You’re a budding novelist with a great idea for a book about two women who own a tearoom during the Revolutionary War and who trick British officers into revealing secrets there. No one suspects the women are anything but Loyalist spinsters.
Have you ever read a spy story like this? Who wouldn’t go for such a creative idea?
Sadly, I strongly suspect the answer is: most publishers. Because your novel idea is probably too “novel” for them. They are looking for a unicorn: a unique idea that fits neatly into their formula.
That’s right. Publishers want you to be creative but within the tight boundaries of their formats. They want a book like all their other books – with enough of a twist to entice their regular customers. After all, the primary interest of all publishers is sales.
There’s a lot of luck required in getting published as an unknown, but here are a few tips that might help – with no guarantees, since the odds are against authors!
Ask yourself: What genre is your book? Search for smaller publishers who specialize in your category such as sci-fi or cozy mysteries. What clues can you pick up from their current offerings? Study the publisher’s proposal form, especially the questions about who would buy your book and what books yours is comparable to.
Then ask: Who might read their current books? Is yours like anything on their list? Try to find one of their titles before you complete the form. Show the publisher that you know who their customers are and how they could market your book to them. Publishers are impressed with authors who have done their homework, just like employers are. Submit your work to several publishers since rejection rates are high.
New authors often wonder about hiring an agent. It’s probably a good idea if you can get one. Former teachers or writing group members might help you network your way to either an agent or a potential publisher.
Small, regional, or specialty publishers are likely to be more open to talented unknowns than major publishers will be, but they also accept fewer books. Fit is particularly important to them
Self-publishing will work for some writers, but it is financially risky if you’re doing print copies. Most bookstores won’t sell self-published books. Try online instead and see what happens. At least you won’t have a garage full of expensive books you can’t sell.
Publishing books can be extremely satisfying if you don’t care about making money. With royalties of 10 to 12 percent, it’s tough just to recoup the expense of writing, research, and other work, let alone make a profit.
But hey! You’ve published a book. And most people can’t say that. Get out there, and good luck!