Since the day more than 20 years ago when I sold my first novel, many people have come to me to ask this question. In most cases, I’m the only person they’ve ever met who has written a commercial novel, so they assume I’ll know everything they need to know and do to get their novel written and marketed.
Wrong; so sorry. When I hear the question, my first thought is usually, “It’s still a mystery to me. When you figure it out, let me know, okay?” The fact is, selling a novel to a commercial publisher is part skill, part luck, part who you know, and (I firmly believe) part cosmic alignment. Nevertheless, there are some hints that may help:
1. Decide on the genre of your book. I’ve heard many aspiring writers claim they are above genre. What they write has literary merit and is superior to anything with a one- or two-word descriptor on the spine. If you are writing publishable literary fiction, you don’t need or want the advice I have to offer here. If you are trying to publish commercial fiction, I promise you will find it much, much easier to place a book that fits a publisher’s perceived needs and known market.
If you’re in love with that new, ground-breaking idea, go for it. Just be aware that you may have to go to dozens of agents and/or editors before anyone is willing to take a risk on you. While folks in publishing all say they’re looking for the new and different, the fact is most of them have no idea what to do with anything really different. Fill the open slots in the publishers’ known line and you’ll have a much easier time getting your foot in the door.
2. Find a book that looks just like yours. That is, find a book (or even better, four or five of them) that look just like you want your finished, published book to look. See who the publisher is. Look up the web site for that publisher and study the submission guidelines. Many (perhaps most) publishers now accept only agented submissions, so go to agents’ web sites (look them up as “authors’ representatives) and take it from there.
3. Study your craft. Learn everything you can about what makes a good genre novel by reading and studying as many of them as you can. Some good books on writing can also offer excellent advice as you build your skills in building characters, plot, etc.
4. Go for it! Write and submit your book. If you have good fortune and the stars align, you may just have the success you long for. I wish you all the best.Do you have useful tips to offer or a success story to share? Please respond and share it.