Read “How a Book Gets Published” by Nathan Bransford. Now come back and read the rest of this.
- Write a book. There is no shortcut around this. Don’t even bother asking the question if you don’t have a book that’s been written and revised. It would be good if the book was commercially viable according to at least one person who is not you or your parents. (Hey, my parents thought my writing was brilliant when I was 13. It wasn’t.) Revising with the help of a critique group is often helpful.
- Query a literary agent. The literary agent is the person who represents your book to editors at publishing houses who might buy it. He is the person who knows how to get in touch with publishers, which editors are looking for books like yours, and what kind of terms you should ask for in a publishing contract. (In fact, if you are asking me “How do I find a publisher? Or “What publishers do you recommend?” then you really need a literary agent because publishing is intensely complex and to be blunt, you don’t know enough about it to make this work without an agent.) You can sell your book without an agent, but I don’t recommend it, and I don’t know much about it, so this focuses on represented (agented) sales advice.
- When you query an agent, you are in essence sending him/her a short letter describing your book and asking him to take a look at the whole thing. Excellent advice online about how to find and query an agent abounds. Lawrence Watt-Evans explains what agents do and whether you need one. Tara K. Harper talks about the best way for a new author to find a literary agent. Neil Gaiman talks about finding a good agent and avoiding bad ones. Here’s Marcus Sakey’s post about how to find a list of agents and query them. Richard Dooling has a good article on the same topic. Find out how to write an excellent query letter from Nicola Morgan. If you’re still not sure how to write a synopsis or query, read Holly Lisle’s advice. And don’t get scammed.
- Once you secure an agent, the agent uses his/her contacts and knowledge of the industry to sell the book to an editor (not “a publisher” — it is individual editors who work at publishing houses who actually acquire, i.e. buy, books for that publishing house. At that point you’re in a whole world of offers, contracts, world rights, and other publishing deal wonkery. I am not the person to ask about that stuff. That’s what your agent is for.
- If your agent is unsuccessful in selling your book, you can rewrite the book, write a new book, or look for a new agent, but at this point you’re really in a whole other ballpark where you should be looking for other writers who are in the same situation to discuss your situation with. Try the Absolute Write site forums.
- I am sad that I have to add this, but I feel like I do. Do not, because you want to get published, google “How to get published!” and then publish with the first link that comes up. There are tons of scammers online, and in the real world, who love to take money from idealistic writers who just want to see their books in print. Remember Yog’s Law: “Money flows TOWARD the writer.” That means you do NOT pay to be published. You do not pay an agent (they make their money on commission, i.e. WHEN YOUR BOOK SELLS AND NOT BEFORE. You do not pay an editor. You do not pay a publisher. You do not participate in “shared-risk” publishing. If you’re thinking about an agent or a publisher, head over to Absolute Write’s “Bewares and Background checks” section and see what other people have to say about them. You can also check Writer Beware’s Alerts for Writers section. If an agent or publisher is not recommended, it’s a safe bet you shouldn’t work with them.