Writing Black in a White Publisher’s World: Getting Started

Navigating the world of publishing is a daunting task when an aspiring writer is looking to publish the first book. My first stop was the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, only because I was not familiar with how the publishing industry works. So, the workshop was the ideal place to start because they gave me access to experienced professionals; and some of them have decades of successes behind them.

These people are bestselling authors, freelance editors and life coaches, as well as literary and creative writing professors. In addition, the group sponsors readings by bestselling poets, authors, and playwrights. So if there is a writers’ workshop available in the area, that is always a good place to start. You can also go to Lighthouse’s website and enroll in online workshops, after joining Lighthouse for a minimal fee. Online workshops generally last four to eight weeks.

Once you have gotten some concept of how the industry works; albeit through research, classes, or workshops, you are ready to find an agent. Literary agents open doors that are not available for those looking to submit an unsolicited manuscript to traditional publishers, such as Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, and more. Most major publishers like Scholastic will not accept a manuscript that has not been proposed to them by a literary agent. Some do, but those documents generally sit in a slush pile until someone has time to read it. Which is rare, because agents and publishers get about a hundred queries a day. So, eventually they will trash them without ever having read them.

Queries are letters that writers send to agents and publishers that introduce their book by providing a brief synopsis, and telling the reader why the book was written. They also give agents and publishers a sense of your writing style, or what writers like to call “voice”. Query letters need to be carefully crafted, so it is best to look to the publisher’s or agent’s website to see what protocols in crafting the letter are expected. Otherwise, they will reject it before they finish reading the first sentence.

It is also important that the writer submits the manuscript to the person or company that will be most likely to at least take time to read the query letter. For instance, I submitted my Young Adult speculative fiction novel to those agents who are interested in, and have experience representing authors who have published in that genre. If you are writing nonfiction, you will need to find someone who is interested in, and has success in getting other authors published in that genre.

I queried about thirty literary agents before deciding to self-publish. Not because they showed no interest, but because they showed interest, but the book did not fit their narrowly defined market niche, or it was not something they were interested in publishing at the time. Encouraging, nonetheless, because they at least took the time to craft a reply rather than send a canned response. It can take years, sometimes, before you will find a publisher or agent who is willing to take your project on. Another reason why I chose to self publish, which will be the topic for the next blog. Should I seek out a traditional publisher, Indie publisher, or self publish? Keep on writing!


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