How to approach a publisher

I’m currently helping a client find a publisher for their second novel and thought it might be helpful to outline the accepted practice and protocols to consider if you are doing the same with your work.

Approaching a publisher can be a daunting task for any writer, whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned pro. Knowing what a publisher expects can help you increase your chances of success. Here’s some key points to consider:

1. Research Publishers

Before you even think about sending out your manuscript, it’s essential to do your homework. Research publishers that specialise in your genre. Each publisher, and agent within the publisher, has specific tastes and requirements, so it’s important to target those who are likely to be interested in your work. Otherwise it’s a wasted effort. Look at the books they’ve published recently, and make a note of any trends or common themes. This will help you refer to specific writers In your submission letter which will show you have done your research. The Writers & Artists Handbook is an invaluable resource in searching for the right publisher for your book, whether it is fiction or non fiction.

2. Understand Submission Guidelines

Every publisher has different submission guidelines and it’s important that you strictly follow these. You can’t get away with using a generic submission for each publisher. These guidelines are often detailed on their website. They usually specify what they want in a submission package, which might include a query letter, a synopsis, sample chapters, a biography or the entire manuscript. Don’t ruin your chances by not getting this stage absolutely right.

Whilst it’s accepted that you are likely to submit to several publishers at the same time, don’t submit to multiple agents within the same publisher. Check the guidelines to see whether they ask for an exclusive submission. If you have researched and targeted well, it would be worth waiting to see if your chosen publisher responds before trying another. You can mention in your query letter that you are approaching them exclusively because of your desire to work with them. But then wait before trying another!

3. Craft a Strong Query Letter

The query letter is your first point of contact with a publisher, and it needs to make a strong impression. Keep it concise and professional. Usually this is submitted as a covering email with attachments or it may be an online submission. Your letter should include:

  • A brief introduction: Mention the title of your manuscript, its genre, and word count.
  • A short synopsis: Summarise your story in a few paragraphs, highlighting the main plot points and the unique aspects of your work.
  • Your credentials: Provide relevant information about your writing background, any previously published works, and your expertise and interest in the subject matter of your book.
  • Personalisation: This is really important and shows the publisher that you have done your homework. Address the letter to a specific editor or agent, if possible, and mention why you think your book would be a good fit for their list. Look at who they have published and whether there are any similarities. Likewise, you might compare your writing style or genre to a well known writer.

4. Prepare a Synopsis

A synopsis is a detailed summary of your manuscript. While the query letter gives a high-level overview, the synopsis should cover all the major plot points, character arcs, and resolutions. Keep it clear and concise, typically no longer than two pages but again check with the individual guidelines of the publisher as they may ask for just one page. Publishers use the synopsis to gauge whether your story has a compelling and well-structured narrative and if it is likely to be commercially successful.

5. Polish Your Manuscript

I cannot stress this strongly enough – it is vital that your manuscript is polished to perfection before submission. This means thorough editing and proofreading. And not by a neighbour or friend who’s good at English! Consider hiring a professional editor and proofreader to help you refine your work. A manuscript that has multiple errors will look completely unprofessional.

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Elements such as formatting can help although, ultimately, a publisher would correct margins, font etc. But the standard is:

  • 12pt Times New Roman or Arial – don’t be tempted to use a fancy font as it’s difficult for them to read
  • Double line spacing
  • Left alignment 
  • An indent at the start of each paragraph (including at the start of each line of dialogue) 
  • No indent at the start of the first paragraph of a chapter or the beginning of a new scene.

They may only ask for the first three chapters so if you haven’t formatted your whole document, don’t panic – make sure the first three chapters are as perfect as you can get them. Then you can work on the whole document in readiness for any publisher that gets back to you for the manuscript.

7. Be Realistic, Patient and Persistent

The publishing process can be slow, and rejections are part of the journey. Expect rejections but don’t be discouraged by a few setbacks. Each rejection is an opportunity to learn and improve. Don’t dismiss any feedback because you’re upset at the rejection – use it to refine your next submission.

Many publishers can take from 6 weeks to 3 months to get back to you although you should receive an acknowledgment that they have received your submission.

8. Consider Literary Agents

Literary agents have established relationships with publishers and can help you navigate the submission process. A good agent will also assist with contract negotiations and provide career guidance. You will see when researching whether a publisher is taking non-solicited submissions. An agent will know who best to target. They will also give you valuable feedback about the viability of your work. Again, the Writers & Artists Handbook has a full list of UK agents.


Approaching a publisher requires a combination of research, preparation, and perseverance. By understanding the process, following submission guidelines, and presenting your work professionally, you can significantly increase your chances of success. Remember, every published author once faced the same challenges, and with determination, you too can see your work in print!

If you would like any advice or support with this or any other aspect of your writing journey, call Liz on 07702 808137.

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