How to Publish Writing 

Here you'll find out how to publish writing of all kinds, whether traditionally or by self-publishing. You'll also find answers to common questions like:

  • Do I need a complete manuscript before I can find a publisher?
  • How much am I likely to earn from publishing my book?

Your publishing options will be different depending on whether you're writing a novel, stories, poems, or nonfiction.

How to publish a nonfiction book

If you're interested in selling a nonfiction book to a traditional publisher, you may be able to do it on the basis of a book proposal and a partial manuscript. This is a big difference with publishing fiction, where new authors normally need to have a completed manuscript.

How do you write a book proposal? There's actually no mystery to this. Most publishers will tell you exactly what they want you to send them!

Here's what you do:

1) Look for other books similar in style/format/subject matter to the one that you're planning to write. And see who published them.

2) Search online for the websites of those publishers.

3) Look for an "author guidelines" or "submission guidelines" page. Then follow the instructions exactly.

Important: Be sure to check whether the publisher accepts unagented submissions. If not, then don't waste your time on that publisher unless you have an agent.

Another option is to self-publish your book. And if you market your book effectively, you may end up earning more by self-publishing than by publishing traditionally.

You can learn more about self-publishing here.

How to publish a novel

If you want to sell a novel to one of the big publishing houses, you will normally need an agent. Most major publishers won't consider unagented novels.

Some small publishers, university presses, etc., will accept submissions without an agent. It will help your chances if you have built up a reputation first; for example, by publishing short fiction in magazines.

Another increasingly popular option is self-publishing. There are a number of ways to self publish easily and inexpensively.

You can learn more about publishing novels here.

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How to publish short stories, essays, and poems

In the world of traditional publishing, most authors don't start by publishing book-length collections of stories, poetry, or essays. Instead, they build a reputation by publishing individual pieces in magazines and journals.

To traditionally publish a short story collection, you'll probably need a manuscript of at least 40,000 words. A full-length poetry collection will usually have 40-80 pages of poems, while a chapbook might have just 25-30 pages.

You can learn about publishing short stories here.

You can learn about publishing poetry here.

Get our Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines for free.

cat on bookshelf to illustrate a guide to how to publish writingphoto credit: Dave Francis @ Unsplash

How to Publish Writing - Table of Contents

How to Publish a Novel. Fiction publishing options and the steps for each one. How to prepare your submission to a publisher or agent.

How to Publish Short Stories. Build a track record by publishing stories in literary journals, or submit a story collection to publishers.

How to Publish Poems. How to publish individual poems, a chapbook, or a full-length collection.

How to Self-Publish. Pros and cons of self-publishing your book, and a step-by-step guide to the self-publishing process.

Robin Martin on Finding a Literary Agent. Tips from a former agent.

Jaimee Garbacik on Finding a Literary Agent. Advice from a publishing insider.

Check for new courses on how to publish writing.

cat on bookshelf

How much can you earn with your writing?

Unfortunately, very few authors get rich from publishing books. Anyone who suggests otherwise is almost certainly trying to sell you something.

A 2022 Author's Guild survey found the following median book-related earnings for full-time authors with 5+ years of publishing experience:

  • $15,000 for traditionally-published trade authors
  • $10,200 for self-published authors

However, publishing your writing can open up other professional opportunities such as teaching positions and paid speaking engagements.

Don't give up!

The world of traditional publishing is sloooooooooow and normally involves a lot of rejection. Don't give up!

Getting rejected (or not getting a response at all) doesn't mean there's something wrong with your writing. It means your manuscript didn't reach the right person at the right time.  

Some examples of successful books that received multiple rejections:

  • Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (22 rejections)
  • J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (12 rejections)
  • Frank Herbert's Dune (23 rejections)
  • Stephen King's Carrie (30 rejections)
  • James Patterson's first novel, The Thomas Berryman Novel (31 rejections)
  • Kathryn Stockett's The Help (60 rejections).

And the publishing world has only become more competitive since those books were published.

The best way to get through the submission process is to focus your attention on your next writing project.  And remember that self-publishing's always an option.