How to Get the Right Publisher or Literary Agent for Your Book

Woman writing at a desk.

We often get asked about how to find a traditional publisher or a literary agent. For many new authors, getting published with a traditional press or having an agent to represent them is the ultimate dream!

But finding the right publisher or agent can sometimes be a difficult and frustrating process, especially because there are just so many predatory vanity or hybrid presses out there. (The SFWA’s Writer Beware site is a great resource to dive into, by the way.)

Here’s our advice for writers looking to traditionally publish: 

You don’t necessarily need to have an agent. 

Many publishing houses still accept unsolicited submissions from authors who do not have agents. The bigger publishing houses that require an agent to submit a vetted manuscript will usually specify this on their website.

That said, we think your best bet is to do some initial research on which publishing companies are currently best suited to publish your book. A great starting place to research Canadian publishers is the Association of Canadian Publishers directory

For some databases and places to start your literary agent search, Erika has rounded up some good resources here.

Think about it like starting a friendship. You want to find a friend who has similar interests as you. You want to build a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.

The idea is to pitch your book to a publishing house that publishes the type of book you’ve written (or at least would be a good general fit). A publisher that focuses on a specific type of genre fiction will likely reject anything that doesn’t fit with its typical list. It is much easier to pitch to a company that has sold and marketed the genre you write in.

Desk with open journal and pen.

Tips on submitting manuscripts to publishers

You generally don’t have to submit a full manuscript to a publishing company with your submission. In fact, it’s mostly discouraged.

Usually they’ll ask for a cover letter and a sample (but not the full manuscript). The cover letter is basically your marketing pitch to convince the assistant reading it (it’s never going to be someone at the top of the editorial food chain) that it’s a viable book for their list.

They should be enticed enough to want to read more, and have enough ammo to be able to possibly bring it up in a staff meeting or forward it to the managing editor as a strong possibility.

Some publishers, and agencies especially, may ask for a formal proposal (usually for nonfiction), and we find crafting a strong proposal can be a really helpful step to take for an author setting out to publish traditionally. After you’ve written the whole proposal, you can crib parts of it depending on what the specific publisher is asking for.

Whether it’s a cover letter and one chapter or a whole book proposal with a marketing plan, be sure to follow exactly whatever instructions are given on the submission guidelines for a publishing house or literary agency. Submissions and proposals will generally be rejected immediately if they don’t follow the guidelines.

Where are you headed?

So many writers struggle with learning how to build relationships with publishers or agents. And we get it. Because it’s not about plot or grammar or the nuances of dialogue, and seems to be outside the writer’s wheelhouse.

But knowing how to effectively network and pitch a book are key skills for any writer who wants to traditionally publish. 

Let us know in the comments if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher. And be sure to check out our editing or coaching services if you’d like more focused help with your cover letter or proposal. 

We’re here for you!

Jon + Erika

Creative Cross-Training for Writers: Start a writing habit in 21 days and unlock your creativity by writing in different short forms. Gain traction on your bigger writing project by practicing our ‘creative cross-training’ method. Check out our course!

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