Sunday, January 20, 2008


BEACON FLASH # 25 - January 2008

Here's a question that more than one Beacon subscriber posed after BLS called for ideas last October for the monthly Flashes and e-newsletter.

G.L. asked how to find a commercial publisher for his first novel. He also wondered if he "absolutely needs an agent."

Snagging a likely publisher can be a frustrating task for unpublished authors. It takes time, even with much dedicated effort; and, yes, it's the author's investment. I liken it to serving an apprenticeship. So don't give up, G.L., here are some tips to start navigating the shoals on your voyage to publication:

  • Read some of the recommended books for novelists seeking guidance listed at (Start with Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon and my 2007 book, Book Magic:Turning Writers into Published Authors at
  • Take some courses/workshops on how to get published, either from creative writing programs near you or at a writers' conference
  • Join a writers' group, either live or virtual, whose members will be a huge well of info and support
  • Determine which category and sub-category your novel falls into (email BLS for more help with this)
  • Find books that are similar to yours by searching using keywords, and read the books you find. Decide which ones you like and why. Look at the publication page that follows the title page to determine the books' publishers. Make two lists: "Most likely" and "Possibles."
  • Research the publishers on these two lists, focussing first on those that are in your country, by poring over their websites, especially looking at their "Submission Guidelines".
Now your task turns to writing the sizzling short and long synopses and an irresistible query letter - books and courses abound on these topics. At the same time polish your, no doubt, well-revised manuscript, employing a professional editor if necessary (BLS can recommend one).
Now you're ready to send out your query letters to your "Most Likely" list of publishers.

Regarding literary agents: G.L., the idea that agents are vital for commercial publication is untrue. This myth has arisen from US advice where an agent is essential to approach the six publishing conglomerates in New York. I'm happy to report that, in Canada, all publishers accept unagented submissions and most medium and small publishers anywhere do too. Indeed, most unpublished authors are unlikely to attract an agent to represent them as they are an unknown quantity, although there are rare exceptions to this. Don't waste your time trying to find representation if you are unpublished unless you are the next J.K. Rowling, and most of us aren't!! (Rowling went through over 40 rejections until she found her agent and publisher.)
For more info about agents, please read my article, "Are Literary Agents Essential?" at