Once a week or so, we receive a request from an author wondering whether we'd be interested in publishing their novel—or, if not, whether we'd give them some advice about what they should do. So, since all our times are precious, we thought we'd lay out all we know about the business of getting your novel published.
First of all, you need to know that the publishing industry is going through a lot of changes at the moment, which makes it a very uncertain time to be a writer seeking publication of any sort. In addition, long-form fiction is perhaps the hardest form in which to get published, so the important first task is to make sure that you have done everything you can to make your novel is as good as it can be:
- Have you written/edited your novel to your complete satisfaction? If not, then hire yourself a professional editor to help you. Don't waste your time in presenting to an agent or publisher a manuscript you know isn't the best you can produce. Join a writers' group, or start one. Ask or pay disinterested, thoughtful people to read your work and accept criticism gracefully. Work hard! If you don't want to push yourself to help yourself, why should you expect others to do it?
- Is this the final form for your work? This point, of course, is related to the one above, but it bears reiterating. Is your "novel"—with a bit more work—really a collection of short stories, or a play, a film script, or perhaps performance piece? Might what you have to say be better disseminated through another medium: blogs, podcasts, videos, live shows, readings, workshops, etc.? Try out your ideas with others in some form, before attempting to get the work "finalized" in print.
- Does your novel belong to a genre (thriller, detective, romance, etc.)? If so, investigate your market, and get to know well the publishers, agents, and other authors, so you can broaden and then refine your search for the right publisher or agent. Go to the conventions, read the journals, visit the websites, join the listservs, chat-groups, social media sites, and LinkedIn group connected to your subject or genre.
- Are you willing to publicize and promote your work? Publishers and agents want to know you're on the circuit, reaching your audience. If you do the above, you should be in a good position to do this!
- Have you thought about self-publishing? A surprisingly large number of successful and/or well-known authors began by publishing themselves, and then hitting the road and selling their work. When they became well-known, the rights to their works were bought by publishers.
If you follow all these points, you should have a very clear idea what options are available to you as a writer.