Can I approach publishers direct with my manuscript?

That all depends on what kind of manuscript you have written - in some areas the leading publishers only look at manuscripts that come to them via literary agents. To assess where to submit your work, check the table below.

 

Novels (for adults or children)

 

    

Literary agent essential
(Except maybe for genre romance)

 

Mainstream adult non-fiction
(eg: popular science, popular history, misery memoir)

 

  Literary agent essential
(or at least highly advisable)

Niche non-fiction
(eg: subject-led books for a highly defined readership)

 

  Go direct to publishers

Children's picture books

 

 

Publishers or agents.
(But we recommend using an agent)

 

Business, professional, academic, & educational work

  Go direct to publishers

 

What should I submit to a publisher?

For most non-fiction projects, it is sufficient to submit a proposal, rather than a complete manuscript. Proposals come in two main flavours:

 

Full proposals

 

     Introduction, 2-3 sample chapters, outline of everything else
This is the default option. If in doubt, choose this option.

Brief proposals

 

  Detailed outline of the book only
Use this only where (i) you have outstanding qualifications to write the text in question, and (ii) the quality of writing is either less important or can be taken for granted.

 

You should also write a covering letter which sets out concisely your qualifications to write this book and why the book is needed. If you intend your work to fit into part of a series that the publisher is running, then make sure that your format and approach fits the approach of the series. If you have a relevant publication history, make sure you cover that in your letter. It's fine to use a separate sheet or two for your CV or publication record.

 

How long will I wait to hear back?

Agents are slow, but publishers are glacial. We've heard of publishers saying yes to a proposal after a six-month radio silence. We think that's useless and unprofessional, but if you want speed, pick a different industry.

 

Who will negotiate my contract if I don't have an agent?

Most publishers offer fairly generic contracts and the good ones will not seek to rip you off. Bear in mind too that for the specialist work we're talking about here, relatively little money is ever likely to change hands, so don't think you're going to make your fortune. But if you do get an offer from a publisher and want expert contractual advice, we recommend that you sign up with the Society of Authors. Note that SoA membership is only open to authors or those with offers from genuine publishers.

 

Who will market and promote my work if I don't have an agent?

Your publisher will! Marketing books is what they do. (In theory, at least.)

 

And if I want more help?

We recommend Harry Bingham's uniquely excellent Guide to Getting Published. It's f-f-f-fabulous.