When I asked for responses to our Ask Bethany House survey (which you can feel free to add to—all questions welcome!), the overwhelming majority had to do with how a new author might get a publishing contract with us. Apparently we have a lot of writers out there among our readers!
If you read our submission policy, you’ll know that you can’t just send us your manuscript, but our acquisition editors do seek out and give contracts to new and talented authors. Obviously, every writer’s story is going to be different—ask any of our authors, and you’ll find that out. But here are the two main ways our editors typically find new authors: through conferences and agents.
Writing conferences are a cross between boot camp (tons of intensive training) and summer camp (lots of fun with writer friends—and if you don’t already have writer friends, you will by the time the conference is over). Besides taking seminars on craft and voice and marketing, at most conferences, you’ll also have a chance to set up short meetings with agents and acquisition editors to pitch your book. If they’re interested, the agent or editor might request more information about your book, or even the whole manuscript. It’s one of the main ways new writers can get their work in front of Bethany House editors.
Even if you don’t walk away from a conference with a contract, it’s a great way to get feedback and advice to strengthen your writing. You won’t often find so many knowledgeable people in the same place, so take advantage of it! Make connections, find a critique partner, and hone your skills so you’re ready for a future opportunity.
And yes, writing conferences can seem expensive (although given the fact that you’re getting the equivalent of a college-level course on writing and getting published, I’d say they’re quite a bargain). But when our editors meet writers at a conference, it’s an easy way to know that these people are serious about writing. They’re investing time and money into improving their craft. That means their manuscript is going to be worth taking a look at.
Also, I’m told conferences are a lot of fun. (I’ll be at the ACFW conference for the first time this year, teaching a course on marketing with Melissa Tagg, so I’ll report back on just how much fun they can be. Stay tuned.)
This sounds like a super elite, Hollywood type of deal, but really it’s much simpler than that. Essentially, agents are go-betweens for the author with publishing companies. An agent will represent an author whose work they think has potential. (For their effort, they get a percentage of the money you make from the book once it sells.) They will then pitch the manuscript to the acquisition editors. Since the editors know that the agents are familiar with the business and would only accept talented authors, they’re willing to take a look at the proposals agents send them.
So, how does a writer go about getting an agent? That is a much longer topic than I have time to fully address in this blog post. But here’s a place to start: take a look at your favorite authors, ones who write stories similar to the ones you’re writing and are published at houses you’d love to break into, and see who their agents are. (Tip: agencies are often listed on authors’ websites.) You can also take a look at online databases that list reputable literary agencies.
Then take a look at those agents’ websites. What kind of books are they looking for? How much of the manuscript needs to be complete before they’ll consider it? What information do they need in a proposal, and how do they want it submitted? Carefully read through all of this information before deciding to submit a proposal to an agent.
Do. Your. Research. This is the single most important part of finding a publishing company or agent that will be a good fit for you. It does not matter how adorable your rhyming Bible princess storybook is if you pitch it to a publisher who doesn’t accept children’s books (hint: BHP is one of those). The same is true of agents—they will list on their website the genres they accept, so be sure to take the time to find out what those are.
As I mentioned before, there are other routes to publication. Sometimes one of our editors serves as a judge in a writing contest and takes note of an especially well-written manuscript. (If you’re wondering what contests are out there, let me refer you to the lovely ladies of Seekerville, including BHP’s own Mary Connealy, who do a great job of putting together contest roundups.) Sometimes a published author might read your manuscript and recommend you to her editor or agent. Sometimes you might send your proposal to Bethany House wrapped in plastic inside a giant cake. (Just kidding—don’t do that. Or if you do, make sure it’s chocolate.) Hopefully, though, this post helped clear up a few details about the process of publication.
For all you writers out there (or just readers interested in hearing how these things work), next month I’ll be asking one of our acquisition editors what makes an unknown writer’s manuscript stand out. Looking forward to it! And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be promoting your book on the blog!