Navigating the (not-so) Complicated World of Publishing

Even for seasoned writers, the publication world can be intimidating. Many approach it as an incredibly insular space, with its secrets given only to those few chosen authors. In the modern era of blogs and Kindle, however, it is becoming increasingly easier to become a published author. Finding the motivation is a huge first step -- to which we say, congratulations! So after deciding this, how do you move forward? Below you will find an overview of the 5 steps to publishing a manuscript along with a more detailed look at some specific steps.

5 Steps to Publishing a Manuscript:

  1. Write your manuscript — or at least have a few chapters written. Publishers want to know the overview of the story along with a few samples of writing.

  2. Research the literary market along with the publishers or agents that most often work with your genre of writing.

  3. Find an agent to market your manuscript or send the manuscript to the publishers directly.

  4. Include a query letter to either your potential agent or publishing house, detailing your background and synopsis of the manuscript.

  5. Wait for a response! Either way, a negative or positive response should lend valuable information to you about the direction you are taking your work.

As you work through the publication process, there are several key areas where you should place the bulk of your focus.

Ensure Originality

With thousands of new titles being published each year, there is a huge importance placed on originality of ideas. One of the most cited reasons literary agents chose a manuscript for publication is authenticity. Not every piece is presented to a publisher is fully completed, ready for the editing. Most times, authors will pitch an idea to an agent along with a sample of writing, usually this is 2 or 3 chapters. This means that authors maximize their chances of getting published by presenting an authentic piece of writing. This also means that the writer needs to have a deep understanding of their story. Right away, one should be able to present an engaging and thoughtful piece of writing to an agent or publisher.

Do Your Research

Perhaps the most important area that many writers tend to overlook is the marketplace. Research becomes incredibly important when preparing to pitch your idea to a literary agent or a publishing company. Publishing is commercial; in other words, the manuscripts that are chosen typically reflect what is popular on the book marketplace. This means that it is important to research what type of books are popular and which genres get picked up most often by what publishing companies. This encourages authors to effectively market their writing and to follow the avenues that are most reflective of their genre of writing.

Unsure whether to follow the traditional route or pursue self-publishing? Both options can appear daunting. While the traditional route typically includes needing to find an agent and marketing your writing in the hope that someone will champion your work, self-publishing means that you undertake the entire process of publication. Although both avenues require hard work and motivation, they are made significantly easier by researching and understanding their components. Check out the steps below for some insider knowledge on the key steps to securing an agent and self-publishing!

Find an Agent

Once you have a sample or completed manuscript, it is time to begin the search for a literary agent. Although the term may seem intimidating - do not be alarmed! It is the same process you would go through if applying for a job position. An author sends a letter of query to a potential agent. This letter should include a synopsis or chapter summary, the intended audience of your book and a description of yourself. Below is an example of an effective letter of query.

An effective query (taken from

An effective query (taken from

Most importantly, you should aim to get across that you are a hard worker and are willing to put in the subsequent time to develop and edit your manuscript. Ready to look for an agent? Visit to search for thousands of agents based on genre or keywords!

Pursuing Self-Publishing

The internet has worked wonders for authors over the years! Not only is it easier to research publishing companies and agents, authors now have the possibility of forgoing this traditional route and instead pursuing self-publishing. This can be a huge task, but for many authors, realizing their goal of publishing their work makes the undertaking completely worth it. Self-publishing allows for authors to have complete control over the process of publication and you receive 100% of the profits. However, self-publication also means that you will have to invest in your writing--you are responsible for producing, marketing and distributing your product. Although this may seem intimidating, technology once again proves helpful, as e-books are becoming a much more affordable avenue for authors wanting to pursue self-publishing. Check out this video for more information on how to pursue self-publishing!

Whether you choose to pursue the traditional route or alternative methods of self-publishing, the message remains the same: readers and publishers are searching for writing that is authentic, unique and clearly developed.  Keep in mind that while your writing should remain original, it is important to research and understand the market in which you are selling your product. Luckily, there are thousands of agents and hundreds of ways to publish. Hopefully, these steps will serve as a jumping off point for any budding author, helping you navigate the now not-so-intimidating world of publishing.

Excited to start? The following websites are extremely helpful and provide more detail into how to publish a manuscript:

Want to know more about what agents are looking for?

Insider Jane Friedman’s detailed account of how to get your book published

Publishing Company Penguin Random House’s blog on getting published