How to Get a Publisher in 2023


Every day, eleven thousand books get published around the world.

Who’s to say your story can’t be among them?

If you’ve decided to get your book traditionally published, this article is for you. Together, we’ll discuss how to get a publisher, what you need to prepare for when looking for agents, and what happens during each step of the process.

There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get started!

Step 1: Read widely in your genre

Before you even begin to brainstorm which publishing companies you’d love to work with, there is one thing you need to be absolutely clear on.

What’s the genre of your manuscript? Is it light quirky fantasy? A feel-good romance? A narrative memoir?

Try your best to categorize it and keep an eye out for books that resemble yours. If there are two novels that are a bit like yours when blended together, all the better – publishers often enjoy pitches of this kind.

For instance, Alex Aster pitched her bestselling fantasy book Lightlark as “A Court of Thorns and Roses meets The Hunger Games”. Readers that are familiar with the genre – as well as agents and publishers, of course – see the intriguing potential arising from the mix, which posits Lightlark better on the market.

Step 2: Make your manuscript the best it can be

One draft and one round of editing won’t do.

Editors and agents are extremely busy nowadays, which means that they want your manuscript to be in absolutely top shape when it arrives in their email boxes.

Before you start sending out query letters, get another pair of eyes on your work, be it friends (who are honest), beta readers, or hired editors.

Step 3: Start sending query letters to agents

It’s common practice to have an agent: a professional person who knows the industry, sends your manuscript to publishers, negotiates on your behalf, and gets a certain percentage of your profit (only if you do make a profit – agents aren’t paid in advance, which is why they’re so selective about the authors they choose to represent).

Some popular websites to research literary agents are Query Tracker and Agent Query. You can also have a look around LinkedIn or turn to the bookshelf you have at home – most authors thank their literary agents in Acknowledgments.

When looking for an agent, pay special attention to the genres they curate and the requirements stated on their profile/website. You’re going to pour a lot of effort into querying, and it’d be a shame if you didn’t get a reply because you made formatting mistakes or didn’t follow directions.

Next comes the query letter. Most agents ask to see one; it’s essentially the first point of contact between the two of you.

A great query letter ought to contain:

  • A short synopsis (between 100-300 words is enough since it’s more of a blurb than a fully fleshed-out outline) that immediately hooks the agent
  • All the basic information, such as the title, the genre, and the word count
  • A short bio (mention any previously published works, rewards, or other relevant information)
  • A concise and professional conclusion

If there are no specific directions on the agent’s website, it also wouldn’t hurt to send over the first chapter. Some agents require a full-length synopsis alongside the query letter, which is usually 1-2 pages long.

For an example of a great query letter, see here.

Once you’ve sent your letter to some agents, it’s time to take a step back and let things unveil in their own time.

Step 4: Research & pitch to publishers

Great, you have an agent! This means the brunt of the work is on them as far as pitching is concerned. However, you don’t have to quietly sit by – you can keep researching publishers and learning more about the world of books.

Looking up publishing companies and figuring out which one you’d like best not only improves your standing with your agent – it shows you’re knowledgeable about the industry – but it also helps you navigate the publishing universe a bit better.

But how do you know where to look?

Well, first things first – you might have already heard about the Big 5:

  • HarperCollins
  • Penguin Random House
  • Hachette Livre
  • Macmillan
  • Simon & Schuster

These are the five biggest publishers you could possibly pitch to, and getting published with them might come with a sense of prestige, as well as a higher marketing budget.

But before you set your sights on the Big 5, there’s one tiny thing you need to consider – a large publisher doesn’t automatically guarantee massive levels of success.

In fact, there are two potential disadvantages.

One, these publishers are so huge that they don’t have enough time to give each novel enough time and consideration. If you’re not chosen as one of the big hits, you might get lost in the vast multitude of books that come out each year.

Two, while a big publisher is more likely to offer you a higher advance (this is the money you receive before you make any sales) for your book, it might also be harder to “earn out” and therefore secure your next book with the same publisher.

And what do I mean by “earning out”? Once your book hits the shelves, the profit the publishing house makes ought to surpass the advance they’ve paid you. This way, they get to actually profit. You usually only get earnings from royalties once you’ve earned out your advance.

If you choose a smaller indie publisher, the advance might be smaller, but there’s much more time for the editor to devote all their energy to your novel and do it justice. And since it’s easier to earn out, it’s also less difficult to secure another book deal.

A good way to find small publishers is to google “small/indie publishers” and [your location] OR [your genre]. For instance, I live in Scotland, so I could consider working with Fledgling Press or Birlinn.

What’s more, don’t think that it’s either the Big 5 or a small indie publisher. There are a lot of publishers in the middle tier – take Hot Key Books, the publisher of The Cruel Prince and Clap When You Land, or Titan Books, the publisher of V. E. Schwab’s novels.

In other words, there are plenty of options out there.

Step 5: Go on submission

You and your agent have now polished your manuscript to near perfection. I say “near” because once your book gets sold to a publisher, you will go through another round of edits with an editor.

But before that happens, you’ve got one last step left to go – the mysterious submission process. This is where your agent pitches your book to editors, who then go on to pitch it to the rest of the publishing team. They might also request some changes.

This stage can take months. It might be one month and it might also be six. What can I say? The publishing world moves slowly. It takes a lot of patience to become an author.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel! If the submission process goes well, you’ll get a book deal by the end of it.

And then it’s time to work with an editor, which means you have to rip your book apart and put it carefully back together once again. But that’s a topic for another day.

How to Get a Publisher: A Quick Recap & Tips

Since an agent takes care of a huge chunk of the pitching and selling process, your main responsibilities are to:

  • Complete your manuscript and give it all you have
  • Categorize your manuscript and read widely within its genre
  • Research literary agents
  • Craft an amazing query letter
  • Get used to the idea that agents and editors will want to “kill your darlings” – from now on, the book is a collaborative process

Of course, you don’t always have to get an agent (although it’s highly recommended). Some publishing houses accept so-called “unsolicited manuscripts”, which means you can just directly submit what you’ve written.

To name just a few publishers who do this:

…and many more. If a publishing house accepts your unsolicited manuscript, you typically don’t have to go on submission because you just get a book deal directly.

However, getting an agent is almost always an advantage because it means you have someone knowledgeable on your side. They’ll negotiate your terms, read through your contracts, and help you every step of the way.


Before we part for today, I have one last tip to give you – don’t feel like you have to follow the trends within your genre. Publishing takes such a long time that by the time your book is out, the trend might already be over.

At the time of writing this article, fairies and witches are in vogue. By the time you read this, they might already be out of style.

So write what you want to write. Write what sets your soul ablaze. Write and give it all you have. If you don’t give up, the day might come when you enter a bookstore and see your own story on the shelves.

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