- Consider self-publishing before--or while--you look for a publisher. Prospective publishers will look more favorably on you if you have established a track record of being able to sell your work. You don't have to sell thousands of copies to impress a publisher--a few hundred, steady sales, or a profitable project will do. On the other hand, if you think you can find a publisher who can sell your book when you can't, you are dreaming.
- Identify likely publishers from the get-go. Go to the library or online to identify prospective publishers in such resources as The Writer's Market. Look for publishers who express some interest in what you're writing about and who you're writing to. For this, we prefer smaller "niche publishers" to larger "trade publishers." The former have a stronger focus and are more likely to be interested in your book and to keep it in print for a longer period of time. Skip the publishers who look only at manuscripts submitted by agents--unless of course you are using an agent.
- Write a good proposal. Your proposal should contain a descriptive working title and subtitle, a coherent summary of what you are saying, who you are saying it to, and how your book will change their lives. Include a descriptive Table of Contents that shows where the editor where you are taking your reader. You will send this proposal, along with a short cover letter, and however many chapters (usually one, two, or three) the particular publisher wants to see. Publishers almost never want to see the entire manuscript. (If you want, you can have a competent copy editor work over your manuscript. However, if your content is clear, this is probably not necessary. Unless you are submitting literature, the acquisition editor is unlikely to care how well you dot your eyes and cross your tees. That will be taken care of later.}
- Follow up. If you've submitted your manuscript to a big New York publisher, you probably won't get anywhere by telephoning the publisher and asking for the editor. However, if you've submitted your manuscript to a small niche publisher, you have a good chance of talking to someone who might be interested in talking to you about your project--especially if you've done your homework and targeted likely publishers.
- Check 'em out. If you've managed to interest a publisher, you then need to decide if this publisher is really right for you. The temptation will be to go with anyone who is interested--because chances are there will be only one--but one bad marriage is not in your interest. You still have the option of going it alone. Make sure:
- The publisher publishes in your area of expertise. If she doesn't, why is she interested in your book?
- The publisher has a track record. If your publisher is just starting out, he may have no idea what he is getting into and probably doesn't.
- The publisher has a clear way of marketing books like yours and/or to readers like you intend to reach. Don't expect your publisher to pull out all the publicity stops for your books. Generally, it doesn't work that way. Successful publishers are good at marketing multiple products--books, for example--to customers eager to buy more than one item for them. Look at your potential publisher's catalog, website, events, and exhibits and ask yourself if your book makes sense there. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. At least ask your potential publisher, again, why she is interested.
- The publisher seems to care about building relationships with authors. If he doesn't seem interested in your work, he probably isn't all that interested in you or your book that much either.
Ken Guentert, The Publishing Pro.