Questions about how writers introduce their work to publishers

When writers introduce their work to prospective publishers do they typically send excerpts of their work for review or the entire work/manuscript?. Is it sent by email or by post? How do writers typically evaluate the publishers they send their work to? Do they go through agents ?

These are good sources of information:

How to Find Publishers | Jane Friedman

How to Submit Your Book Queries, Proposals, & to Publishers | by Jyssica Schwartz | Write Out Loud | Medium

Do You Need a Literary Agent? The Definitive Pros and Cons List – Writer’s Edit (

Today, most publishers want you to contact them by email. Their submission guidelines will tell you what to send them initially. Some publishers require that you go through an agent and others don’t. Good luck!

a) Only the small “independent” presses let you query them directly. The publishers of the Harper Collins and Signet and Delacorte et. al. variety — the ones that have a budget to advertise and promote your book instead of you being responsible for that yourself — take queries from literary agents, hence you introduce yourself to those publishers by first introducing yourself to literary agents and hoping one will contract with you and represent your book.

b) Each individual literary agent and each individual small publisher has their own preferred format. I built a database that kept track of who, what email or snailmail address (yes some want snail mail queries), what they want to receive, and when I sent it and when they rejected it or I considered it to have timed out and been rejected by default:

Just a query letter

Query letter plus 250 word synopsis

Query letter plus first 5 or first 10 or first 15 or first 25 or first 30 or first 50 pages.

Query letter plus first chapter

Query letter plus a chapter of your choosing

Query letter plus first two chapters

Query letter plus first three chapters

Query plus the whole manuscript

Nonfiction books have something that fiction books mostly don’t, a proposal, which is a formal document describing the book project, comparable literature, your qualifications to write it, analysis of the market for such a book, proposed table of contents, AND some sample chapters.

The query letter is supposed to be this brilliant attention-getting device that will get the recipient excited about your book. Or else it’s not because they want just the facts ma’am, word count, genre, and leave the lurid descriptions for back cover blurb. Or they want a sentence or two that indicates you’ve read their description of what they are interested in. So you need several query letters, attuned to different preferences.

Most American lit agents and publishers don’t want any file attachments – they want all those sample pages and synopses and proposals inserted into the email body inline. Paranoia about viruses and malware. Non-American lit agents and publishers seem less concerned and will more often request the material be attached as Word or PDF.

Second all AHunter3 said.

Be prepared for rejection or no replies at all.

Last time I tried for an agent I sent out 105 queries.

Six agencies asked to see my full nonfiction proposal.

One accepted me as a client.

He left the business before selling the book.

Did you ever sell the book?

His parting advice was that I didn’t have credentials in today’s market, i.e. a professorship or a million followers. So I wrote a different book and had it published by an academic publisher who doesn’t care about agents, a credential, and now I’m getting ready to start another round of agent submissions.

What are “Snookums” and “Revised Snookums”?

About agents—if you need and get one, be prepared for them acting more like a real estate agent than a hired attorney. Like real estate agents, literary agents are interested in quick sells so they can move on to other deals. They are unlikely to spend a lot of time haggling to increase your advance from $10,000 to $50,000, say, as their 15% of the difference isn’t worth a lot of time. And agents know they will be working with all the publishers again and again, probably with more promising writers, and so are not going to “hardball” them. This isn’t bad, but it is a mistake to think the agent is primarily there to get you the very best deal possible.

When I tried to find an agent for The Traveler, I sent out over 350 query letters.


And these were targeted query letters, not sent out to literary agents in general, or science fiction agents, but to ones that had expressed an interest in handling this sort of book.

I kept statistics. As with virtually all queries I have done, half did not respond at all. This non-response is actually a response – it means “no”. Almost all the other responses actually said “no”, if more diplomatically. Two showed some slight interest, but ultimately declined, as well. I finally placed the book myself with a publisher that didn’t require working through an agent. That’s how all my books have been published. I’ve never been able to land an agent.

I’ve produced book proposals (as AHunter3 mentions) for all my books, even the fiction ones. I have at least three book proposals all written up and submitted that no one has yet been interested in.

Unless you’re very lucky, or very very good, be prepared for a lot of rejection. But it’s worth it if someone accepts your proposal.

I, too, have never been able to land an agent. I sent out 1400-some-odd queries during the process of trying. Mine weren’t targeted like CalMeacham’s, or at least not beyond “yes this lit agent claims to do LGBT or claims to do memoir or claims to do ‘women’s issues’ (read: possible feminism) or claims to do ‘literary fiction’ (i.e. non-“genre” narrative prose & perhaps would consider a NF memoir)”.

Getting a small publisher was a long hard slog also — by the time my first book was being printed, I had received a contract from three publishers, the first of whom went belly-up before my book came out, the second of which assigned me an editor who wanted radical surgery on the book I wasn’t willng to do, the third of which changed their mind about me because I wanted to negotiate some elements of the contract. Oh, and 151 query letters out to the small publishers. But yeah I finally did get a publisher, and they also opted to publish my second book.

If you write “genre” fiction — stuff like mysteries, science fiction, romance, where your book fits in with the expectations and traditions and expectations of the genre — this is supposedly a lot easier. Weird-ass niche books like mine are a bigger problem. Nonfiction is generally considered harder to place unless you have street cred in your field of expertise and a following already.

Sorry, something that isn’t clear to me: When you guys are sending out these queries, are you trying to get an agent/publisher for a book that’s already written, or for an idea for a book?

AHunter3’s answer seems to suggest the book is atleast partly written (or perhaps that it should be depending on submission guidelines) and in CalMeacham’s case it sounds like the book was written, but I’m not 100% sure I’m understanding correctly.

Normally, nonfiction is sold on a proposal plus sample chapters, while fiction should be completed before querying. There are always exceptions, but that’s what agents would be expecting.

Jane Cleland, a writer of mysteries and writing advice for Writers’ Digest whose free talks I’ve been going to said exactly the opposite. Her agent wants to see all potential deals and has gotten her more money.
I have no personal experience in agents for writers, but when my daughter was acting her manager wanted to see all contracts also, and in one case got her some extra money - not nearly $40,000.
How long do you think it would take to get a bigger advance? And the agent probably wants to make money from your second book also.
An agent who doesn’t want to negotiate better money for you is probably not worth keeping.

Like the real estate agent, agents are likely to get you a better deal than you will yourself, and as noted by others, many publishers will only talk to you through an agent. But they also want close deals and move on. Real estate agents typically take longer to sell their own homes, and get more money for them. Literary agents are in an analogous—not identical—position. And of course BIG clients have a ton of clout, but if you’re asking for literary agent advice here, I’m guessing you’re not Danielle Steel or Stephen King. My agent has done well by me, amd works hard, but he is not my “hired gun” who is going to squeeze every last dime out of the publisher.

The difference is that a real estate agent sells your house once, and if they sell another it won’t be for a long time. A literary agent is more likely to sell multiple books, and maybe even be able to sell other rights. So there is a lot more reason for a long relationship.
If an agent tells you that a $10K advance is the going rate for your book, that’s one thing. Saying or acting like they have better things to do than work for you is another.
My daughter was hardly a big star, but her agent spent 20 minutes calling the production company and got more money. My wife called him. The other parents just signed the contract and lost out. Jane Cleland has a cozy series now in double digits of books, but is hardly Danielle Steel either.

One of the exceptions is memoir. Memoirs are weird critters, neither fish nor fowl, technically nonfiction but narrative with characters and dialog (usually). While I was often instructed to submit a formal nonfiction proposal, there was also the implicit or explicit understanding that if it was an autobiographical account, you were supposed to have already written it.

Interesting. I didn’t know that.

I should also add that the advice doesn’t apply to children’s books, which are their own thing that I also don’t know about.

That’s why it’s so frustrating when somebody asks a question about “books,” as if they’re generic. They have deep specialties and enormous differences commercially.

Thank you both.

That’s great! Congratulations, and good luck!

I’ve listened to talks by children’s book authors, and it seems that the deal is you bring the publisher the text or the pictures, but not both (unless you are very skilled.) The publisher would rather find an illustrator for your text than for you to bring your friend’s pictures.
It seems a very weird system.