Basic steps to follow in mainstream publishing

If going the mainstream publishing route, there are some very general steps that most writers traditionally follow.

First, make sure your novel is in manuscript form. Each place you submit your novel has slightly different rules, so you’ll want to become familiar with the general guidelines and then learn specific expectations that various editors/lit agents/publishers have. As a side note, make sure your manuscript is as clean of spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar errors as possible, meaning you’ll need to have some people read it over.

Next, you’ll need to write a query letter and a synopsis of the first novel. These items introduce you and your work to the person you’re submitting materials to. Again, there are some basic industry guidelines for how these should be written, and each needs to be tailored to who you’re sending the letter and synopsis to.

From there, you’ll want to move on to finding a literary agent. There are several reputable guidebooks for sale at bookstores or available free online that list literary agents, whether or not they’re accepting submissions, the type of writing they handle, their unique submission requirements, and contact information. You’ll need to spend some time perusing the guidebook to create your own list of the literary agents that would be most interested in your work. Make sure the guides you use are no more than a year old.

With novels, don’t limit yourself to literary agents, however. Also submit your work to publishing houses. A few accept unsolicited submissions. Lists of those companies also appear online and in published guides (located on the same library or bookstore shelves where you’ll find the literary agents guides). Should a publishing house show interest in your work, immediately reach out to a literary agent to represent you; you’ll find that at least a couple will be interested.

None of this is inexpensive, by the way. While many literary agents and publishers accept email submissions, many still want to see your query letter, synopsis and manuscript on paper. So you’ve got the expense of paper, envelopes, printer cartridges and stamps. Given the low rate of mainstream publisher’s acceptance of new authors, this makes self-publishing a very viable option. You literally can self-publish your book for free, and all of the skills you need to know to accomplish this are easily mastered if you’re willing to put in the time.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.