish all three. As stuck up and stubborn as it may sound, I put 4 years into this trilogy and while publishing one book would be amazing, I’d rather spending the extra time and effort to get all three on the market than wasting half the time I spent working to only have one book published.


You could self publish. Frankly, it’s often a better choice regardless. Trad pub has horrible contracts. There are some benefits – not the least of which is knowing your work is READY for publishing – but there are significant downsides too.


I did self publishing for two years and with much thought and research have realized it’s not for me.


Is this a different book/series?


Yes, I started with another original work of mine and I put as much effort into it as possible but I don’t posses the skills or money to self publish, plus I looked into it more and it’s not the route I want to take.


Cool. Got it.


That’s why I’m aiming for traditional publishing.


As much as you can do by yourself. I recommend the Top-Down Method:

  1. Look at your story in general. Where does the plot work, where doesn’t it? Identify plot holes and subplots that don’t pull their weight.
  2. Delete weak chapters. If there’s a scene or small part you love, you can still incorporate it elsewhere in the story.
  3. Then delete weak scenes (redundant to the plot?). Then weak paragraphs (like any conversation that deviates from the present action). Then weak lines.
  4. Now you can address spelling and grammar. As you can see, sentence-level detail is the last thing you should focus on.