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Bryan Heathman
  June 17, 2016

Getting a Traditional Publishing Contract for Your Book

For many writers, the labyrinth of details involved in book publishing are as mysterious as the secrets of the ancient pyramids – and seemingly just as impenetrable! But it’s really no mystery, just a lot of common sense and hard work. Let’s break it down.

Legacy publishing, or what many people call traditional publishing, is still the largest sector of the book marketplace in 2016 when it comes to selling books. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble bookstore, the spines you see lining the shelves are there because a traditional publisher selected a manuscript and went through the laborious process of bringing it to market.

If you are an author frothing at the mouth to sell your manuscript for an advance on royalties, here’s a glimpse into that seemingly cryptic journey.

What’s really involved in traditionally publishing your book? Let’s take a look at the process for getting your book into the hands of hungry readers.

Finding the Right Fit With An Agent

The process typically starts with finding a literary agent. The agent’s job is to marry your manuscript with the perfect publisher. Sometimes this involves shopping your book to their connections in the industry. Other times this means entering your book in a live auction for the rights to the manuscript. It all depends on the agent’s judgment, their assessment of your work and the marketplace.

This quest to find the perfect literary agent always begins with your book proposal. You can find templates online for this. While templates are helpful, they can be your starting point as many agents have their own specific requirements (often published on their websites). The proposal needs to include a summary of your book, a sample of your writing, a profile of what your audience looks like and information about your “platform” (or Marketing Plan). The book proposal will show best practices to generate awareness for your book and demonstrate how similar books are being presented.

Be sure you find the right type of agent for your genre, one who deals in your genre. You’ll need to send a query letter before you send your book proposal, or your costly submission package may be wasted.

Let’s Make A Deal!

The legal aspects of the deal you strike with a publisher require care. Working with an agent can be a help or a hindrance in getting your book published through a traditional publisher, and it often depends on the situation.

An agent can put your project in front of just the right people and open doors you’d never even considered. On the other hand, working with an agent can delay the publishing process, sometimes by years. Go carefully in this area. To coin a phrase, date before getting married.

There are some authors who manage to work with publishers without involving an agent, but these cases are rare and can be a bit tricky to enter into. If you can get around using an agent to cement your book deal, you can save that commission – typically 15% from your royalties – but you may wind up in murky waters when you negotiate your deal with a publisher unless you are familiar with common terms of a book contract.

Whether or not you have an agent, you will need to thoroughly work out the derivative rights and advance on royalties. Be sure you consider all the angles before signing the final document.

If a publisher is footing the bill for the book’s cover, interior layout, editing, proofreading and inventory, they often would like to retain the copyright for your manuscript. However this isn’t always the case, and some authors retain copyright. This can be one of your bargaining chips involved in making the deal.

You will want to consider the implications of your contract down the road when your book becomes a major hit, is published in several languages or is optioned for a Hollywood movie. Your best move is to have any legal aspects of the deal reviewed by a qualified attorney or book industry insider.

When you finally land that all-important publishing contract, the haggling may be over but there’s more work to be done. The timeline to get your book into the marketplace through a traditional publisher can take a year and a half or more.

But don’t be discouraged. This downtime presents a great opportunity to build your audience and create suspense for your book’s release.

To learn more about the traditional publishing process, I would encourage you to check-out this comparison chart on 3 most common publishing models. And remember, life is about the journey…enjoy it to the fullest!