This question came from Evelyn over Twitter and it's a good one. The answer is both simple and complicated.
Getting published is a big challenge. Difficult? Yes. Not for the faint of heart? Certainly. Impossible? Never!
I repeat: getting published for the first time is NOT impossible. Like anything, it helps to know your options.
First thing’s first. How did I get published?
Let’s get real for a second. I was incredibly lucky. And connected.
This part is sort of important. As with any field, it's really helpful to have a connection or two. I had been writing for Alex Pettyfer’s production company, developing scripts, treatments etc. And before that I worked for a handful of years in entertainment making books for kids under a brand name. And before that I freelanced a lot, dabbled in various fields, and completed 2 degrees. So in all honesty, I had been writing for a while.
The other key ingredient: I was also resourceful. Before working with Alex to publish Blood, Ink & Fire, I had gotten feedback from agents, other writers, editors, and a group of 100 beta readers. I had put myself out there and grown a loyal following for the book over social media. That helped set me apart so that when it came time to approach Alex about the work, I had a compelling offering.
But despite all of that, I was still incredibly fortunate that my first novel ever saw the light of day.
Truth time. It wasn’t my first. I’d written it and rewritten it twice before. Once in 2008. Again in 2011. And a final time, determined to “get it right” in 2014. Each time the novel drastically evolved. I evolved. Now I see that this process was necessary.
Should everyone write their novel three times? No. That’s just what I had to do to learn what I needed to learn. I’m still learning.
But let’s say you’re like the me of 2014. You have a finished work you know readers will love. You have let it rest. You have revised it. You have edited it. You have copy edited it. You likely do not yet have an agent but you want to get your work out there. What are your options?
Well, there are several well-worn paths to publishing. I talk about those here.
If you want to be traditionally published, either by one of the big five houses, a small-midsize established house, or even some indie houses you will likely need an agent. This, in my view, is one of the more challenging paths to being published because it will involve querying many agents and probably a lot of rejection.
Good news for writers is that there are now numerous other options out there. I’m not going to talk about self-publishing here, because there are boundless articles that detail that process, as well as those that explain the process of getting an agent and going the traditional route. They are both well-trodden paths.
What I’m going to talk about instead are those “middle ground” options that fall somewhere between the gaping divide of traditional and self publishing. They are as yet quite new, fairly uncharted territory. Personally, I think these are much more exciting.
I want to demonstrate to you that there are increasingly more and more options to becoming a published author. They are out-of-the-box ideas. And I bet you haven’t thought of them!
Before I list these, let me say that I have not been paid or compensated in any way to recommend, write about, or suggest these companies/brands/publishers to you. I am not formally affiliated with any of them, and I write about them below without any attachment. They're just sites/companies/publishers that I think are cool and want to share. :)
1) Inkitt.com: The “Data-Driven” Agent-Publisher Hybrid
Inkitt is doing something really interesting. They are combining open writing/publishing platforms with content curation and traditional publishing. They are like Wattpad, but with a watchful big-brother type system that detects well-liked stories from their community and selects them for publishing, much like a traditional agent would. Their three-step plan on their website looks like this:
1. Write and publish your story on Inkitt
2. If readers like your story our AI system will detect it
3. We offer you a publishing deal
After the deal is made, Inkitt helps get your book 1) edited and reviewed 2) pitched to major publishers 3) published by one of the majors or by them 4) sold to readers. It’s a totally new model and worth a look.
2) Paper Lantern - The Literary Incubator
Paper Lantern has been around for a while now, but they’ve set out to do something new. They call themselves a “literary incubator” and profess that while they don’t take finished manuscripts, they "are looking for writers to write books" based on ideas developed in-house, which they then sell to publishers. The “architects” behind the enterprise are Lexa Hillyer and Lauren Oliver, two well established authors with major titles and houses behind them. While it may not be the dream publishing contract you’re looking for, if you have talent and are willing to work hard, it could be a great place to get your first published title under your belt.
3) Oftomes - Micro/Social Media-Based Publishing
Who doesn’t love book tuber and YA bibliophile Ben Alderson or as he’s more fondly known, Benjamin of Tomes? This year, Ben did something awesome and launched his very own publishing company called Oftomes. While Oftomes is self-described as a “micro-publisher” Ben is no stranger to good fiction and helping spread the word about awesome titles. He’s a well-known book blogger with a loyal following, which helps since he’s got his very own captive audience just waiting for the next book he’ll review on his BookTube channel. Oftomes is breaking new ground and going where other publishers haven’t before by setting up shop online first, backed by the support of a loyal social media following. Submissions info can be found here.
Just in case you don’t think this is a serious option, take a look at how this author leveraged her Wattpad success into a three book deal with HarperCollins. Beyond a stellar, home run like this though, there’s a huge opportunity to get involved with readers every day and find out what they like about your writing and what they don’t. Wattpad is, I believe, an emerging form of digital publishing that will only continue to grow.
5) Indie Publishers
There is no shortage of options out there just like my publisher, Upturn Publishing. You just have to find them. Here’s a comprehensive list of over 100 indie pubs, and a much smaller list curated by Flavorwire. The point is they are out there and all of them need good material.
6) Co-Self Publishing- with a twist!
Okay, I said I wouldn’t talk about self-publishing. But this is sort of an exception. This is co-self publishing. It’s what book vlogger Sasha Alsberg and YA author Lindsay Cummings are doing for their latest co-authored YA novel, Zenith.
It’s a clever partnership because Lindsay has the expertise as an established author, and Sasha has the ready-made fan following. It’s the perfect pairing and a trend I predict other book bloggers and vloggers may be following very soon. They’ll doubtlessly be looking for co-authors and projects they can get on board with. When they call for submissions, be ready. Or better yet, approach them with the idea yourself. Most book vloggers are super nice and responsive, even though they’re busy with their TBR piles.
7) The Online Giant - Amazon
Did you know Amazon doesn’t just sell books? They also publish them. Yep, the online book giant now has a publishing arm with over 12 different imprints! They take everything from romance to science fiction and literature. While they are closed to unsolicited manuscripts right now, my guess is this will be changing rapidly as they continue to grow and expand. They’re already added many new imprints in just the past year, so open submissions may be around the corner.
So there you have it. There are more routes than ever to being published. These are just a handful. If you do some searching of your own, you’ll find countless routes to get your book published. As I mention in my other post, be wary of vanity publishers or those that charge you money to publish your book. This isn't how it's supposed to work.
Many of these non-traditional methods I mentioned may be a route to being traditionally published. Once your book is out there and doing well, traditional publishers usually take note. Meanwhile, keep in mind that many authors (like Lindsay Cummings) who have been part of traditional process are migrating over to trying out out these newer models.
Lastly, if it is your ultimate dream is to be published by one of the big five houses, don’t give up! There are a ton of horror stories out there and tales of rejection and frustration to dissuade you. Then there are actual tales of success like this one that make it seem so ridiculously daunting it’s hard to imagine ever venturing down such a road at all. When it comes to putting a book out there, fear is not an option.
Publishing a book is difficult, yes. Publishing traditionally can be even more difficult. But if it were that difficult, no one would do it anymore! And we all know that there are more books being published now than ever before.
I’ll leave you with one thought: Anything worth doing is going to be a challenge.
There’s no such thing as a pain-free, easy venture. But the joy is in the journey, not that final book with your name on it sitting on the shelf. Believe me. I see mine sitting there every single day. It's wonderful, but I’m already envisioning how the next four are going to look right next to it.
40 Publishing Houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts.
Another great list here.