How to get your first publisher

Since conceptualizing my first book, Tales from the Himalayas, to submitting my completed manuscript of 31,300 words to the publisher, it’s been a year-long journey. Exactly one year, actually.

If you’re wondering how I managed to write the book, find a publisher and submit it within the same year, here’s the secret:

1. Be willing to work on this book like its the ONLY thing you were born to do: Writing takes a lot out of you- mentally and emotionally, so you want to finish the project, you have to prioritize it above everything else. I prioritized it over spending time with my daughter, so I really mean business. Make a strict timetable and stick to it, say goodbye to any semblance of a social life and write write write.

2. Be clear about your genre, age group and target reader. The clearer you are about your work, the easier and faster it will be, to find a publisher. So take the time and effort to understand what you’re writing and who you’re writing for. You should be able to rattle off answers to these questions without hesitation:

– What is your book about? (If you can answer this in one sentence, you’ve struck gold)

– Who is it for? ( Be as specific as you can- go on, imagine the readers’ characters)

– Why did you write this particular story/ book? (What is your own motivation and reason for writing this book?- This will show your expertise or knowledge about the particular book you’re writing).

– Are there any other books in a similar genre out there in the market right now? (competitive analysis is a must)

Apart from working on answering these questions like a pro, also work on your author bio- list your credentials, any published work and show why a publisher should trust YOU to deliver this book.

3. Research publishers thoroughly: Once you’ve written a major chunk of your manuscript (ideally the first draft of the whole thing), and worked on understanding your own work well, get cracking on researching publishers. Make a list of ALL publishers in your market – domestic and international, including imprints and even small press publishers. EVERYONE.

Make it a point to visit each one of their websites and make notes about the kind of books they publish (maybe just a couple of bullet points for your reference).

Next, sift through the list to see which of these publishers are likely to pick up your genre and type of books. You must check their previously published work and get a sense of what they publish and more importantly, what they
don’t publish.

4. Targeted submissions: Only once you’ve shortlisted the publishers on the basis of their scope of publishing, start sending your book proposal (assuming you have a well-written book synopsis, first three chapters of your novel or a collection of short stories/ poems ready, along with your author profile) to the list.

Make the extra effort to write personalized cover letters to each of your publishers – please don’t send generic ones to all publishers. The lesser time and work you put into this email, the fewer your chances are – that’s the rule.

If you are detailed, thorough and show that you’ve done your research on the publisher before proposing your book, it will definitely win you brownie points – yes, even before your synopsis is read. Don’t miss this opportunity to impress!

5. Be open to criticism: Remember that no amount of positive feedback can help you as much as ONE constructive critique of your work. Do NOT get defensive if you come across publishers who have rejected your work and have been kind enough to share their opinion with you. These are industry experts so whatever feedback you’re getting from them, consider it a boon and WORK ON IT. Be open to changing things up, bending your own rules and rehashing your work according to feedback you get from publishers.

6. Don’t be discouraged by rejection: This is probably the most difficult thing to do. Yes, I know- ask me, I’ve been rejected by atleast 20 publishers before someone agreed to look at the whole manuscript. But as they say, 21st time is a charm, right! The key is to consider the feedback you’re getting and keep working on your manuscript and synopsis accordingly. Once you’re done with a round of modifications, send the manuscript around again. Optimism is often underrated.

Good luck and may the force be with you.

Harry Potter’s manuscript was rejected 12 times.
Imagine if JK Rowling had given up!