How to Write and Sell Your Novel, Part 2

Let’s say you’ve decided to go the direct route to work on securing a book contract without an agent. Is it an impossible task?

No. Not at all.


The Big Boys

We talked a little about the “big seven” houses in the writing section of this chapter. Most writers dream of snagging a large advance and a multi-book publishing contract with a big New York house. Visions of “New York Times best-selling author” dance in lights in your head.

Should you decide to do as David Baldacci did and send out unsolicited manuscripts, take a look at submission guidelines before sending in your work. You can find these guidelines both online and in guides like Writers Market and Jeff Herman’s book.

ALWAYS send your letter to a specific person — never a generic “Dear Editor”. Double check that the person you’re writing to is still working for the publisher. A quick phone call will resolve this issue. Also, if the editor has a unisex name like “Pat”, find out if it’s a man or woman. That way you’ll always address your letter properly.

Try to send the exact amount of material suggested by the submission guidelines. Some publishers want only a query letter to start with; some like a letter, synopsis and three chapters; and some want the whole enchilada.

An SASE, or self-addressed stamped envelope, is a must enclosure if you want to hear back from a publisher or agent. You’d be amazed at how many writers new to the art of novel submission forget to include the SASE. Doing so will set you apart as a pro who knows the basics.

Small Houses

Frequently, small to medium houses are the best way to go to get published. No, the advances aren’t those you’ll see on Madison Avenue (sometimes the only advance you get are free copies of your book) but the royalties can be higher than the standard 10{db3ae8a81280553779663c6dc431a922c9e5ce920863bf636bccd15cfbaaca0d} and the relationship can be better.

Let’s look at John Grisham as a perfect example. His first novel, A Time to Kill… and one many critics feel is still his best book… was first published by a small press in Mississippi.

So how do you find the right small to medium house for you? Turn again to writers, the Internet and bookstores.

Writers Market publishes a directory each year, which includes a section on book publishers, big and small. There’s even a section on international and Canadian book publishers and each listing gives you contact information, how many books they publish a year, how much the royalty is and what percentage of writers do not use agents.

Pay specific attention to what kinds of books publishers are looking for. For instance, you won’t want to send your romance novel to a house that specializes in science fiction.

There are even guides to publishers in specific genres. A great guide for writers interested in juvenile fiction is The Writers and Illustrators Guide to Children’s Book Publishers and Agents. This guide includes articles on how to break into the publishing business and examples of good and bad query letters. Guides like these are stuffed with tons of useful information. You can order them online or go to bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders. These guides average about $25-$30 apiece.

There’s also The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. It’s about two and a half inches thick (literally!) and crammed with hundreds of listings. Unlike the other guides, though, there are no articles or samples. Just listings.

Building a Relationship

As we discussed in past sections, relationships are key. But how do you begin to build a relationship with a book publisher? You may want to check with small or medium houses to see if they use freelance editors. That’s one good way to establish a relationship that may give you an inside track to getting your work published.

Another way is to attend writers conferences. Often, conferences will include sessions with agents and publishers. It’s also a great way to meet fellow writers and find out more information about good publishers.

Print on Demand (POD) Publishing

Print on demand publishing is rapidly becoming more widely used by novice and experienced writers alike. It’s a version of self-publishing that does not require you to throw down thousands of dollars for a print run. You do pay a setup fee which could range from anywhere from $500-$1000 depending on the POD publisher.

Books are printed as they are ordered and, so, printing costs are kept to a minimum. Many POD publishers offer book cover design assistance as well as securing your ISBN number and getting you listed in online databases like and

This kind of publishing is a good option for a writer who would like to have a product to offer rather than just a raw manuscript.

Vanity Presses

This is the kind of publisher you want to stay away from. A vanity press could charge as much as several thousand dollars to print your book. You may be locked into a specific print run (usually 2500 to 5000 copies) and can’t get your money back if those copies don’t sell.

Next time we’ll discuss that dreaded of all words in novel writing: marketing.

Pungky Dwiasmoro Hiswardhani

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