Finding a Good Publisher
There are currently around 500,000 ISBN Publisher Codes registered with Nielsens, the people who keep the book industry statistics. Some of these are defunct and a lot are highly specialist publishers. However, that is still a vast number within which lurks the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
So, how do you go about finding a good publisher for your book?
The first thing to establish is what value do you place on your book?
That may seem like an odd question, after all, you’ve worked at it for months, possibly even years. You have traveled with your characters and you’ve shared their challenges. You’ve read it and reread it, ironing out plot holes and tracking down inconsistencies. It is your passion, your dream, so of course you want the very best for it.
Most authors will say they want the very best for their book and that finding a good publisher to whom they can entrust their precious manuscript is the most important step yet, ask any commissioning editor, and they will tell you an entirely different story.
Many authors treat their manuscripts like worthless rubbish. They throw it out into the wild like so much scrap paper then become disheartened because nobody shows any interest in it.
Let’s look at this from the other end. You are a commissioning editor for one of the biggest and most respected publishing houses. Your stable of writers includes several New York Times best-selling authors and a handful of Booker Prize recipients. You open your email and the first one you select is a submission. The first thing to catch your eye is the opening sentence, ‘To whom it may concern…’ You cast your eye to the address line and you can see that this has gone out to fifty different publishers, including some of the best known rogue publishers out there. Do you really want to engage with an author who shows so little respect for their work that they would present it in such a way? This author may think the route to finding a good publisher is by spamming every publisher on the planet but in reality, it’s a short cut to the rejection pile.
This happens many times a day to every commissioning editor for every publishing company in the world. What happens next for this manuscript is what is known as a Race to the Bottom. The good publishers will just delete it without looking beyond the first line of the email. The manuscript will certainly not be read. It will continue its round of the internet with each editor hitting delete until it eventually lands on the screen of ‘WeWillPublishAnyBook.con’. At this point, the author often just snatches at the first person that shows any interest with little regard to the consequences. They have long ago abandoned any hope of finding a good publisher. The book of course never sells and the author ends up losing large amounts of money.
If you want publishers to see your manuscript as something special, then the first step is to present it as such. Jewellers know that expensive looking boxes help sell jewelry so present your book as if it is the most precious thing on earth. Do your research and try finding a good publisher who is the right fit for your book then take the time to approach them in a professional manner.
The more care you take, the higher up the league of professional publishers you can aim. Is your query letter properly structured and have you presented the information the publisher requested on their website? Most quality publishers have specific requirements so respect those and by showing you are a professional, you will stand a much better chance of being signed by a respected publishing house. If they ask for a synopsis and three chapters don’t just send the whole manuscript. The quality companies will just reject it leaving you to approach the next one down the list. With every short-cut you take, your chances of finding a good publisher diminish.
More and more publishers are now asking for a business plan to support a submission. If you don’t know how to prepare one, have a look here.
One of the other dangers of the Scattergun approach to querying publishers is piracy. In general, the publishing world is peopled by honest professionals, but like any industry, there are rogues out there. If you just grab a list of email addresses from a website and send your manuscript to all of them you stand a good chance of running into somebody who doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. It could just be one of the huge money-making machines that will take your manuscript under a restrictive contract and then bleed money out of you for dubious extras such as ‘Enhanced Distribution’ or ‘Your Own Promotions Consultant’. At the worst, you might have just unwittingly handed your book over to a pirate who will publish it under a different title and name.
Have you ensured your manuscript is up to a good standard of grammar? As Stephen King says in his excellent book On Writing, grammar is a tool of your trade. If you don’t know how to use it, go away and learn. No reputable publisher is going to look at a manuscript where the author clearly has a poor grasp of the basic tools of the trade. Who would pay a plumber to fix their pipes if he didn’t know how to use a wrench properly? Fixing bad grammar in a book is not an editor’s job, it is the author’s. Publisher’s editing staff have more important things to be doing than teaching an author how to use a possessive apostrophe correctly.
In summary, if you really think your manuscript is something special, present it as such. Do your research, choose your publisher carefully and approach them as if they are the only ones to whom you would entrust your precious baby. Finding a good publisher is easy but approaching them takes time and care.