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Monday, June 7, 2021

First Steps toward Publishing Your Novel

by Linda Rodriguez

I receive a number of emails from people who ask me how to get their own novels published. Usually, they know just about nothing of the business of publishing, which surprises me. If you took a year or so to write a book that you hoped to publish and sell, wouldn’t you owe it to yourself to research and learn something about the business of publishing that you hope to join?

I always try to answer with a detailed listing of things they can do to educate themselves about the business and to begin to connect with the professional literary community. I have a feeling that I have friends and followers out there in the same situation who might be reluctant to ask, so I’ve decided to write this blog post. Here’s my resource guide to publishing a novel. It won’t get you published, but it will give you a good foundation in the business of publishing/being a professional novelist and get you started in the right direction.

Pitching a novel to a major publisher today can be very difficult without an agent. Most of the New York trade publishers won’t look at novels unless they’re represented by an agent. Smaller specialized presses, literary presses, and university presses will take unagented queries during their open submissions period, if they have one. Often they can be the best bet for a first novel that’s not necessarily a commercial novel. Poets & Writers has a database of small, literary, and university presses.

Many of these won’t do novels, so you’ll have to sort through them. Here’s a list of 16 small presses that do novels.

You can also do an internet search for small presses that specialize in your particular genre of novel, if you write in one of the genres.

For agents, I would suggest that you check the website of the Association of Author’s Representatives.

This is the professional association of reputable agents. It’s very easy to get involved with folks who call themselves agents and are really running scams to part authors from their money. Members of AAR have sworn not to do this stuff and are kicked out if they do, so you can trust them. Another good site to educate yourself and protect yourself from scammers is Writer Beware.

This is a site provided by the SFWA and co-sponsored by MWA as a service for all authors, science fiction, mystery, or not.

But the first thing you want to do is to get current copies of Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. (The Writer was purchased by another company, but for over a century, they were a helpful magazine for writers, and I suspect they will continue to be.) These magazines often talk about which publishers are looking for what kinds of books at the moment. P&W focuses more on the academic and literary writer, while WD focuses more on the commercial or freelance writer and TW straddles both fields. If your library has them, also read back issues of Poets & Writers, The Writer, and Writer's Digest. You’ll learn a lot about the business that way.

Look for professional authors groups to join. There are groups for children’s writers, mystery writers, romance writers, sf/fantasy writers, etc. These groups are usually tremendously helpful in learning the publishing business and making useful contacts. If there is a chapter of a professional writer’s organization near you and it’s not your kind of writing, it can still be useful to you in learning the business. I once belonged to the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, though I didn’t write romance. I learned about agents, what editors want, what is and is not acceptable behavior in the publishing world, what are and are not good contracts, and tons of other things that became useful to me. Now, we have a chapter of Sisters in Crime here, and I’m active in it, but that time in RWA laid a very good foundation for me. The same goes for SFWA or any of the others. The purposes of these organizations are to help their members with the business of publishing and being a professional—and that’s very similar across the boards.

A book I always recommend to students and aspiring writers is Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life. I’ve written about this book on this blog before.

It’s the best book for looking at how to be a professional writer and work on getting published, how to get established within the literary community, how to make a career as a writer without living in NYC, and much else.

If I were you, friend with a book manuscript under your arm, I’d start with these resources. I’d also go to every writer’s appearance/reading/event that occurs in your town if it’s a small one or a good selection if you live in a big city with an active literary community. Go to regional or national conferences in your genre—AWP for literary writers, Malice Domestic or Bouchercon for mystery writers, Worldcon or a variety of other “cons” for science fiction and fantasy writers, etc.

Buy a book, if you can. Introduce yourself to the writer. Follow up with emails or mailed notes talking about what you liked about their reading or book—not asking for help with your own. Friend writers you meet on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. Don’t spam them about your own book. What you’re doing is building relationships within the community of writers. These are the folks who can answer questions for you or later (if you’ve built a good, real relationship) give blurbs that will help your book sell when it's published. Basically, my advice is to educate yourself about publishing and become a contributing member of the community. Getting a novel published is a long, hard haul, so arm yourself with information and allies.

The best single piece of advice I could give, however, is this—make sure you write a good novel. Get competent professional feedback and revise, revise, revise until it shines before you ever try to send it out. I suspect that a certain number of folks who are looking for a publisher for their novel have never had anyone professional look at it and haven’t done much with revision. Writing is an art and a profession. Learn about publishing, the business, while you learn about writing, the art and craft. Editors and agents have long memories. Don’t stick out in theirs from sending out an amateurish manuscript. Make sure that what you send is the very best it can be, submitted in the most knowledgeable and professional way you can.

Best of luck!

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


Julie Tollefson said...

Excellent resources, Linda. I second the advice to become involved in professional organizations. Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America have been tremendous sources of help and support for me.

Tina Kashian said...

Great post. I agree about the recommendations to join professional organizations.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Great post, thanks. Professional organizations and writer's workshops, yes.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Julie, yes, professional organization membership is one of the best things you can do.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Tina, thanks! Professional organizations used to be most useful for folks who lived in major metropolitan areas that had local chapters, but now they offer so much help online that they're a huge help for everyone, even shut-ins.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks a lot, Margaret. Guppies chapter of SinC is a prime example of how much professional organizations offer.

KM Rockwood said...

This is an exhaustive and helpful resource for anyone seeking to publish a book. Thank you for sharing your experiences and suggestions.

Grace Topping said...

Very helpful. Thank you for sharing your years of experience.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thank you, KM and Grace!