How does a manuscript become a book? How is a book published? 

This is how the traditional publishing model works – as a writer, you have the copyright in your work. You license your copyright to a publisher. 

In traditional publishing, these are the major publishing houses (these publishers distribute, produce, and promote your work). Read more here. 

As a writer, how do you sell your work to a publisher? For this, you would find a literary agent.

The majority of large publishers rely on agents to find writers. Agents negotiate deals on the writer’s behalf. They send out the work to editors of publishing houses to acquire your work. A publisher will generally offer an advance for the rights in your work. (These rights are for certain languages, territories, and formats.) If you have an agent, the agent will work to separate these rights as much as possible – so that a publisher won’t just get World All Languages in every format, unless it’s strategic for the author to grant those.   

Agents will negotiate the royalties and contract terms. Agents also make sure that a writer’s copyright is being maximized – so this means selling the rights to the manuscript to different territories and languages, selling audio rights, book to film rights. Agents rely on commission – which is generally 15%. 

At the publishing house, editors are the ones who acquire the work. Acquiring editors discuss with sales and marketing teams to decide whether to acquire a work. They will estimate a sales projection of the book and decide on how much to offer as an advance. Agents will submit to a wide range of publishing houses in order to get the best advance and to drum up enthusiasm for the work. 

For a publisher to acquire your work, the advance is their investment. You may often hear about books that receive 6 figure advances or were in hotly contested auctions. There is a reason agents like to push for high advances; if a publisher has placed a large investment in your book, then it’s logical that they will do everything they can to make sure to gain back their investment. Of course, this doesn’t always mean that books with the biggest advances sell the most copies (there are hundreds of examples, but the most obvious one is Harry Potter, which reportedly had a very modest advance.)  Interestingly, the vast majority of books do not earn out their advances. 

The publisher is responsible for editing, producing, and distributing your book. They will decide how to position your book (is it meant for book clubs, will it be a literary prizewinner, should it be focused on a certain genre?) They will send out your manuscript to other authors for potential blurbs and endorsements. Publishers will reach out to booksellers and bloggers for prime locations in books and promotional reviews. 

Each year, X books are published. 

For a more detailed map of the publishing process – there’s a brilliant essay from Vanity Fair about the life of a book – it follows publication of The Art of Fielding, and it’s one of the best introductions into how the publishing process works. 

So you’ve written a book, what should you do?

How to find a literary agent? 

How to decide on a literary agent? 

How to query a literary agent? 

In the publishing world, there are several players – the writer, the agent, the publisher. 

Who sells the books to the publishers? Publishers rely on agents to find writers.

If you’ve written a novel, the first step is to find an agent. (This is assuming that you are choosing to traditionally publish vs. self publish). 

For a guide on how to query an agent, please see here: link.