Works of Richard Marsden

The Works of Richard Marsden. Writing and Historical European Martial Arts.

Writing Hints Blog

Publishing Types - The Novel 1

Posted by rmarsden on August 23, 2010 at 1:51 AM

Over the past few weeks I wrote several posts on how to get short stories published. I have had enough success in that venue to be fairly confident on the topic.

Now we will move into the topic of how to get one's novel published. I'm not as firm here. I have two 'novels' to be released within a year, but since they aren't out yet I'll be exceedingly brief on topics I don't know much about.


Let me quickly cover how I sold my two works.


The first, a collection of historical action-pulp stories was quite unintentional. Abandoned Towers purchased three of my short stories in a row and the editor asked me to compile a book of them in exchange for money and royalties. Thus I was literally asked to write a novel, or at least a novel-sized work. I would rank this as a little unusual.


The second, a science-fiction dark humor action piece I peddled around with absolutely no success with the agencies. After about four tries I decided to submit my novel to a small-time publisher who had accepted several of my short stories. After a long wait, I was given a contract.


So for me, both cases were a matter of small-time editors liking my short stories and willing to do something more. Neither will make me rich, and may end up costing me money (we'll cover marketing later), but it's a start! This also sumarizes my experience in the field. A lot less than in the short story category, so bear with.


What we'll cover!

1. Agents-Publishing Houses Big and Small-Self Publishing and Vanity Press.

2. Cover Letter (One page to success)

3. Synopsis

4. Sample Chapters

5. Marketing and Art

6. Where do I submit?

7. Pay -The Contract-


So, let's leap into the realm of Agents vs Publishing Houses.



An agent (or agency) is a person (or company) who has connections to the major (and minor) Publishing Houses. An Agent can get an author onto a Publisher's desk and in exchange want some of the profit from a book contract.

Agents generally ask for 10%-20% of an author's profit, usually less from domestic sales and more from overseas.

Most agents are based in New York where, surprise, the big Publishing Houses are. It's an incesteous affair in New York and the agents can navigate it better than most authors can.


When it comes time to making a sale, the agent wants the author to get the best contract possible. Becuase agents are familiar with the literary process they are more likely to quickly get an author a fair deal than an author working on their own would.

Agents need to be approached almost in the same way as a publisher and they have a slush-pile they read through looking for book proposals (cover letters) they think will sell. More on all that another day.


Publishing Houses

Publishing Houses are either big-time companies in New York, or small-time companies/individuals that can be found anywhere.



Large Publishing Houses have a team of lawyers to acquire marketable books at the best rates. They have deals with distributers to place books on shelves. They have investment money for the author and the first printing of a book. They have editors who clean up and format, though in truth the less work they have to do the better.

Usually only an agent can get you in the door with a large Publishing House, but this isn't always the case. TOR books for example accepts snail-mail proposals and I know an author who, without an agent, was picked up by TOR. One agent even said all 'good' book proposals will be picked up with or without an agent, but the agent will land the better contract while an inexperienced author can get a truly horrid contract!



Small-Time Publishing Houses are probably not based out of New York and they are small companies or even individuals who lack what the big boys have. They usually don't have a team of literary lawyers, their books aren't automatically stocked in brick and mortar stores and they don' have a lot of investement money to pay authors up front or buy huge runs of their book to try and peddle.


On the other hand, they'll take risks and if an author can't get the attention of an agent, then there's nothing wrong with going directly to small-time Publishing Houses.

The biggest concern with a small-time place is that they are more likely to fold than a big one. Nothing is probably as frustrating as working on a book for a publisher, who suddenly decides to can all of his/her projects and return to their day-job as a stock-broker.


Personally, I'm comfortable at this level. The two publishing houses I work with are small, so I can speak directly to the 'head' of operations and get my concerns dealt with and since I'm just starting out, I'm OK with going small.


I saw a good advertisement for a small-time press that explained that the Big Houses are much like a lottery. Even with all their market-share and power, most of their authors get one shot to make it big. If their book doesn't sell enough in a short amount of time, that's it, they are done! Why a book doesn't sell well can be entirely the publisher's fault. Mis-marketed books are a common complaint. According to this small-time press, large publishing houses also can be a bit dodgey on paying their authors regularly and on time. An interesting perspective!



If an author can't find an agent, get the interest of a BIG publisher or a small one, then self-publishing may be the route to go. In literary circles, self-published works aren't as valued as those that were published by a company. The reason is that 'anyone' can self-publish. However, if you look up some small-time publishers and then read reviews of their books on you'll find that plenty of badly written and badly formatted books are out there in which authors were PAID to write!


Self-publishing also means an author has to not only write their work, they have to design the cover, pay for the book to be printed, advertise, market and sometimes even package and ship! The venture can be incredibly expensive and yeild little reward. Just on a time-investment level I'd not reccomend it.


Why do it? Some small-time publishers are just a step above self-publishing and it may be better to self-publish rather than share profits with a publisher that doesn't offer much in the way of support. Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' was originally self-published. Most of his books had a run of less than 10,000 copies. (I'll be excitied if I sell 100 by the way) and he and his wife did all the work to promote the book. His 'Da Vinci Code' sold 81 million copies and he quickly found a publisher whereas before they didn't have an interest in him. He's the 'lottery winner' self-published writers want to be and a reason to go 'outside' the box.


Vanity Press

A Vanity Press is a company that an author pays to have their book published. These need to be avoided by fiction writers and are often marketed to would-be poets.


"For $500 you can get your book of poems professionaly bound and ready for sale!" The Vanity Press doesn't do anything to help promote the book and since they are paid and not the author, you can imagine how quality control looks.


Why use a Vanity Press? I was curious and found out they do have plenty of legitimate purposes. An artist might want to showcase their work in a single book they can show to clients. Some professional fields award browny points to those who have been published and a vanity press is an easy way to do this. I even saw a Ghost Writer advertisement directed specifically at CPAs. They wrote and printed books attributed to the CPA so he/she could share them at conventions or decorate their office with it!

If you're in the fantasy and science-fiction realm then a Vanity Press is not for you.

Spotting them is easy. If ANYONE asks for money from you the author then they aren't a legitimate publisher. Publishers pay authors not the other way around. Don't worry, you can screw yourself monetarily in other areas!



Agent - Find you publishers, have connections, get the best contracts.

Big Publishing Houses - Mostly based in New York, hard to break into, can offer money and support.


Small Publishing Houses - Easier to break into, smaller to work with, usually offer little upfront pay. Run the gambit in all other areas.


Self-Publishing - Requires the author to do a lot of work beyond writing the book, from marketing to even distribution!


Vanity Press - A place that is paid to print a book. Not good for fiction writers.

Categories: Novel Advice

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1 Comment

Reply Melinda
2:29 PM on September 4, 2012 
Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the last part :) I care for such information a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.