Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial
Free Your Words
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Search the blog for posts on grammar, storytelling, and the publishing process.


How do Authors Get Book Deals?

Can you publish my book?

I get this question all. the. time. Unfortunately, as a freelance editor I cannot help you publish your book. What I chalk the frequency of this question up to is a confusion as to just how authors get traditional publishing deals. What happens after you type, “The End”?

There are two main routes to getting your book into your readers’ hands: through traditional publishers or through self-publishing. Each has its pros and cons, and it is ultimately both a personal and business decision as to which you choose. So, today I thought I’d give a crash course in how writers land book deals with traditional publishers.

First, What is a Traditional Publishing?

Traditional publishers include Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, House of Anansi, Simon & Schuster, Hamish Hamilton, and so so many others. These range in size, from multinationals (HarperCollins) to mid-size (Simon & Schuster) to small and micro presses (House of Anansi and JackPine Press). has fantastic list of all Canadian publishers and agents.

The larger publishers will also have imprints, which are like small branches of the company that specialize in a certain genre or topic. You may have seen Harper Avenue or Knopf associated with titles published by HarperCollins and Penguin RandomHouse, respectively.

This route differs from self-publishing, in which it is all on the author to get their book into the hands of readers. Traditional publishers, rather, are companies that buy your book and print and market it for you. You will be involved along the way, but there is a whole team making decisions, from design to publicity, as well.

Sounds Good. I Want In.

Great! To get your book into one these publisher’s catalogues, you first have to write it. (What? Too obvious? Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Well, there are really two ways: by submitting an unsolicited manuscript or by submitting a solicited one.

Unsolicited means simply that; you’ve sent it to a publisher without them ever expressing any interest. You’ve taken a risk, popped your book in the mail (or attached a file to an email), and hope for the best! In this case, your manuscript will end up in what is called the “Slush pile”, of which it is likely some poor intern’s job to occasionally go through. It is highly improbable you will get noticed this way, and it is a route I do not recommend.

Solicited manuscripts are those the publishers have requested to see after an agent approaches them and basically jumps about, waves their arms, and says, “Ohmigosh, you have have have to read this! Like, now! Are you reading it? Hunh? People will love it!” (I mean, they say this in a very professional and polished way, but you get the idea.)

I’ve Heard of Agents. Do I Really Need One?

Of course not. You can self-publish, you can play the odds with the slush pile, or you can build your own online following and offer eBooks on your website. These days, ways of reaching readers are numerous and varied, and it is up to you to decide what your writing career will look like. And if that involves a degree of the prestige still attached to going the traditional route, signing with an agent will increase your chances of finding a home for your book.

Again, has a very comprehensive list of Canadian agents and their specialties, but I don’t think there is any better advice I can give than to follow. their. submission. guidelines. exactly. I mean it! Not one single deviance or your query will not be looked at. This may seem harsh, but agents receive innumerable queries a week and they need some way to weed through them quickly. Show you can follow basic directions and put together a query matching the agencies specifications.

Once you find an agent who loves your work, and can think of a few publishers who may as well, they will send you an offer of representation. They then shop your book around to the contacts they feel will enjoy it as much as they, and hopefully a publisher will soon reach out and buy your manuscript. Congratulations! You’ve got a book deal.

Wait. They buy the manuscript? Yes. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. That’s what happens after the book deal, and I’ll touch slightly more on this topic later this month with the upcoming Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing. Agents may also do some editing and make suggestions for revisions, all with what they know publishers are looking for in mind.

There are many literary agents on social media, and I follow a few on Twitter. (Say hi at @JenlDee!) Carly Watters in particular I find helpful, and she blogs about agent-specific topics like queries and what is typically included in book deals. Authors can also participate in online events such as #PitMad, in which they pitch their work to editors and agents in the hopes of finding representation.

Awesome! Yet … Where Do Freelance Editors Come In?

It is up to an individual author as to whether or not they hire a freelance editor before contacting an agent. I definitely recommend before self-publishing, but as agents do some editing, and in-house editors will take a look after you get a book deal, it is not necessarily needed when going the traditional route.

That said, agents are naturally going to be attracted to a strong story with characters that feel real and whose problems they come to sympathize with. You want to be sure you are putting your best foot forward, so may choose to hire a freelance editor to ensure your work is as polished as you can get it before querying agents.

Really, if wanting to go the traditional route, freelance editors can act as developmental editors to help get you to the point where you feel you are ready to start querying. Stuck on a draft? Many, myself included, offer Manuscript Evaluations to help you identify problem areas and offer suggestions. (An agent doesn’t have time for this type of work, and if there is an obvious, glaring plot issue they will pass on the submission.) I’ve also had clients use my Mini Line & Copy Edit to polish their first 10,000 words, or what is required for a specific submission package. With this I personally include an editorial letter highlighting strengths and addressing any plot concerns, outlining observations as to narrative, or offering concrete solutions—although another editor’s specific service and style may vary.

Are You Ready?

Deciding when to query an agent is a big decision, and it can be a rather long and hard route to getting a book deal with a traditional publisher. Even if you find an agent, this isn’t necessarily a guarantee your book will find a home with a publisher.

But, we writers are dreamers after all. And every once in a while dreams do come true. In the meantime, find joy in the creative process and know that no matter what, your voice is valued.

Above all, Keep creating!