So, you want to be a published author and get that elusive book deal to get your career rolling? There are plenty of things that you need to know about and obstacles you must overcome before you land that sweet book deal in 2021. From polishing your writing and crafting a query letter to securing a literary agent and that ever-desirable contract, the process of selling your book to a publisher is relatively straightforward. It may seem hard in the beginning, but that is all part of the process of publishing your book and becoming an author.
What you will need in abundance is patience. You must be meticulous in your approach and might need a tad bit of luck to go in your favor. Everyone wants to be a successful author with their book published in 2021, but how do you go about it? Based on our experience working with hundreds of authors, we will share some useful insights to help you succeed in getting a book deal that will benefit you and get your book published.
1. Make Sure Your Book Is Fit for the Market
You should know that agents and publishers are risk-averse. That means you will have to show them that your book will meet an existing market’s needs. They aren’t looking for clones of bestsellers, but they are interested in books that do something similar in a new way.
That could be a domestic thriller with an unexpected new voice or taking certain genre tropes and putting a different twist on them, like a cyberpunk thriller with an unexpectedly technophobic protagonist or an epic fantasy with shades of film noir.
Regardless of the specifics, you need to make a compelling case that there is an existing readership for your book, and there’s something unique about it.
Polish Your Writing Before Going Anywhere Near Publishers
Yes, agents and publishers are looking for interesting new voices, but they aren’t in the business of snapping up manuscripts riddled with plot holes, character inconsistencies, and egregious typos. You can pitch your book like an expert and hype its merits, but sloppy writing is a one-way ticket to losing an agent’s interest.
· Self-Editing Is a Must
Not sure what editing your own book entails? Start from the big-picture elements, like plot and character development, and approach your manuscript asking why things unfold the way they do. Move on to editing each scene, ensuring they follow a good arc and are integral to the overall plot.
Once you’ve finalized the story and received all external feedback, you’ll need to do a copy edit, correcting any grammatical or stylistic issues on the sentence level. To finish it all off, you should do one last proofread, just to be on the safe side.
· Get Feedback from Early Readers
To properly revise your book, you need to have a sense of the reader’s experience. Unlike you, beta readers will encounter your book for the first time, so they can spot major issues straightaway. Share your work with friends and family who read in your genre and ask what they think of your plot and characters.
If you don’t have a personal network to turn to, you can hire professional beta readers or join a critique circle. That can be particularly helpful because it’s made up of writers, so the feedback you’ll get will come from readers who are also writers.
· Consider Hiring a Professional
It’s possible that beta readers or critique circles might not be right for you if you don’t have the time to engage with them or if you would rather put your trust in a seasoned professional. If this is the case, you can hire an expert instead. This should be someone with experience in book editing, who will examine your work as someone familiar with genre conventions and the literary market’s expectations.
If you’re unsure of how to search for and hire an editor, be sure to read our article on finding the right editor.
2. Refine Your Elevator Pitch
Once your book is the best it can be, it’s time to work on the way you pitch it to agents. Named an ‘elevator pitch’ because it’s short enough that you could pitch it in a 30-second elevator ride, this is a highly condensed, attention-grabbing description of your book that should hook readers immediately.
It’s how you’ll describe it to just about anyone who will listen, so you need to get people excited about it. To that end, make sure you do these three things:
· Include All Crucial Information
Set up your story in the quickest and most compelling way possible. Think about what incites the action and the driving forces behind your narrative. If your book consists of multiple narrative strands, you can unite them by communicating your work’s overall message. Also, highlight the elements of your book that stand out the most.
Is it told in reverse chronological order? Told in many languages? Merging two genres? Again, agents and publishers want something unique, so the more you can stand out, the better.
· Convey the Mood in the Pitch
Your pitch should also reflect the atmosphere of your writing. A work of literary fiction shouldn’t be pitched in a way that suggests a page-turning thriller. Go for as much drama as your book warrants while emphasizing its strongest points, and be careful not to confuse the reader.
For example, if your book is a historical fiction romance, but you pitch it in short, snappy sentences and suspenseful language, you could accidentally mislead an agent, who won’t be happy when receiving your manuscript.
· Trim It Down
Remember, this is an elevator pitch because it’s short, so keep words to a minimum. The fewer the words, the more effective they are. Condense unnecessary descriptive phrases and avoid overstating the obvious. Watch out for long-winded phrases or excess adjectives/adverbs.
Draft a Query Letter for Each Agent
Once you’ve got your elevator pitch down, you can use it as part of your all-important query letter for agents. You need to personalize your letter for each agent, so don’t just skip ahead, and if you’re experiencing trouble, remember that professional editors can also help refine your letter.
3. Research and Query Agents
With a polished book and a sharp query letter in hand, you can begin serious efforts to find a literary agent. You will first need to compile a list of agents who would be perfect for your book. These should be people who work in your territory of interest and are actively seeking new books to represent. You might start by looking up the names in the acknowledgments of other books in your genre and continuing your search online.
If you are seeking to publish in the United States, The Directory of Literary Agents is a great resource.
Only query 6 to 8 agents per round, starting with the closest matches and widening the search if necessary. There are three reasons why you should only query 6 to 8 agents each time:
- To ensure you personalize each letter, which takes time and research
- To set a realistic target, you can meet without having to pause all other activities
- Most importantly, to give your preferred agents a head start when it comes to considering your work
High-profile agents receive around 1,000 queries every month, so make sure you stand out by really perfecting that elevator pitch.
4. Follow Up and Track Results
When waiting to hear back from agents, it is essential to be patient and proactive. Don’t pester agents with daily emails demanding a reply. If you haven’t heard from them in 4 to 6 weeks, send a polite reminder. In most cases, your query may have been buried at the bottom of their busy inbox. If you receive rejections with constructive feedback, recognize that this is a win compared to a standard rejection letter.
Feedback often means that an agent was interested in your work, but there were some issues holding it back. Take the time to seriously consider their feedback and make any changes that seem useful before re-submitting to other agents. If you don’t get any requests for your manuscript, your query letter might not be working. However, if you get loads of manuscript requests but they lead nowhere, you’ll know your book itself needs to be improved.
5. Submit Your Manuscript to Publishers
Once you’ve found an agent you’re happy with, you can expect some further editing to take place under their guidance. This involves textual editing, as well as formatting changes to meet the guidelines of each publisher. Your agent will then reach out to 8 to 12 publishers to pitch and submit your manuscript. They will likely know many of the acquiring editors personally, so they’ll pass it on to the most relevant people.
Wondering whether you can submit without an agent? Even though some publishers accept un-agented submissions, this isn’t typically the case with the largest book publishers. For most people, it is much harder to get a book deal without an agent helping you get your foot in the door, but if you’ve established an audience and working knowledge of the publishing industry, you can still give it a shot.
Landing a book deal for your literary masterpiece can be a challenge in 2021, especially if you don’t know the ropes. You must have some kind of idea of how to approach publishers and agents to stand any chance of getting a book deal. Hopefully, we have provided some guidance to help you and made it easier for you to get a book deal in 2021.