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Do I need a publisher?

Finding A Publisher

Alexandra Pringle (Editor in Chief) gives expert video advice on: What are publishers not looking for?; Where or how do I find a publisher?; What are the most common stumbling blocks for new writers trying to get published? and more...

Do I need a publisher?

The answer to do I need a publisher is yes you do. On the whole you do. You can try publishing yourself directly onto the internet and I think that on the whole you just won't be read. You can publish yourself and some people have been successful doing that. In fact, there have been two book price short lists who have self published and they were very successful. But on the whole, I think that an author needs all the things that a publisher can offer, and that's not just being able to put it between hardcovers or soft covers. It's the whole editorial process. An enormous amount of work goes into making a book just right, but also it's making the book look good, getting the design right, knowing about the book trade, knowing how to publicize a book, how to market a book, how to get a book into bookshelves, which is increasingly difficult in these days when the chains only want the big books. They're very very much, not against, but hard to bring around to new writers, to new voices. So, really an author needs the might and muscle of a publisher, a publishing company to get their voice heard.

What are the steps in the publishing process?

The steps of the publishing process from when the contract is made are: the editing of the book, the design of the jacket and the writing of the blurb on the jacket, which is the description of the book and a little description of the author, which goes on the back flap if the book is going into hardback. Then, the editor gets to the process of getting the book into bound proof, which looks like a real book, but it's not. What the publisher does is publish about 200 copies with a different cover, and these are uncorrected proofs, so not the final version of the book. This is months before the publication of the book. They are sent out to magazines and some editors, and to bookshops, to try to get bookshops to read it and get behind it. The editor will send the book out to other writers, if it's written by a first-time writer, because you want to get quotes on the book, you want to get other writers to say it is wonderful and the most exciting book they've read in years... etc. etc. These proofs are very important things in publishing. They have to be designed and look good. The other steps in publishing involve all the different departments communicating to the production department, in order to get the book to physically impress - get the typesetting, correct it, the book bound up, etc. There's also the rights department that sell 'sale of' rights if they can; to sell it to America, to all countries of the world that you can sell it to, and maybe film a television or radio reading. Then there's the publicity department, who are in touch with the press and try to get profiles of the authors placed in the national press. They get the book out to magazines, to all the local and national newspapers, and also television and radio. The publishing department try to exploit every possible aspect of what is, essentially, free publicity, because it's very difficult to have enough money to spend on advertising. That's the marketing which is getting the book into the shops, trying to get it into the deals - the 3 for 2 deals, posters and advertising, if you've got the budget for that. Those are just some of the stages of publishing. There are a lot of them.

What are publishers not looking for?

Publishers are not looking for bad writing. They're not looking for books that won't sell. You need to be able to sell enough of a book at least to break even, and that's quite a difficult thing to do. Publishers are not looking for authors who are going to make your life a misery.

Do different publishers specialise in different things?

Sometimes there are very specialist niche publishers, like the reference publishers, medical publishers or legal publishers. There are also what we call general trade publishers, and Bloomsbury is one of those. Usually they are big corporations and they have lots of different companies within them. If, for example, it's Random House publishers, within them there are the more commercial sides which house Heinemann, Hutchinson and Century, and they have Hour which is their paperback arm. The more literary side is Cape, Chateau and Bodley Head, and they have vintages for their paperback arm. There are lots of different towns and villages within most of the publishing companies. Bloomsbury is just one company, but we have our children's division, and most general publishers really publish fiction and non-fiction for what we call the general audience, rather than a specialist audience.

Can I submit work without a literary agent?

Apart from using a literary agent, you can send your manuscript to a publisher unsolicited and then it goes onto what's elegantly called the slush pile. That means that it is going to have a very, very, very slim chance of getting made public, because of sheer volume of work that comes in on the slush pile. It makes it impossible for the publishing editors to attend to it properly. They get a huge amount of submissions from the literary agents alone. Obviously, if somebody has contact with somebody, that is a help, or knows somebody who knows somebody; any way of arresting the attention of the publisher is useful. Really there is nothing that substitutes a literary agent, unless it is a unique book that is immediately apparent. For example Ben Schotts sent in Schotts' Original Miscellany to us without an agent. He had done the book himself; he had literally type set it, and it was Xeroxed, but he designed it and it was clear within two minutes of looking at it that this book was an extraordinary thing. We've got a book we are publishing next year then it is the same thing. You could tell on sight what it was. It's also possible to get published using a blog. People often use blogs as a way of getting a publishing company and it's becoming an increasing successful way. It is possible, but it is hard.

What are the most common stumbling blocks for new writers trying to get published?

The most common stumbling block when trying to get a book published is in finding a literary agent. They, like publishers, are inundated by manuscripts. The problem is that everybody thinks they've got a book in them and too many people try to publish them. There are so many that are very bad and it's a sifting process. There's also something of taste. You know one literary agent might love something and another might hate something. It doesn't mean that the book is bad or good; it means that it's not the taste. As an editor, I have read manuscripts and thought, "This is very good and I know it's going to get published, but I don't love it and so I'm not the person to be the champion for the book." So I turn it down. That's one of the reasons why an agent is important, because they know the taste of publishers. They can guess who is the more likely person to like a book. That said, it's very hard and sometimes it can take a long time to find that editor who's going to fall in love and champion that book.