by Brenda W. Clough
So, you’ve written a novel. And it’s perfect. Gemlike. Every beta reader says it’s dynamite. The editor you hired urges you to submit it; your fellow workshoppers ran out of suggestions and have taken to bringing hip flasks of gin to the meetings, to soothe their angst at your wonderfulness. Well, that was easy! Now we come to the hard part.
Now it’s time to take off the writing/editing hat, and put on the marketeer hat. Here’s a simple way to begin. Go to a book store, a brick-and-mortar one that sells new, not used or remaindered, books. Or go to an SF convention, and survey the offerings in the huckster room. You know your work, yes? You know what genre it is, whether it’s YA or for adult readers, whether it’s milSF or literary fantasy. Tour the store (or the biggest vendor table at the con) and make a stack of every book that is like yours. Look on the inside of the back cover dust jacket for hardbacks, or on the back cover or the title page of paperbacks. The name of the publisher should be there. Make a list of all the publishers of that stack of books. (Then buy something, to soothe the rage of the store or dealer.) This is the core of your possible market list.
Now that you have a core list of current publishers who actually offer a real paper product that is similar to your work, hop on line. Google every publisher, one by one, and look for the ‘submissions’ page somewhere on their web site. They’ll break out into two main groups. Most of them will not take unsolicited or unagented submissions; set those aside. Those that do will have varying criteria — subject, length, formatting. If your work meets the subject and length criteria, format it properly. Check on that web site once more, to see if they don’t accept simultaneous submissions. Your goal is to slam the work out to as many publisher as you can, all at once. The ones who insist on being the only ones to look at it can wait for round two. It may take you days, weeks to work through all the publishers on this list A, so don’t hurry yourself. Meet all the criteria demanded, learn how to write a cover letter, jump through those hoops. This is a green M&M moment, when you’re going to demonstrate that you can be worked with.
Oh! That was the key word there: wait. Because that’s mostly what you do after all that work. You have baited the hook, thrown the worm out into the water, and now you wait for a bite. Do not live on your nerves for this period, which could take years. Instead, go back to the list. You separated out all the publishers who only take agented mss, remember? Okay, now’s a good time to go and look for an agent. If somebody on list A that you’ve just submitted the work to suddenly buys the work, you might want an agent to help you with the contract. If nobody on list A bites, you’ll need an agent to submit to list B. Which will be the topic for our next rock!