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Comprehensive Guide: How to Get a Book Published in 2024

20 December 2023
Posted in: Writing Tips

Many aspiring authors are looking for answers on how to get published as it can mark the first milestone in what could be a long and successful writing career. However, it isn’t always easy to become a published author, hence why it’s such a huge achievement. For some, the journey to becoming a published author can take months or even years, as well as multiple different books. That being said it’s far from impossible, in fact, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of being published.

In this blog, we cover the following key steps to getting published:

  1. Get started - research and prepare
  2. Building your author platform
  3. Polish your manuscript
  4. Get a literary agent
  5. Consider self-publishing

1. Research The Publishing Market & Prepare Your Pitch

Most articles on how to get published insist that developing a polished manuscript is the first and most important step to publishing success. Although the quality of your manuscript is of key importance, however, it is not necessarily the best starting point.

Whether your goal is to write a book that will be traditionally published or whether you plan to self-publish, it is prudent to do some research about the book trade, and where your work will likely fit into it, before you pen chapter one.

Research and understand the publishing market

If you’ve got your heart set on publication, doing your homework is vital in today’s competitive market. It’s estimated that the number of books published each year can range from five hundred thousand to one million, however, the number of authors who actually get published is typically around one to two percent. As writers, we often have an artistic vision for our work. But we can’t afford to forget that publishing is a business. 

Editors, agents and bookshops are working within a particular framework and, if you want your book to exist competitively within that framework, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with it. But if your goal is to produce a book rather than to get the book published, then by all means go ahead and write without any regard to commercial interests. You are free to do so and that process often yields beautiful results.

High angle shot of a young woman reading a book on the sofa at homeHigh angle shot of a young woman reading a book on the sofa at home
Define your target audience

Research your audience

Another reason to research first is that it gives you the best chance of writing something that your chosen audience will embrace. If you know what books have sold well in your target market, you can look at what they offer readers and contemplate how your work will offer these elements too. You will also be able to identify gaps in the current offering.

Is there a plot twist, a story element, a setting or a kind of character that hasn’t been explored yet in this kind of book? If so, this is your opportunity to do something interesting and experimental on the page. Or, if you are writing a non-fiction book, are you adding to the knowledge in this area or are you just regurgitating what has been written before? Similarly, if you plan to write a children’s book, audience research is essential as the requirements will be dramatically different to a book written for adults. 

Learning all of this before you start your manuscript, will give you the best chance of writing something that fits into an established market but also has something new to offer – a unique selling point that agents and publishers can use to market your book.

Research the various genres

Often, the best first step on the road to getting published is to research the various genres on sale and decide which one of them your envisioned project fits into.

If you’re a book lover, you’ve probably spent plenty of time in bookshops or at online book retailers. But have you ever paid attention to how the books are organised? Where would your work be shelved in a bookshop?

By challenging yourself with this important question, you set yourself up for publishing success by confronting one of the key identifiers of book type. 

Pick a genre for your project

If your main goal is to be traditionally published, it makes more sense to choose a specific kind of book to write and commit to writing several of them. Sometimes a book will be a one-off success, but publishers are usually more comfortable working with an author who writes for a particular audience so they can build their profile with that particular audience.

Even if you choose to self-publish your book, you will still need to know what kind of book you are writing so you can ensure that it’s relevant to the correct categories in online stores and guarantee that any advertising you put out is tailored to your audience.

Line of books with literary genres, fantasy, art, science fiction, history, and science written on the spinesLine of books with literary genres, fantasy, art, science fiction, history, and science written on the spines
Pick your genre

Learn to pitch yourself

If you are approaching traditional publishers and agents, you will be able to cogently explain where your book sits in the market. You will also be able to pitch yourself as an author that both an agent and a publisher can invest in long-term. ‘I am a thriller author with two books written and another three planned’ sounds much more professional than ‘I’ve written one book and I’m not really sure which genre it fits into; it’s got a bit of everything.’

This isn’t to say you have to pick one genre and write within those confines forever. There are tricks of the trade that allow authors flexibility - such as using different pen names for different genres.

How do I choose a pen name? 

Your approach to choosing a pen name will depend greatly on whether you want readers to have any inkling about who you really are. If you don’t want to use your given name for any reason - for example, there may already be a famous author out there with the same name as you - but don’t mind if people guess that it’s you, then the most popular method of choosing a pen name is to select a name close to your heart. Perhaps using an amalgamation of names that crop up in your family tree.

For example, you might choose to use the first name of your favourite aunt or uncle and team that with your mother’s maiden name. Or you may choose to use your own initials and marry that with the surname of a long lost relative. 

Under such circumstances, choosing a pen name can be a lot of fun and an excuse to delve into your family history. It also means the resulting pen name is still personal to you, even though it isn’t your own name.

Matters get a little more complicated when you don’t want anyone to guess your true identity. It should be noted here and now that true anonymity is almost impossible in the digital age and, sooner or later, secret pen name identities are usually revealed.

However, if you have your reasons for wanting to keep your true identity a secret, you might try using the genre you are writing in to inspire something appropriate. When Cheryl Strayed wrote the best-selling memoir Wild it just so happened that her surname was a really good match for the theme she was exploring in her work: the idea of being a stray, or going astray.

We could, however, take Cheryl Strayed’s fortune when it comes to her name as a model on which to build a pen name for ourselves. For example, the name T.R. Quicksilver might make an excellent name for a fantasy author. Quicksilver is a legitimate surname but it also has a magical quality about it. Similarly, an alliterative name with soft, feminine vowel sounds might work well for women’s fiction e.g. Madeline Marley. 

If you scroll through the bestseller lists on websites such as Amazon, you will already see other authors employing this tactic. Brainstorming all of the different aspects of your genre and linking them to possible first and last names will help a great deal if you choose to implement this process.

2. Build Your Author Platform

Young woman sits in front of a tripod mounted camera to record a video for her social media audience.Young woman sits in front of a tripod mounted camera to record a video for her social media audience.
Build your online following

So step two is writing my book, right?’ Well, you could do that, or you could give yourself an even bigger chance of publishing success by building an author platform to grow an online following. This means:

If you start your online platform before you start writing your book, any potential readers will be able to follow your writing journey. As they do this, they will emotionally invest in you and your work, which makes them more likely to buy your book.

The book market is tough. There is lots of competition and a potential agent or publisher is going to look more fondly on a writer who already has 5,000 followers who engage with them on a regular basis than one who hasn’t got a following of any kind. If you plan to self-publish, those 5,000 followers will be a great resource for you as you will be able to market your book to them directly and encourage them to leave reviews on the key book-selling websites.

3. Polish Your Manuscript

Once you’ve got the above in place then yes, of course, your manuscript must be written and polished until it shines. Ideally, you will:

  • Attend a writing workshop to get feedback and,
  • Ask two or three readers to give you their honest opinion on what’s working and what left them cold.

If you’ve done all of the above before you contact an agent or self-publish your work, you will set yourself apart from many thousands of writers.

Which writing workshop is right for me? 

There are two main factors to consider when selecting the right writing workshop for you. The first is your prior writing experience. 

If you sign up for an advanced class when you are just getting started, the odds are you will be overwhelmed and may even stop writing altogether due to feelings of inadequacy. Conversely, if you have a considerable amount of prior writing experience but sign-up to a beginners class - perhaps because you haven’t truly acknowledged the skill you have already acquired in the craft - you may not find the work challenging enough. 

When selecting a writing workshop, it is important to be completely honest about where you stand right now in terms of experience. The temptation to be swayed either by high aspirations or false modesty may be strong, but by reflecting truthfully on your current skill set, you are much more likely to opt into the right class for you.

The second aspect to consider when choosing a writing workshop is the kind of writing you want to do. Are you hoping to write a memoir? A play? Or the next classic thriller novel? Whatever your goals, there is a class out there specifically designed to fit your needs. 

At City Lit, coordinators within the Writing Department will always be happy to discuss possible writing classes with you and suggest courses that will be a good fit for your needs. This isn’t a decision you have to make alone so never be afraid to ask questions. You never know where that curiosity for creativity will lead.

4. Get a Literary Agent

Whilst the advice above will undoubtedly give you a head start in getting published, it’s important to remember that there is no one way of landing an agent and a book deal in the post-internet publishing landscape. Here are five avenues you could explore to connect with the right agent for you:

  • #Pitmad: There are now quarterly #Pitmad events held on Twitter where you can pitch your book to agents directly via social media. You explain the concept of your book in 280 characters or less and the agents tweets in order to invite that author to submit their manuscript. This is essentially a process in which agents pre-register their interest in your work and is thus very much worth taking part in.
  • Conferences and events: You could attend conferences or writing events that allow you to pitch your work to agents in person. Even if you’re not accepted the first time or receive some critical feedback, the next time you submit you will be able to reference your prior meeting with that agent. By re-submitting you’ll be showing your resilience – an essential quality for any writer.
  • Build a strong social following: Some people start a blog or social media account, build it to millions of followers and then pitch to an agent or publisher purely on the strength of their following. Sometimes, agents or publishers voluntarily approach writers with a large platform. It’s not a guarantee, nothing is, but on the whole connecting with your readers tends to open doors for you.
  • Competitions: You could enter competitions run by magazines and institutions, which award publishing contracts and representation to the winners. That way, the representation would come in the form of an ‘award’ which would no doubt generate a lot of media attention around your work. Alternatively, you could enter a range of short story and poetry competitions in a bid to get shortlisted and noticed by an agent. Agents do keep an eye on literary journals, if they like your voice you may well get an enquiry from them about a longer manuscript.
  • Contact publishers directly: If none of the above works, there are several publishing imprints who accept direct submissions. If your work is accepted they can then recommend an agent for you. It’s unlikely an agent would turn down a client when a publishing deal is already on the table.

5. Consider Self-Publishing

Image showing and hand writing in an open notebookImage showing and hand writing in an open notebook
Self-publishing your work

You could choose to bypass the traditional system entirely, hire an editor and self-publish your work.

Thanks to print-on-demand platforms developed by the likes of Amazon, IngramSpark, Kobo and Lulu.com, there are cost-effective ways of successfully publishing your work under your own steam. I don’t want to fool you: it is a huge time commitment to single-handedly organise everything a publisher would traditionally organise for you. But if creative control is important to you it might be the best way to get your work in front of readers.

Whatever route you choose to take, remember that old adage: knowledge is power. Writing a book is no small feat and if you’re going to invest your precious time in a writing project with the aim of seeing it published, then developing your professional understanding of the field you’re delving into will put you in the best position to achieve your goal.

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To sum up, our 2023 guide provides all the essentials you need to transform your manuscript into a published work. Need to work on your craft? Why not review our wide range of writing courses  from City Lit – available online or in person.