November's Publishing Tip comes to you from Kari Jones, an instructor in the Department of English at Camosun College. In addition to teaching, Kari writes books for kids, including Out of Season, which has been translated into five languages. Her most recent kid’s story is So Much for Democracy.
Self-publishing is becoming more accessible and acceptable to serious writers, but there are still a lot of us who prefer to work with traditional publishing houses. However, the vast and quickly changing world of traditional publishing can be daunting to enter into.
There are a couple of different approaches to submitting manuscripts for publishing. One is the “mass submission,” where you send out your manuscript to all the publishers you can find and hope that one responds favourably. That approach requires a lot of emotional fortitude, however, so I advocate for a second, more targeted approach. Finding a publisher who is likely to want to consider your manuscript seriously takes some work, but the pay-off is that you are less likely to receive a rejection.
Looking for the right publisher can start as early as when you’re working on your manuscript. I write for children, so when I’m about to embark on a new writing project, I think about what age group my story is for, then I take a look at some publishers’ guidelines to get a sense what kind of characters and stories publishers are looking for. This doesn’t mean I’ll change my story, but usually I will try to use the publishers’ submissions guidelines as, well, guidelines. If I were writing stories for adults, I’d think about what genre my story might fit in, then I’d look around to see what publishers are publishing in that genre these days.
There are a couple of advantages to this approach. First, you know you are writing something that at least in theory is publishable. Knowing in advance what publishers of, say, historical mysteries, have released recently, gives you a sense of how your story fits in with what’s out there in that genre. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting following trends or allowing the market to drive your work. I am suggesting you know what’s out there and who’s publishing it.
The second advantage to this approach is that it gives you an opportunity to read widely in your genre and get a sense of the stories each publisher likes. This way, when you are ready to submit your own work, you know which publishers are likely to want to take a look at your story.
The first step in any submissions process is to make sure that your manuscript is polished. Shine up those verbs. Make your nouns sparkle. Scrub away any extra wordiness. Book publishers are busy people, and they receive many, many manuscripts. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to read a less-than-finished book manuscript?
Once you’ve done that, take a look at some submissions guidelines. If you’ve done your homework beforehand, then you already have a good idea of who is publishing what, so now’s the time to take a closer look at what they would like you to submit for consideration. And then do exactly as they ask! If a publisher wants to see a story synopsis and a first chapter, they’re not secretly saying “please send us your whole 80 thousand word book.” What they’re secretly saying is “we’d like to get a glimpse to see if your story is something we might be interested in before we commit to reading all 80 thousand words.”
Some of the bigger publishing houses will only accept submissions from literary agents, but there are still many independent publishers who will seriously consider submissions from un-agented Canadian writers. Starting your search may seem intimidating, but taking a good look through a number of publishers’ websites should help you sort out who is publishing what. The Association of Canadian Publishers has a very comprehensive listing of Canadian publishers under their “Search Members” tab. They’ve provided a number of categories to search by, making this a user friendly and informative list.
If you are writing for children and youth, there’s no better place to go for a list of publishers than the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.
If you haven’t found a suitable publisher yet through one of those lists, you can always try the Canadian Literature listing. Theirs is alphabetical, so less easy to use unless you know the name of the publisher you’re looking for.
And if you are looking to place something shorter, a short story, perhaps, then take a look at The National Magazine Awards' guide to Canadian Literary Journals. It seems to be a pretty comprehensive list.
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The Malahat Review posts “Publishing Tips” as a bimonthly guest column on its website and in Malahat lite. Follow it in order to learn how to improve your professional skills, from the writing of cover letters, to what house style means, to choosing a rhyming dictionary, to having an author photo (as opposed to a selfie) shot. If you have a Publishing Tip you’d like to share, email The Malahat Review at email@example.com, with “Publishing Tip Idea” in the subject line. Tips should be 750 words or less. If yours is accepted, you will be paid an honorarium of $50.