How to Publish a Novel - Part 2

This is Part 2 of our series on how to publish a novel. Click here to read Part 1.

How to prepare a submission

As I said in Part 1 of this series, it's important to research and follow the submission guidelines of the particular agent or publishing house.

Unless the submission guidelines specify otherwise, use standard business letter format for your queries, and use standard manuscript format for your submissions.

Writer William Shunn's blog offers extensive information on manuscript format.

Be creative in your writing, but NOT in your formatting. Fancy fonts, colored paper, sample cover designs -- these will only mark you as an amateur. The writing should stand alone. (Of course, if you are a poet or an experimental prose writing, special formatting might be PART of your writing -- that's different).

In the industry, it's generally considered bad form to send your manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time, what's known as "simultaneous submission". On the other hand, publishers are generally very slow to respond to submissions, so I know some authors who choose to break this rule. I'm leaving that decision up to you.

After you send your submission, prepare for a looooong wait, probably months. Use this time to work on your next novel.

If your manuscript gets rejected, don't take it personally. That only means that it's not a good fit for a particular publisher or agent.

Send it to the next publisher on your list.

Don't give up. Even J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel was rejected many times before it found a home.

If you receive a personal response with suggestions or even criticism, that's good news. That means someone thought your manuscript was worth the effort to send you feedback instead of just a standard rejection letter.

Contrary to rumors circulating on writers' forum websites, harsh rejection letters are not a normal part of the game. If someone hates your work (or is indifferent to it), he or she genuinely won't bother to send a personal note.


Getting paid for your work

Publishing houses normally pay novelists in two ways:

  1. An advance is the money you get up front. You get to keep your advance (except for the part that goes to the agent) no matter how well your book ends up selling. Some smaller presses don't offer advances.

  2. Royalty is the percentage that you get for every book sold. You only start earning royalties after the book sales (your percentage of them) has paid back the advance you received.

A few authors earn huge advances, but that's like winning the lottery.

It's hard to say what authors "typically" get paid for a novel because there's such a wide range. Based on anecdotal research, it's my impression that genre fiction authors tend to receive advances of $10,000 or less these days.

You can find more detailed and scientific numbers on Hugh Howey's website

After extensive studies of author earnings, Howey has reached the conclusion that self-publishing pays better than traditional publishing these days. You can find out more about self-publishing here.

How to Publish a Novel - Next Steps

Learn about how to publish fiction in literary magazines.

Learn about self publishing a book.

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