The Next Book–Part 5: Finding a Publisher

[Previous installments in this series included a discussion of the inspiration for my new book, the challenges I faced in deciding at what point in the story to start the book, doing research for the historical elements of the novel, and actually writing the book, including settling on a structure.]

By late summer of 2022, I had finished the novel. I had come to the end before, several times, but when I say I finished it, I mean that I had revised it substantially, filled in all the holes I could find, and considered it ready for the next step.

And what would that next step be? I know many writers who self-publish their books. That’s fine for them, but it’s still not for me. Very few self-published books attract much attention from readers or reviewers. Traditional publishing—meaning turning the process over to a publisher who is responsible for editing, design, printing, and distribution—is still the best way to reach a wider audience.

The trick is to find a publisher who is willing to invest in the book. One method of finding a publisher is to first find an agent who, for a cut of eventual royalties, will do the work of finding a publisher for you, often making editorial suggestions for further revision. I’ve had agents for previous books, but in each case ended up selling the rights to the books to a small press after the agent had decided they wouldn’t be able to place the book with a larger press. The result of following that path was a delay in publication while the agents made their pitches to bigger publishers. This time, I resolved to skip the agent search and submit directly to small presses from the outset.

I mentioned this intention to a mentor who urged me to try the agent route first and suggested the names of a few agents to query. He even helped me hone my query letter (the letter one sends to agents that summarizes both the project and the writer’s background). So I queried. It’s been several years since my last round of agent queries, and it seems to me that the industry has changed in that time. Some agents have software that generates an automatic acknowledgment of a query, but some don’t. That acknowledgment may be the last you ever hear from them. And many never respond at all. I gave it a couple of months (not enough time if one is really committed to finding an agent and a larger press) and then concluded I was unlikely to connect with an agent this time around.

I then began to approach small presses, several of which expressed an interest in publishing my novel. (It didn’t happen overnight, despite how I’ve made it sound.) Ultimately, I accepted an offer from one of them, a press I had not worked with before. That began a year-long process that is now nearing completion. The first step was for me to do another round of self-editing to make sure the manuscript was in the best shape it could be. At that stage, I asked a friend to read the book and took some of her comments into account. The next step was editing by the publisher, after which I had an opportunity to accept or reject those edits. They then gave me one more chance to read through the book in its “uncorrected proof” form to find any errors. In the meantime, the designer sent me a cover for approval. I loved the design and immediately approved it.

We’re now in the last phase before the book goes into production, including gathering blurbs (endorsements) from some fine writers I respect. With the help of a publicist, I’m also setting up events, interviews, and reviews to help spread the word about the book. With just over four months before the publication date, we’re almost done!

Next: Cover Reveal and Pre-Orders.

About the author


  1. Dear Cliff!

    Your publishing series confirms very gently that a writer just needs to DO THE WORK. I have done a little of THE WORK so I know you have chiseled precious time and energy out of your life to write this current series about publishing.

    Thanks bigly!

    joe c smolen

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