When to Get a Literary Editor, Agent, or Publisher

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Publishing a book entails much more than merely writing it. Actually, some might argue the hardest part is getting a contract with a big publishing house. After all, agents are inundated daily with half-baked submissions from self-described authors, and they won’t have high expectations for you unless you can prove you don’t fall into that category. Don’t worry, though: It’s certainly possible to get on their good side with the right tools and attitude—you just need a strong team and lots of perseverance. 

Finishing your manuscript is only the first of many steps to getting published, but each writer’s path is different. So, what should you do next? 

Get an editor

Regardless of the genre, style, or subject matter, you should have your manuscript professionally edited if you intend to publish it. It’s not cheating to hire an editor, nor does it reflect poorly on your writing ability. Even the world’s top authors rely on trusted editors to polish their masterpieces. We offer multiple editing services, from proofreading and comprehensive in-line editing to manuscript critique and developmental editing. Every writer and every manuscript will require something different, so you should consider carefully what your text needs to become the best it can be. You shouldn’t query or submit to agents or publishers before your manuscript is ready.  

Editors can not only help you with typos and grammatical errors, but they’ll work with you to fix plot holes, develop your characters, and improve the structure, ensuring you’re presenting the strongest version of your work to any prospective agents and publishers. In fact, developmental editors don’t worry about spelling and grammar at all—they help you fine-tune your plot, character development, and the overall cohesion of your narrative.

Query an agent

If you want your book to get picked up by a large publishing house, you definitely need a literary agent. The major houses don’t even accept direct submissions from authors, so your first step needs to be landing a reputable agent who will submit your manuscript for you and act as your business representative with the publisher. If you’re happy with a smaller publishing house, you may be able to get away with representing yourself, but the services of a professional literary agent can be invaluable.

Of course, if you’re going to self-publish your book, you can skip the agent and save yourself the 15% commission. If you’re writing for a niche market and want to go the traditional publishing route, then smaller publishing houses are probably your best choice, plus they don’t always require an agent to act as an intermediary. It can be difficult to market niche books to major publishers because such works are inherently unable to capture a large share of the market.

Submit directly to a publisher

Small, independent publishers offer a great alternative to the big, business-driven publishing houses. Many of them work with niche subjects, styles, or target audiences and also accept direct submissions from writers, getting you one step closer to having your book published. While small presses also need to make money to stay afloat, they tend to care much more about the mission and the art than the bottom line, which you may feel allows you to maintain your artistic integrity.

If you’re submitting directly to a publisher, we suggest you don’t query agents simultaneously as it could complicate your process both with the publisher and the agent. Also, be aware that some publishers have strict policies on simultaneous submissions, which means you can’t send your manuscript to another publisher or agent at the same time. This is done either for exclusivity or to avoid wasting their time if your submission is accepted elsewhere and you don’t notify them, so make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter. Every publisher and agent has their own guidelines, so it’s important to carefully read the instructions each time you pitch to someone new.

Either way, you’re first going to need a shortlist of agents or publishers to pitch to and an impeccable query letter. If you need help with either or both, check out our custom query packages and targeted lists of agents and publishers

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