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Landing Your First Book Deal: A Compact guide

In last week's article, we discussed the five largest book publishers that eat up most of the trade market. This week we’ll be taking a look at a strategy to get your book picked up by a large publishing house. As with all things, there may be many routes to the same destination. These days though, there is an industry-standard formula to scoring your first contract. Read more below to learn more!

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to make several assumptions about you. Assumption one is that you’ve written a fiction novel and you have a complete manuscript of your book. This process varies slightly for other types of written work and the approach one should take is a bit different from that which is listed here. My second assumption is that other people think your book is good. And I don’t mean people you know - I mean people you don’t. This is important since unbiased parties are less likely to pad the truth about the quality of your writing. This can be vital in both the marketing of your book and in your process for refining your technique to attract a wider audience. In this article, I also assume that you have no agent. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your skill and experience as an author. More on that later. I’m speculating that by this point you also have a few fans. The more, the merrier as far as I’m concerned. Authors with no readers have limited potential for profit and most publishing houses aren’t interested in footing the bill to put your name on the marquis. Finally, I also postulate that you truly believe that signing with a major publishing house is the best thing for your career at this moment. In some cases, this proves to be quite untrue.

Chances are that if you’re reading this article, the above-mentioned individual describes you in most, if not all ways. Today's goal is to bring you up to speed on the most effective method by which authors gain traction and eventually become successful. Listed below is the general process in which authors get their names published by esteemed houses like Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Sterling, Candlewick, and others.


Most tenderfoot authors probably have no idea what awaits them when they begin the journey known as querying. My advice right from the start would be to grow a thick skin. Publishing as an industry can be highly unforgiving and unfortunately not every fledgeling author is ready to jump out of the nest as soon as their masterpiece is complete. That is to say that not everyone who writes a book can sell one immediately. Almost every artist who puts pen to paper will arrive at this juncture eventually. Please learn to be patient. It takes much time and effort to learn to write appealing literature that people will love. Generating unforgettable stories is a labor of love that, for many, takes years to perfect. Alternatively, their work may be good and acceptable but happens not to be profitable.

Regrettably, due to the way our industry is structured, not every author who writes a damn good book will be selected for an offer. More often than not, this boils down to budgeting restraints. Personally, I would love to publish every great story that finds its way to my desk but there are some days when I simply can’t because doing so would be too costly. For this reason, authors and publishers must work together to make an appropriate match between author viability and publisher capability. Publication is an industry with individuals who display skill and expertise at every level of an author's journey. Later we’ll talk about finding the right house for you. Finally, understand that dissemination of your book is a time-consuming process that can take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years on average. Once you have accepted those things which you will endure, you are now prepared to undertake this pilgrimage that makes every writer an author.


Before submitting your work to a publisher, it’s crucial to make sure that your project has the best chance possible of getting an offer. There are several things you can do before pitching your book to ensure that it shines as brightly as possible. This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s an absolute must that you have dedicated fans. This can be achieved by cultivating your online personality and sharing samples of your work publicly. By doing so you ensure that your name is floating around when a publisher looks for it. (And we will)

Furthermore, an author should be able to create a buzz in their fanatical audience whenever they make an announcement or share a piece of work. This popularity alone can often be enough to entice a publisher to make a gamble on you! When a publisher does their research, you want to have a presence that they can’t ignore. A great way to accomplish this is by using social media platforms to cultivate a reputation for quality. Twitter, Facebook, And Instagram are all fantastic ways to put your name in as many people's pockets as possible. Often in the publishing world but not always, your skill is only as important as your eminence.

One final thing you can do to help secure a spot in a publisher's catalogue is to enrich your manuscript in such a way that it doesn’t look like a total mess. If there’s one thing I hate, It’s seeing a manuscript that looks like it was written by a primary student. When I look at a manuscript, I not only look for the quality of its content but also competence in prose. Nothing irks me more than when a prospective author delivers a manuscript full of plot holes and grammatical errors that would make any editor cringe. An editor's job is not to make sense of your script to see if it has feasible promise. We look for things that make a prospective author's work stand out. This means that when we see jerry-built projects we know what we’re looking at. It’s essential to do some polishing work on your manuscript before it finds its way to a publisher because your draft is not only a mirror of your passion for the story but also a strong indicator of the amount of effort you pour into your vocation.

A dedicated writer producing quality over quantity will always have consideration preceding a passionless heap of sub-par literature. There are many ways an author can accomplish the task of ameliorating an opus. The first of which is to simply proofread your script for any loose grammatical errors and inconsistencies. Make sure that your story is told with the atmosphere you intended. Another practical method is to use basic editing software to help you find and correct wording issues. The advent of Artificially Intelligent Software has made this process quicker, more effective, and cheaper than it ever has been. Programs like SentenceCheckup, WhiteSmoke, and Hemingway, all perform the same essential functions and can be useful tools in any writer’s repertoire. Additionally, one could also use friends, family, or fans to help edit your book into an easier read.


Now that your book has been refined into something that resembles a complete book, it’s time to find yourself an agent. Except this part is much easier said than done. Remember earlier when I said you would need to grow a thick skin? This is the exact reason and is often the reason non-persistent authors never get published. According to figures provided by Writers Market, a popular reference text servicing writers for the past 100 years, potential agents reject authors 94-97% of the time. While this has been true in my experience, this high rate of failure can be effectively combated by staying patient, and professional, and by following the guidance provided above.

To procure an agent, you’ll need to present these risk assessment specialists with a few things. The first thing you’ll need is a Proposal. This collection of documents will be a condensed representation of your book and a small dossier about yourself. This letter should include a friendly greeting, a colorful and precise hook, a short synopsis, and a sample of the book.

When including your sample, always pull your sample text from the first quarter of the book. This is significant because your style of writing should be best exhibited throughout the bit of storyline that builds tension in the reader.

When you hear readers say that a book is gripping or enthralling, this is the part of the book they are most often referring to! This is otherwise known as the Rising Action and typically occurs within the first half of a story. I’ve found that readers bewitched by suspense built in the first half of a book will often follow through reading till the end, even if the resolution is lackluster. This is the magic that will get an agent to pick you up and the same enchantment will prevent readers from putting your book down.

At this point, I find it necessary to talk about what you require from an agent. Some new authors feel as though they have very few options when it comes to publishing partners such as agents. I would also say that to some extent, that’s a fact. Your journey may bring you to a place where you have exhausted most options for agency and are finally forced to utilize an individual that you just don’t jive with. It can and does happen. However, I’m going to take this opportunity to remind you that like an agent has standards, so should you. Do not submit yourself to an agent that is lazy, is not excited about your book, and doesn’t communicate effectively. If you happen to find yourself in any of these situations, you should be looking for a way out as soon as possible. Instead, you want an agent who is highly experienced, responsible, interactive, professional, and has excellent communication skills to aid the diffusion of your book to prominent contacts. This is certainly quite a list and finding an agent with these qualities can be difficult, but not impossible. Here's how to do it.

Earlier I mentioned that there are experts at every level in the industry and you can use that to your advantage. The above statement is all-inclusive and covers agents as well. Experienced authors might get nervous around new agents because they are unproven and often have only a few clients if any at all. But this can certainly work to your advantage. The industry is fairly tightly woven and centered around two things - passion and money. Even a new agent may have similar connections to someone who has been in the field for decades. The existence of social media platforms is primarily what makes this possible and things are not the way they once were. New agents can be disproportionally beneficial to virgin authors in that they will almost always be fiery-eyed and ready to pitch your book to anyone that will listen, including high-profile contacts they have garnered during the learning phase. These agents will occasionally work more fervently for less than their more experienced peers to populate their client history to pad their resumés for future deals. This healthy competition is what motivates new agents to:

  • Be more optimistic about pitches

  • Be quicker in responding to queries

  • Be excessively polite and respectful

  • Be readily available for meetings and questions

  • Find contemporary ways to introduce your writing to prospective publishers


If you’ve made it this far, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. Lots of writers struggle to get here. You have come a long way on your journey but don’t relax yet. There’s still the matter of bagging a contract with one of these large publishers. Thankfully, the only focus you should have at this point is writing more stories and investing time into boosting your popularity. Your agent, if you have chosen to hire one, will be doing the heavy lifting on your behalf in regard to selling your book to a publishing house. Something to look forward to is all of the rejections you’ll likely be getting. By now, you should be accustomed to constant rejection. Generally, this could be viewed as a negative event when, in reality, there are many ways to benefit from a rejection. Be on the lookout for those rejection letters and listen to feedback from your agent. If he/she is worth a nickel they’ll have plenty of suggestions. You should also be asking your agent why your work was rejected as well. A good agent can find out what a publisher didn’t like about your proposal and the two of you can create a plan to increase your odds based on the publisher's criticism. This can be a powerful tool for enhancing your perceived viability as a profitable author. Above all else, do not stop submitting until you run out of houses! (Which you couldn’t possibly do. There are thousands of us.) In the meantime, don’t give up!


On rare occasions, a writer will produce a work that is highly coveted and they will be offered contracts by multiple houses. If this happens to you, then congratulations! Not only are you likely to be a successful author but you’ll probably make a decent profit off of your work. But first, don’t lose your head. There’s still some work to be done. The first thing I would recommend is to discuss the terms of each individual contract with your agent to reach an agreement on which one/s would be best for you both. A clever team would auction the work by leveraging each contract against the other until only one remains. This is the sharpest way to go about increasing your profits and maximizing the chances that you’ll set a baseline standard for all future contracts. Be aware though, that there are definitely predatory companies out there that will offer you shady and controlling contracts. Be sure to research a company to the best of your ability and make sure that you understand the entirety of the contract before you sign. And NEVER pay a “vanity press” to publicize your book. You’ll regret that if you’re serious about writing.


It can be a long road to having your book traditionally published but most established authors would agree that the pilgrimage is worthwhile. If it means anything, I’m rooting for you. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see dreams come true because dreams are where our stories live before they find their way to the light. I sincerely hope that this article has found you well and that all of your dreams come true but one. That way you’ll always have one to chase. Join us here next week for another unique report. As always, thank you for reading. A pleasant and productive week to you all!

Written by:

Joshua Adams

CEO, Editor


This article was brought to you by Huntsville Independent Publishing, a premiere traditional publishing house servicing southeastern writers in any way we can. If you enjoyed this piece or found it helpful, please consider donating to our house @ $HIPHuntsville on Cashapp or by using the GoFundMe link found on the Support Us page. All donations go straight to author advances first and business expenses only. In that order. Together we can build a fair-to-authors company with ethical practice and a supportive passion for the art of the written word. Thank you so very much for your time!


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