Good question. As publishing consultants, we get this a lot. Publishing can often seem like a mystery, and one of the biggest sources of confusion and frustration for an aspiring author is figuring out which agents or publishing houses are right for you. Here are some tips to determine where your book might find a happy home.
1. Go to the bookstore.
Yes, an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore. You could also hit up the library. Describe your book to the staff and ask for books similar to yours in topic, voice, concept, or physical format. Look at the shelves and find the titles that seem like the closest competition. Now, look at the spine, title page, or copyright page and note the publisher. If there is more than one book by the same publishing house, asterisk that name.
2. Look at acknowledgments page.
While you’re perusing the competition, look at the acknowledgments page. Unless the author had a falling out during the editing process or is an ingrate, both the agent and editor will be named. Write those down, as this will further assist you in sending out targeted submissions.
3. Subscribe to industry newsletters.
Publishers Lunch is a daily e-newsletter put out by Publisher’s Marketplace. For a small monthly fee, you can subscribe to it and search for recent book deals by key word, publisher, author, or agent. We recommend signing up for a month and doing some targeted research to further refine your submission list. Also check out Shelf Awareness, a free e-newsletter that offers similar information but doesn’t have a robust search engine.
4. Look at submission guidelines.
Now that you have your short list of publishers, finish up your research by going to each publisher’s website. Review the submission guidelines and see if they take unsolicited work. While you’re there, also look at their recently published books and mission statement. Do they jive with your book? If a publisher does not take un-agented submissions, all is not lost. Review agents (in them using steps 2 and 3). Check out their submission guidelines online, and consider submitting your proposal or query letter to them instead.
Jen Worick and Kerry Colburn are the dynamic duo behind The Business of Books, a publishing consulting company based in Seattle. They are hosting Get Published!: A Writers Retreat at Willows Lodge from January 23 to 24, 2016.