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A Pacific Islander’s Guide to Getting Published: Literary Agents and Publishers Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of our series dedicated to helping Pacific Islander creators navigate the publication process. In this post, we'll delve into the submission package. If you missed the previous posts, here is the first post and the second post.




 

If you wish to publish with a local press or a small publisher, head over their websites and check their submission guidelines and reading periods. This is an important step for your manuscript to be considered. The submission package you have prepared will be what the publisher asks for: a letter with a pitch that includes your manuscript genre(s), age category, word count, comparative published titles, and a short bio. 


If you want to be published by a big or mid-size publisher, you will, in most cases, need to seek representation with a literary agent beforehand, as most editors at these publishing houses will only accept submissions that come directly from literary agents. The literary agent you sign with will submit your work to publishers and negotiate contracts on your behalf. Good news: the submission package you’ve prepared is what you need to query literary agents. 


Before submitting to anyone, guarantee you do your due diligence. Research the agents and their agencies. Check their manuscript wish lists and what books they’ve sold to determine whether you will be a good match. Prepare your list of agents to query with not only your current manuscript in mind, but also the next projects you want to write and publish. Agents take their commissions on sales: they get paid when they sell your work. 


Some great resources to prepare your submission list are Manuscript Wishlist, Query Tracker (which enables you to see agents that represent your manuscript’s genre and age category, as well as sort agents’ location—UK, US, or AUS—and see whether or not they are currently open to submissions), or agents’ social media accounts. For agents’ sales, what they represent, and which imprints they’ve sold to before, you can check Publishers’ Marketplace (25 USD for a month’s subscription). If you’re writing a book for children, you can check book deals (and the agents who brokered them) for free on Publishers’ Weekly. The Authors Guild also has lots of information for creators and a contract review service (for a fee). If you’re not sure an agent you’re interested in is legitimate, you can check Writer’s Beware for information about exploitative agents and agencies. 


Similarly to choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing, the options mentioned above are not mutually exclusive: you can choose to submit to a literary agent and to independent presses at the same time. Just know that if an agent is interested in representing you and your work and you consider accepting their offer, you will likely need to pull your submission from the publisher(s). 


Other differences between Big/Mid-size and Small Publishers

Big and mid-size publishers give the author an up-front sum, or advance, that is paid in installments—usually upon signing the contract, submitting the final manuscript after edits, on publication, and in some cases a year after publication. Mid-size publishers may have smaller advances than big publishers. A number of factors go into determining an advance for a publisher, none of which are in the author’s control. It is your agent’s job to negotiate the best terms for you. Your agent may also sell several books to the publisher and license subsidiary rights. 


Big and mid-size publishers have the means to market and promote the book, get reviews, and distribute it more widely, and in a variety of formats, than small publishers. Keep in mind however that if you don’t earn out your advance, which happens more often than not, you won’t earn any royalties. As a creator, you also have less control over edits, the title and cover of your book, and marketing. While some authors have great experiences working with their editors and publishers, no publishing journey is the same. Just because big/mid-size houses have the budget to market your book extensively doesn’t mean they will necessarily do it. 


Small publishers are independent or non-profits. Some offer advances to authors while others don’t. You don’t need a literary agent to submit to small presses if they offer open submission periods. As a creator, you’ll want to check what the royalty rates in your contract are, as that      rate will determine how much money you earn per book sold. Outside of a literary agent, you can use the services of a publishing attorney to check your contract for you if you have any concerns or wish to negotiate its terms. 


There are small publishers of various sizes in the Pacific. Like with bigger publishers, the creative relationship with small presses varies from author to author and publisher to publisher. Some small presses may be involved in every stage of the publication process, working hand-in-hand with their authors and consulting with them on marketing plans and book covers, while others may be less responsive. Distribution will be more limited with small presses than bigger publishers, but it may work for you if your publisher’s audience and demographics match your book. Hence the need to weigh the pros and cons when you consider which publisher to submit your work. 


Last minute tips

Even after submitting your work to presses and/or literary agents, trust your instincts. If an offer (of publication or representation) sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Take time to check the press or the agent’s credentials. Some red flags include reading fees, unrealistic promises, typos and grammatical errors on their website, and asking you for money. Writer Beware lists common scams and pitfalls to avoid. Word of mouth is also a good way to protect yourself: ask writers around you about literary agents, or reach out to authors who’ve published with the press you wish to work with. 


Only you can decide on the best strategy and path for you and your book, and the more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be, so remember: 

  1. Make the manuscript the best you can. It’s tempting to hurry through the process, but you will feel more confident sending out a piece of work that you are truly satisfied with. 

  2. Know your manuscript’s metadata: genre(s) and age category, word count, comparative titles, target audience, and a pitch or hook similar to a back-cover blurb. 

  3. Do your research and assess your options. What is your target audience (Your community? Teenagers? Adults who enjoy historical fiction?) and how to best reach it? If you wish to self-publish, read about the process, and prepare your strategy. 

  4. Set realistic goals for yourself. What is “success” for you? Is it being able to hold your book in your hands, signing a contract with a publisher, or being nominated for an award? Everyone has different objectives, and knowing yours will help you manage your expectations.

  5. Be patient. The road is long, and publishing is slow, so look after yourself. Your creativity will thank you. 


We hope this blog series will help Pacific Islander creators who are interested in publishing their stories. In May, we will be sharing interviews of Pacific Islander publishing professionals who will give deeper insights into the publishing industry. Continue to follow for more!

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