September marks the beginning of Spring in my home state, and the arrival of the Tasmanian Writers’ Festival. This year, I was lucky enough to score a place in a masterclass on becoming published, run by Bradley Trevor Greive. If you don’t know the name, he’s the world’s best-selling humorist, with 24 books published and having sold more than 30m copies in over 115 territories. That’s a lot of books — if anyone could help me understand the publishing industry better (and how to get my books published) it’s him.
The session did not disappoint. My debut novel (Human Resources) has been picked up by a publisher, but that contract came via a writing competition, rather than the traditional submission / rejection cycle, so I had a huge amount to learn. I still have a huge amount to learn, but I know a lot more than I did before the session.
The great news is BTG is a wonderful person who gave me permission to share his most useful tips on my blog, so here we are. Absolutely all credit goes to Mr. Greive, who not only shared this content, but was generous to donate his time at the festival so the proceeds could go towards the local writing community.
Note: the following has been written by me from the notes I took during the session, it isn’t an exact reproduction of BTG’s words (nor the entire course). I feel the need to point this out so you understand: a) any genius here is all his; and b) anything that doesn’t make sense, or is plain wrong, is my error.
Further note: if you ever get the opportunity to attend a masterclass with BTG — I strongly recommend doing so.
Yet another note: this post is entirely concerned with the traditional publishing process. That’s not a judgment on other avenues to publishing (after all, my debut has taken a non-traditional path), they’re just out of scope this time.
“There is no such thing as a lone wolf.” I’m paraphrasing BTG here as I can’t remember the exact words, but the message is important (and mirrors my experience); making a book is a team effort. Even if you write a perfect manuscript, there are a myriad of tasks that must be done to make it a successful book. Self-published authors take on many of the activities usually handled by a publisher, but even there, the most successful usually rely on others for at least part of the process. So, if you're building a team, you need to know who the players are…
When I started this process, I had little idea how the publishing process worked, nor how publishing houses were structured. Here’s the basic departments:
There are a range of publishers out there, both large and small. Don’t be surprised if smaller publishers in particular outsource some of the above.
This is important, and will be mentioned again later. There are two parts to this:
This was an eye-opener for me. The process from submission to book publishing in a traditional publisher is likely longer than you thought. Here’s what the process may look like:
How long each step of the process takes can vary greatly, but here are some rough guides to set expectations:
There’s a heap to unpack here — people have written numerous books on this alone, so again, these are only the top tips I came away with. First up, your overarching strategy:
Sending out your manuscript to every publishing house you can find like the wild spray of a machine gun is considered unprofessional and can burn bridges. If you want to go down the traditional publishing route, you are looking to build long-term relationships. Do your research, select your target, hunt them down, one by one. No simultaneous submissions.
Remember, publishers are people, not companies. Finding the right editor / publisher is much more important than the imprint they work for, so do your research, build a hit list of editors you would love to work with, and approach them specifically — regardless of which imprint they work for, even if some work at the same publisher.
How do you identify the editors you want to work with? Research your favorite contemporary books from a relevant genre, who were the editors? Often, the author thanks them in the acknowledgements, so check there first, but the internet is a vast and beautiful resource. Build up your list, identifying the publishing house they’re currently at (for contact details, and to ensure you obey the submission guidelines). When you submit your proposal to them, don’t forget to include why you want to work with them.
As an author, your relationship with your editor (and agent) is the most important professional relationship you will have. Pick these people carefully and treat them with respect. Which brings us to a very important rule: “Never sign on with an agent / editor / publisher whom you wouldn’t invite home to dinner.”
That’s it for now. The session also included detailed tips and guidance on how to structure and write a proposal, but I’ll leave that topic for another time. I hope you find this helpful. Again, I want to acknowledge and thank Bradley Trevor Greive for donating his time to the Tasmanian Writers’ Festival, and for giving me permission to share my take-aways. Buy his books.
Also, check out my debut novel, the sci-fi Human Resources, coming out early 2018.