Publishing Questions Answered
Our Publishing FAQs page has been designed to share over 20 years’ experience of working with writers. In the answers to your most frequently asked questions we will also guide you to some of the best resources in the publishing industry that we find invaluable ourselves. If you’d like to read TLC Service FAQs, you can do so here.
We hope you find what you are looking for here but if not please contact us.
Writing and Publishing Advice
A Literary Agent represents writers and their work to publishing houses. A good agent will have a thorough understanding of the market, they will know the most suitable editors to approach for each manuscript, and will have good connections with the same. They will be well experienced in negotiating the best commercial deals. They will take a percentage cut from the sale of any work, of 10-15% usually. It is their job to try to get you as good a deal as possible. Reputable agents are usually members of the Association of Authors’ Agents, which is a vehicle for representing the interests of agents and authors.
Not all agents are the same, however. Some will be able to offer more focussed editorial support; others may be more specialist in marketing. Broadly speaking, agents will specialise in certain areas of writing e.g. fiction, non-fiction, children’s and so on. However, while some agents will only be interested in crime or fantasy, for example, most will not be so specific and will be open to a more diverse range of commercial and literary fiction.
The answer to this question depends, in part, on the type of book you have written. If you have written a fairly mainstream book, including all types of fiction, popular non-fiction, biography, auto-biography, memoir and so on, then it is likely you will have more luck on the open market with a Literary Agent. This is because the vast majority of publishers of the kind of material listed above no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. Whilst this is certainly true of the large publishing houses, you may find smaller presses happy to read un-agented material.
An exception to the rule would be if you have written a very specialised work of non-fiction, in which case you could approach the publisher directly, clearly identifying the gap in the market you intend to fill. It is also the case that publishers of books for younger children can often be targeted directly.
If you feel that you are able to manage yourself as a self-published writer, you may wish to consider independent publishing. You can find information about self-publishing through support organisations such as the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). It is important to note that you will still need to ensure your manuscript is in the best possible shape before your self-published book goes on sale. We at TLC will be able to help you through your editorial requirements, from assessment to copy editing.
If you do decide to approach publishers directly and are fortunate enough to be taken on you should be aware that you will now be responsible for the work that an agent would normally do. So you should have a thorough understanding of how the publishing industry works, be able to negotiate a good commercial deal and be versed in the intricacies of a publishing contract, among other things. The Society of Authors, an organisation set up to protect the rights of writers, provide an individual contract vetting service.
You should only send your work to agents when it is completely ready and of as high a standard as you can possible make it. Agents do not have the time to look closely for the hidden potential in every writer who approaches them; generally they want to see a manuscript that is in a good enough shape to submit to publishers, and so needs as little work as possible. Organisations such as The Literary Consultancy can help a writer be sure their manuscript is in the best possible shape to send out. You may not need to come to us but, either way, do make sure you have given it your best shot. With agents receiving so many manuscripts every week, they will be looking for any reason to discard a submission, so ensure yours is free of typing errors and extremely well presented. We cannot stress enough how important this is.
If you have written fiction, then most agents will ask for a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters. Do always check each agency’s submission guidelines before you post or email the package as these will differ. You must make sure the rest of the manuscript is completely ready (as polished as the first three chapters) in case the agent asks to see the whole thing.
If you have written non-fiction and can persuade an agent you are the best person to write the book, they may be able to sell your work on the strength of a synopsis and strong extract (called a ‘partial’) only. With fiction, it is important that the whole novel is ready as it is frustrating for agents to call in work only for the author to admit that it isn’t ready.
Of course there is no sure-fire answer this question. It is extremely difficult to acquire the services of an agent. Each agent will receive thousands of submissions a year and will probably take on less than a handful of new clients. The Literary Consultancy established itself to try to give honest feedback to people writing so that they had a better idea of their chances before sending out to busy agents. In exceptional cases, we can also help forward work. Otherwise you can approach agents directly yourselves.
Firstly you should make sure you are targeting the right people. Read and re-read the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook as a starting point. Then spend time in a good bookshop looking for books not only that are similar to your own but also that you particularly admire. Find out who the author’s agent is by reading the Acknowledgements page, or by searching on the internet. When you have a shortlist of suitable agents to contact, send them a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of your manuscript. (See How do I write a cover letter and How do I write a synopsis for more information.) Your manuscript should be typed in a 12 point font, double-spaced, and with reasonable margins. Include a title page with your name and address and the word count. If an agent wants to read more they will ask you for the rest of the manuscript, which should be completely ready to send and of the same quality as the first three chapters.
It’s really important to remember, when approaching agents, that you are trying to build what will hopefully be a long lasting relationship with them. If you are lucky enough to be taken on you will have to have a rapport with your agent and trust them to make the right decisions.
Be patient as it can take any time from a couple of weeks to a few months before you receive a reply. Agents are extremely busy people taking care of their current list of clients, so the so-called ‘slush pile’ isn’t necessarily the priority. If you have heard nothing after two months, sending a polite enquiry letter or email is acceptable.
A synopsis is an essential part of your submission and it is intended to let an agent or publisher know what type of book you have written, in a concise and interesting way. Its purpose is to tell not to sell the story. A synopsis should cover one A4 page and is usually written in the present tense. You should begin with a short summary (really just a paragraph of 30-75 words) of the whole book. This should include the approximate length (also referred to as ‘extent’) and, most importantly, the genre. This paragraph should be followed by a more detailed description covering the overall story arc of the main characters and the main plot points. You should also explain why this is interesting. Do not be tempted to turn your synopsis into a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. A synopsis shouldn’t be written like the blurb on the back of a book either, the purpose of which is to tempt potential readers. So always reveal the ending.
Non-fiction submissions work slightly differently so there is no need to write a synopsis as described above. Instead you need to put forward a proposal. This will be made up of a cover letter, including a brief biography of yourself, which explains why you are qualified to write this particular book, and is clear about the potential market. You will then need to provide a list of contents, a chapter-by-chapter breakdown and a sample chapter. As agents are often prepared to sell a work of non-fiction on the proposal alone, and because editors can often be approached directly, a non-fiction proposal is very much a selling device and so should be made very persuasive.
This should be straight-forward and relatively business like. Keep it brief and try to exude confidence but not arrogance. You should address it to a particular person: no Dear Sir/Madam. Firstly you need to explain what kind of book you have written and also why you thought that particular agent would be interested in it. Include a brief section about yourself, but try and make this relevant. An agent doesn’t want to know your whole life story but will be interested in whether you have ever had an article or short story published, for example. Also, unless you have good reason to, it’s best to avoid making extravagant claims such as, “think of this book as a cross between Salman Rushdie and Philip Roth with a bit of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure.” Lastly, it’s best not to mention that your mother/wife/husband/grandchildren etc loved it.
A lot of publishers will no longer look at unsolicited (un-agented) manuscripts so you will need to find an agent first. However, there are certainly exceptions, for instance in cases where the publisher is smaller, independent, or dealing in a niche of the market, and so less likely to work with agents. Special-interest non-fiction, for instance, is often submitted direct.
Please see, Do I need a Literary Agent? for more details.
TLC has strong links with many agents and publishers and has helped many writers get into print (See Success Stories). However, we only take work forward if we think it is completely ready and sure to generate interest. This decision is made after a TLC assessment has been produced and we have had a discussion with the client. This is not part of our general service and is obviously not something we can guarantee. TLC is aware of the demands of the industry and will not make irresponsible suggestions for clients wishing to approach agents and publishers. It also has its reputation to protect so when TLC does submit work it is taken seriously.
Quality manuscripts are passed on to TLC’s Quality Manuscript Liaison Officer who will be in touch with the writer to discuss the most suitable strategy and approach. TLC might then submit the manuscript to suitable agents, on behalf of the writer, or alternatively, we may advise on alternate routes into publication where suitable and appropriate, etc., self-publishing or via an alternate digital platform.
It should be said that even if we champion your work, the unpredictability of the publishing industry means that you may not find representation, and even when an agents takes you on, it is not a certainty that he/she will be able to sell your work. The publishing industry is changing rapidly. Please see our list of Events, some of which try to help you think what this may mean to you.
It depends on how many times you have been rejected and what you mean by ‘give up’. It can be very difficult knowing when to let go of work and move on. Often years of work has gone into producing something, and facing rejection can be traumatic. However, professional writers have usually been rejected many times before success and recovering from rejection is vital if you are to succeed. It may also be important to learn your limitations – at TLC, we believe this is crucial. If you have only been turned down by a few agents then really you can afford to continue submitting. However, if you have received say 20 rejections then you should begin to think that there might be something that is not working with your submission. It is true that some writers, including J.K. Rowling, have been rejected many times, but at the same time it could be a mistake thinking you are a neglected genius as opposed to someone who has to either do more work or face up to reality. If you are fed up with and confused by rejection then TLC can certainly help. Or, we may help you decide whether you should put a particular manuscript aside and start something else. Many writers find that it is their second or third or even fourth novels that are accepted, and when they return to that initial submission languishing under their bed, realise it really wasn’t good enough to be published anyway.
Publishing is a big business and hundreds of manuscripts are rejected every day. It is a harsh reality and one that a writer needs to prepare themselves for. This cannot be stressed enough. Think of TLC as a safe play-ground!
There will always be books that are not suitable for mainstream publication. Traditionally, this has often had to do with the writer’s lack of experience or indeed talent, but nowadays his could also be the case for talented writers whose subject matter does not have the right market appeal for a bigger publishing house, or even writers whose work might do better at finding a readership in alternate environments. At TLC we are particularly interested in this stream of writers and the options available to them.
Self-publication is available to everyone, but at a cost. It is important to self-publish ethically and safely (the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors can provide guidance here) and to beware of vanity publishers looking to make money off unsuspecting writers, but it’s also important to identify areas of investment as a smart self-publisher, including calling in professional editing and design services to make sure your book is of as high a quality as possible. You may also find smart marketing strategies that might also require some investment, though of course do beware of scams.
If you choose to self-publish, it is important to understand that you will be acting as a publisher would and as such are in charge of ensuring quality and efficiency across all aspects of the publication process, from editorial to design via distribution, marketing, publicity, rights and royalties. With current technology and publishing services and platforms available, you can choose whether to handle all aspects yourself or to outsource. Depending on how you manage this, the costs will vary greatly. You will need to take into account an overall budget and be mindful on keeping on top of every aspect of your self-publishing process.
TLC has close connections with some self-publishing platforms and freelancers we trust; we are happy to refer you to these organisations and professionals, so please do ask.
A vanity publisher is one that poses as a serious publisher but often has no literary knowledge. Their main aim is to extract money – up-front – from a writer to produce the book (when, of course, it should be that a writer is paid for publication). They will make no attempt to actually sell copies of the published book. It is important to be extremely cautious in cases where a publisher asks for money up-front. We would advise you to get professional advice where needed on contracts, too, as it’s important you are fully aware before signing up to anything that may later cause legal problems. You can contact the Society of Authors if you have a problem around contracts or legal issues.
For a comprehensive explanation of this topic, and for a list of Vanity publishers best avoided, see www.vanitypublishing.info/
The commercial market for poetry is incredibly small and so it is highly unusual for a poet to have an agent, or for a first-time poet to be published by any of the mainstream poetry presses with a full collection. What is more important to a new poet is developing poetry-writing skills through courses, workshops and feedback, and amassing ‘credits’ in poetry magazines. Profile is incredibly important, and once you have a good portfolio of work you will then be in a better position to submit an initial pamphlet or chapbook, and then a collection. Publications that are well-respected such as The Rialto, Ambit, Modern Poetry, Poetry London, Poetry Review are worth submitting to, though highly competitive; these credits are valuable for any potential press looking at your work. If you are just starting out, then do look at small presses as well as online zines. A good list of UK-based poetry magazines can be found here. You need to build up a name for yourself and will stand a much better chance with the larger presses if you can prove you have a strong publishing track record. Getting to readings and open mic nights can also help raise your profile, and the spoken word scene in the UK is particularly vibrant.
Unfortunately, a lot of publishers tend to be uninterested in short stories as they don’t sell particularly well so it is unlikely that a publisher will take on a collection from a first-time writer. Like poetry, it is important to prove a publishing track-record through publication in magazines or success in competitions. Look out for magazines such as Mslexia, The London Magazine and Stand. Some good independent presses such as Salt and Comma want to publish more short stories, so again, look out for the smaller presses.
ShortStops is an excellent resource for short story writers, or check out WordFactory who publish a monthly round-up of short story opportunities. A comprehensive list of short story magazines can be found here.
Writing is a solitary craft and many – if not most – writers seek privacy and peace and quiet to write in. However, when your work is in development, it can be hugely productive to talk about, read and share your work with other writers. Learning to take criticism and the adventure of seeing your work transformed by other people’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of it can be very valuable.
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who writes on an assigned topic under someone else’s name (with consent) and to the client’s specifications. They often write books completely from scratch but sometimes the work involves re-writing an existing work. They are usually employed for the work of famous people, whose work will sell if they have written it themselves or not. However, if you wish to self-publish you may also wish to employ a ghostwriter to help you. This can be expensive, and we would only recommend it in circumstances where writers know what they are letting themselves in for. TLC can recommend a ghostwriter in exceptional circumstances. See Other Editorial Services for more information.
Genre is the word used to classify the subject matter and style of your book. It is extremely important to correctly identify the genre you are writing in as it will influence the whole of the creative and publishing process from the style and structure you follow when writing, to who will take your book on, who they will sell it to, how it will be marketed, the way it will be designed and where it will be sold.
A basic list of genres includes literary fiction, commercial women’s fiction, crime, thriller, psychological thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, detective, historical, chick-lit, lad lit, romance, erotic, saga, comic. For excellent descriptions of various genres you can refer to The Oxford Companion to English Literature.
Your manuscript is automatically copyrighted the moment you create it. So, copyright is yours as soon as anything is recorded on paper or disc or on a computer.
There is no need to take further action. However, if you are particularly anxious about copyright you can post yourself a copy of your manuscript and keep the package unopened. The postmark will then prove when you created the work. If you have a solicitor you can also send them a date copy for safekeeping. All electronic files stored on your computer will be date-marked, though bear in mind that if you make alterations, the date will change to the last point of editing.