Industrial scale printing machinesBy now you would have realised there’s more than one route to getting your manuscript into print (along with a few dead ends). For many of you that path will be via a literary agent. If there is a very small market for your work, however, you are better off approaching a publisher directly, as there won’t be enough money to interest a literary agent in representing you. This is often the case if you write poetry, short stories, or very specialised non-fiction.

Before you start approaching publishers you need to do your homework. Many publishers, especially the large ones like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins, have multiple imprints. Imprints are different trade names that a publisher uses to publish different genres or to target different demographic segments. As a child, I always looked out for the puffin logo of Puffin Books and the distinctive ladybird on the cover and spine of Ladybird Books, both children’s imprints of Penguin Random House.

Each imprint specialises in its own niche area, and each has its own commissioning editors, so you need to know which imprints handle your genre of work. As well as making use of the internet, take a note of publishing houses, imprints and editors that are acknowledged in the books you read.

When you are approaching a publisher be sure to follow their submission guidelines. These vary, but the following requirements are standard:

  • Name and contact details on the front of the manuscript
  • Page number and title of work on each page
  • Black print
  • 12 point serif font e.g. Times New Roman
  • Wide margins
  • Double-spaced lines of type

These days publishers are generally happy to accept simultaneous submissions. If there is no mention of simultaneous submissions on a publisher’s website, send an email explaining that your manuscript is under consideration by other publishers and asking if they are still happy to see it. If the publisher’s website states that they accept simultaneous submissions, you still need to tell them that your manuscript is being considered elsewhere. If a publisher makes you an offer, you need to let the others know straight away so that they don’t continue investing time in your manuscript. If you don’t follow this etiquette you risk getting a bad reputation in the industry, something you really want to avoid.

If you are approaching publishers directly you need to be aware of ‘vanity presses’. Vanity presses invite writers to send in their manuscript and then charge them a fee to appraise, edit or publish their book. Because they make their money through fees, rather than through the sale of books, there is no incentive for them to market your book.

Vanity presses gained a reputation for charging high fees and having restrictive contracts. Be cautious of any publisher who charges a fee, and get legal advice before signing any contract.

Whether you choose to be represented by an agent, or prefer to approach publishers directly, I wish you the very best of luck on your journey into print.