Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How a Book Gets Published

UPDATED: April 13, 2017

So here goes: the basics of how a book gets published. Please note that this refers to mainstream publishing and not self-publishing, which is something else entirely. But most of the books you see in bookstores happened this way:

From book to agent

For a first time author, a book generally starts with a completely finished and polished manuscript for fiction and memoirs, and a proposal and sample pages for nonfiction. Yes, novelists: you have to write the whole thing. Published authors can sometimes sell novels on proposal. Lucky them!

It's then generally advisable for an unpublished author to find a literary agent, who helps shepherd an author through the publishing process in exchange for 15% of the proceeds from the book for domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales. If the book doesn’t sell to a publisher, the agent doesn’t receive any money from the author other than recouping incidental fees like photocopying.

Very few publishers accept submissions from un-agented authors, so this is a nearly essential step to be published by one of the major publishers. Plus, a good agent can give a project a better chance at succeeding and will usually be able to negotiate a better deal than the author would be able to achieve on their own.

(For a complete overview of what agents do, see this post).

Submission to publishers

Once an agent has taken on a project they then send it to one or more editors at different publishing houses. The agent will specifically target the submission to the editors that they feel are most appropriate for the book. The editors take a look at the project, and if it's something they are interested in they will share it with their colleagues and boss(es) to gauge the enthusiasm. Once the editor has the go-ahead to move forward with the project they will send the agent an offer.

The submission process can take anywhere from a week to a year or more depending on when/if the agent finds a match for the project.

Offer and negotiations

The terms of the offer usually include an advance, royalties, which countries the publisher can sell into, and other specific terms (please see my publishing glossary for definitions).

An advance is a payment to the author, usually divided into installments, which is theirs to keep regardless of how many copies the book sells, assuming the author fulfills all the terms of the agreement.

Royalties are a percentage of every copy sold, either on the list price of the book or on a publisher’s net profits. These go first toward paying down the advance (but again, the author doesn’t have to pay back the advance if they don’t sell enough copies). After the advance is covered by royalties, which is called “earning out,” the royalties go to the author.

For example, if an author receives a $50,000 advance with hardcover royalties of 10% of list price on a $25 book, they need to sell 20,000 copies to “earn out” ($2.50 per copy x 20,000 copies = $50,000 advance). Afterward, the author receives $2.50 per additional copy sold. The agent receives 15% of the $50,000 advance as well as 15% of the royalties if the book earns out.

Sometimes the offer will be for one book or sometimes it will be for multiple books. If more than one editor is interested in the project an agent may ask all the editors for their best offers, or the agent may hold an auction to determine which publisher will bid the highest.

When the deal points have been agreed upon and the author accepts an offer the publisher will send a contract, which the agent or the agency's contracts director will negotiate.

Editing and production

After the contract has been signed, if the project was sold on proposal it's then time for the author to write the book.

Once the manuscript is completed (nonfiction) or after the contract is signed (fiction) the editor will usually send an editorial letter suggesting content changes that the author will then make. These changes are somewhat negotiable, but for the most part authors will follow their editor's suggestions.

When the changes have been made and the manuscript is deemed editorially acceptable it moves to copyediting, where typos and other errors are corrected, and designed as it will look on the page. The author has to review the different versions of the completed manuscript to catch typos. The publisher is also working during this time on the design of the book, including the cover, trim size, paper type, and other design-y considerations.

Meanwhile, the editor is coordinating with their marketing and sales teams to write copy for the publisher's seasonal catalog, write the jacket copy, to (hopefully) generate enthusiasm among the sales team for the project, and to help shape marketing plans. Several months before the book's publication the sales team will be coordinating with bookstore buyers and other "accounts" as they place their orders, which helps determine how many copies of the book the publisher prints. The agent usually keeps tabs on this process to make sure everything is happening according to plan.

The publication process from finished manuscript to in-bookstore books usually takes a year or more. It can occasionally be compressed if it is an especially timely project, but the process usually requires quite a bit of lead time.


When publication date arrives the book goes on sale and the author is rich and famous behind their wildest dreams. Sometimes. Not usually.

The author then gets cracking on their next book (or rather, they should already have been cracking), and the process repeats.

The end!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster by Daniel Maclise


lynnrush said...

Nice! This is great stuff here.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand the typesetting part, since everyone writes on a computer these daysand the whole book can be put on a flashdrive and the typesetting done off of that. (And yes, I realize it will have to be manipulated some.) Is it still the case that a manuscript is stil typeset by linotypers somewhere?

wickerman said...

You forgot about the movie deals, chicks and Oprah appearances. Sheesh! You're slipping Nathan!

Kiersten said...

I'll just add that, since contracts can sometimes take months to arrive, a lot of authors receive editorial letters before they see their contracts. I know I will.

I think I'm going to direct everyone I've ever known to this post so I don't have to explain it. Yet again.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not typset in the literal sense (it's done on computer), it's just still usually called that.

Kristi said...

Great post - Oh, I can't wait to go through this process you describe so well. I sent a query for one of my books to one editor (I figure that way, the most I can get is one rejection - not sure I'm ready for a bunch in a row yet) and they requested the ms. However, they've had it for over 3 weeks and I haven't heard anything yet so I may have to suck it up and write more query letters. THEN when I'm published, I'm goin' agent hunting. In the meantime, I'll just keep writing...:)

Anonymous said...

What I meant was, is the entire manuscript typed again, rather than simply using the author's computer file? Seems like it would be a needless waste of time.

wickerman said...

Just had a more serious thought...

Say you were may agent Nathan - no really just say it... - Ahem... Anyway..

Say I call you and say that the editor wants me to change something I absolutely feel is a bad thing to change and i really feel I can't bring myself to do it.

How much would an unknown/inexperienced author be able to haggle through his agent before he put himself/herself in a position to jeopardize the relationship with the editor and possibly the the whole deal?

Alan Orloff said...

Uh, shouldn't the author get cracking on his/her next book well before the first book's publication?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm pretty sure they usually work off of the electronic version of the manuscript, but I know some publishers actually have it outsourced and retyped.

But honestly the production stuff mostly happens outside of my view. If any editors out there want to weigh in on the latest in typesetting I'd be curious as well.

Other Lisa said...

@Kristi - congratulations on the MS request. But I strongly advise you to look for an agent before you get published or submit to more publishers (I'm assuming this is a novel/book-length non-fiction MS and not short stories or articles).

Aside from the difficulty of finding publishers who will consider unagented MS, when you really really need an agent is when they offer you a deal. Deals are complicated and they are not something you want to negotiate on your own (unless you are a publishing contract expert, in which case, never mind).

I'm confident that the vast majority of published (or soon to be published) authors will tell you the same thing.

Word Ver: "neade." See?

Nathan Bransford said...


It really depends on how important the change is to the editor. Sometimes the agent can serve as a mediator in these situations. But every situation is different.

Anonymous said...

Great post Nathan. I know when I started my WIP I found agent blogs the most informative resources. Now when I'm ready to query, I can do so with confidence.

Kellie said...

Nice overview, Nathan.

Anon, the manuscript is not retyped: the text from a word processing file is poured into a (computer-based) page layout. A book designer decides how the pages will look (fonts, sizes, margins, headers, etc), and either he/she or a production artist goes through the text to fit the words into that page design. A book isn't just a Word document pasted between two covers: the text inside a book has been massaged and manipulated by production people to be as clean, attractive, and legible as possible.

Bane of Anubis said...


Anonymous said...

Just reading about this process gets my heart racing. Am I the only one who get motivated to complete my WIP so that I can experience it first hand?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Nathan. Could you elaborate on the "agent submits to editors" part. I've heard that it is typical (and good) for agents to submit to 10-12 editors in a round. Is this often the case? And how do you go about submitting to these editors? Do you call them and pitch? Send a pitch letter? How often do you follow up?

Moonrat's recent post about agent communication has me wondering all these things. I am about to go on submission and I'd like to ask my agent these questions but I want to make sure not to offend. Can I ask to see a pitch letter? Ask to hear her pitch? People always say ask a bunch of questions before you sign, which I did, but really the real test cannot come until you are actually in this process.

Appreciate it!

Literary Cowgirl said...

For anyone looking for an additional resource, I'd like to suggest IT'S A BUNNY EAT BUNNY WORLD, by Olga Litowinsky.

It is primarily about the children's book world, but chalked full of really useful info for anyone.

And, thanks again Nathan for helping us navigate this crazy biz.

Meg Spencer said...

@Alan Orloff:

That had been my impression as well. Reading that line I was thinking, "dude (I think in CA slang), why didn't the author start writing that next book as soon as they started querying the first book?"

Otherwise awesome post, per usual. :)

Nathan Bransford said...


A lot of that varies from project to project. How I decide on which strategy is not something I feel totally comfortable blogging about as every situation is different. Sorry!

But if you become my client I'd be more than happy to discuss strategy with you.

Although I will say I'm very prompt with my editor follow-ups.

Nathan Bransford said...

alan orloff-

Good point. Updated accordingly.

Anonymous said...

So, Nathan, about that last line...

Once an author has gotten one book contract (for fiction), what is your advice to authors on the second book in terms of what to submit? Is fifty pages plus a synopsis acceptable? Has the economic landscape changed sufficiently that full MSs are more desirable?

Kristi said...

@Other Lisa - thanks for the advice. I'm most definitely not a publishing contracts expert. This is only a picture book though and I thought it might be easier to get an agent for my MS and YA if I can say I'm published. Of course, if I'm not published by the time I finish my YA then I'll try the agent route first. Thanks again and I can't wait to read your book. :)

J.J. Bennett said...

I bet as an agent, it's exciting to see the process, and progress through with a new client.

Great information as always... Thanks for all you do Nathan!


Nathan Bransford said...


Again, depends on the particular project. But by the time a book is under contract and the current manuscript is delivered the author and I will have discussed next-book strategy.

Richard Mabry said...

Nice post. As a "published novelist" (well, about-to-be-published) I get asked about the process fairly often. Don't dare take this post off your archives, because I'm going to be referring these questioners to it frequently.

Stuart Neville said...

Excellent post, Nathan, and I really liked that you used the term "match" in regards to finding an editor. I've said it before, but I really feel this is something that a lot of blogging publishing folks don't emphasise enough: assuming the work is of publishable quality, an editor's (and indeed agent's) decision to take something on is more about their personal connection with it than anything else. As you say, a match.

On the typesetting questions above - I typeset (I use the term loosely) a free short story collection that I gave away on my website, with margins and fonts and all that stuff, to "Royal" size so it would look like a proper book. I tell you, I have a lot of respect for typesetters now. That stuff is hard work! The hours I spent agonising because I couldn't get a paragraph to end in the right place on the page, or there were two words left dangling, and so on. Kudos to typesetters, says I.

Rebecca Knight said...

I totally agree--this is a great resource to point friends and family to! It's amazing what misconceptions folks have about a) how quickly books get published and b) what agents and editors actually do.

We appreciate it! :)

Laura Martone said...

Wow, that sounds easy! What am I so worried about?

Dick Margulis said...

Regarding typesetting...

Microsoft Word is a word processing program. Typesetting is done in a page layout program (typically InDesign), which has much finer controls for presenting type well on the page. In addition, the manuscript is typically (in the case of fiction) all typed in Word's "Normal" paragraph style. The compositor (typesetter, book designer, whatever you want to call him or her) assigns different style names to subheadings, chapter titles, and so forth. The Word file is then imported into the page layout program and cleaned up. For example, most authors don't know the difference between a hyphen and a dash, and they have no friggin' clue what an en dash is. So there is some work to do in typesetting a book, but most of the keystrokes are captured from the author's original Word file. Little rekeying is involved anymore.

Laura Martone said...

Of course, I was kidding. I am well aware that getting published is not an easy process.

It's helpful to understand what happens, step by step. So, thanks as always, Nathan, for taking the time to share. (Though, wow, I AM a little surprised that this is the first time you've posted this...)

familysaga said...

Never seen such a description as this all layed out so well. But most importantly I would like to say that I have never seen such wonderful encouragement to the aspiring writers anywhere on the webb. Not one of your blogs display any hint of discouragement and you seem to work so hard while at the same time loving every minute of it. If I wore a hat I'd take it off right now. If I were in your presence I'd dive for a hand shake, and timidly ask for your autograph. (not blushing)
God bless you in all that you do.

Anonymous said...

A riveting read

DebraLSchubert said...

OMG. I need a nap.

Clarity said...

Good. Thanks for the nuts and bolts review. Now I can finish my three masterpieces.

One thing I would ask is, what if the writer wishes to produce work in 2 or 3 genres? Can that make no difference at all, be a positive or prove to be challenging?

This question may need repetition if there is some query form I've missed on here.

Rose said...

Thank you, Nathan. I've just run a mental time line on the process as it applies to an unpublished author under the best of conditions:

Year One: write the damned thing. Stop talking about it and just do it.

Year Two: Do diligent agent shopping

Year Three: Agent does diligent editor shopping

Wild bidding ensues.

Oh, wait, sorry, I had a momentary reality lapse there.

Year Four: The eventual acquisition editor mocks up production budget and "sells" the book internally. Any subsequent contract terms and offers that follow, are based on the projected profit margin.

Year Five: The editing and design process commences.

Year Six: Production and distribution

Year Seven: revenues, maybe.

Many people think that a first book can be written and sold overnight. And almost as many as folks think that publishing a book is synonymous with earning an significant income from it.

Every time I hear some one say "I'm writing a book," I want to say, do you really know what you are letting yourself in for? The only thing that holds me back is that no one likes a buzzkiller.

Rose said...

Thank you, Nathan. I've just run a mental time line on the process as it applies to an unpublished author under the best of conditions:

Year One: write the damned thing. Stop talking about it and just do it.

Year Two: Do diligent agent shopping

Year Three: Agent does diligent editor shopping

Wild bidding ensues.

Oh, wait, sorry, I had a momentary reality lapse there.

Year Four: The eventual acquisition editor mocks up production budget and "sells" the book internally. Any subsequent contract terms and offers that follow, are based on the projected profit margin.

Year Five: The editing and design process commences.

Year Six: Production and distribution

Year Seven: revenues, maybe.

Many people think that a first book can be written and sold overnight. And almost as many as folks think that publishing a book is synonymous with earning an significant income from it.

Every time I hear some one say "I'm writing a book," I want to say, do you really know what you are letting yourself in for? The only thing that holds me back is that no one likes a buzzkiller.

Clarity said...

Rose, I am sure you don't mean to be a buzzkiller, but perhaps you forget, some of us LOVE to write, simply write.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "next book" part of the process--when is it appropriate to bring it up with the publisher that you have another book ready for their consideration? Is it best to wait until the first book is publisshed to mention that you have another one already drafted? Or as soon as the edited first, second, or third draft is done should the writer let them know it is available whenever they'd like to see it?

Pamala Knight said...

According to THE INTERN, the final steps are earning out your advance and getting a hand-written fan letter from a little old lady in Florida. THEN, you're all set. Welcome to author world.

Literary Cowgirl said...


Congrats! Don't expect to hear anything too quickly, though. I had a children's publisher ask me to write a PB for them, and I had to wait at least six weeks before hearing back. A year later, and it was going nowhere, fast.

I can't count how many queries I sent out to agents, but none were interested, even though it is a story covering a sadly obscured topic of great social and historical importance (and hopefull, wlll be gobbled right up by North American librarians). I was assigned to an editor, and the publisher is highly award winning, but the truth is that agents don't make enough from PBs. However, that doesn't mean that an agent isn't sometimes necessary, so keep hunting or ask for a rec.

I finally found one in a writer's group. He has been very helpful not only in helping me understand the contract proposal, but in getting my project a few rungs higher on the publisher's priority list. The fact of the matter is, even with PBs, the people who work at publishing companies are very busy people with a million projects to handle. Even if you know what you're talking about in the contract department, the movers and shakers are the ones that get their emails and phone calls returned first.

Best of luck. Please, keep us let us know how your journey goes and when your ms is published!

T. Anne said...

Thanx. It appears you are the new Noah Lukeman, using your agent superpowers to assist the weary budding authors of the world. The fact your advice is free doesn't hurt either. =) Continue in your awesomeness.

C.D. Reimer said...

The movies theaters had this commercial (Sprint?) where a screenwriter gets his script accepted, putting up a new flat screen TV, and then picking out a red convertible at the dealership with a new, doe-eyed girlfriend in hand. I hated that commercial.

I'm still waiting for the red convertible and girlfriend stage to happen.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering, I'm a first time writer, I say writer because I'm unpublished in any work, and I have ZERO experience in writing. I've completed a fiction novel, and have started on my second, but I'm unsure of what to put on my query letter, when I have no experience. I'm not a college graduate, an English major, nor have I ever won any awards for my work. I am a simple stay at home mom, who had a story to tell and that's what I've done. However, what should I put to get an agents or publishers attention to who I am?


Thermocline said...

You forgot to include the "Author Needs an Advil/Drink/Scream" step while waiting and waiting to progress on to each of the next stages.

Who knew trying to feign feeling calm could be so difficult?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 4:52 - do not describe your book as a "fiction novel" or else you will likely "queryfail". All novels are "fiction" by definition. Not all books are fiction. :D

Nathan Bransford said...


That's something best discussed with your agent.


That's in the FAQs.

And yeah, like anon@5:17 said, it's just "a novel." I wouldn't reject you solely because you said "fiction novel" but the query wouldn't be getting off to a strong start.

TC Laverdure said...

What a great post. Got my chi flowing to make my novel a reality. I would like to know more about the editing process.

A few questions I have now are 1) How much control does the author have with the editors? 2) Do editors write books? As an additional question.

Does Nathan Bransford write fiction?

Nice post, muchas gracias.

Andrew Ross said...

Well put together, Nathan. Unfortunately I feel this model will be obsolete in 3-5 years. Authors will soon write and distribute their novels online. They will be their own agents, pr, marketing, their own brand, if you will. They will use video blogs and social networks to promote their personal brands and art. If they are providing top notch content (fiction/non) they will monetize. Change is coming fast. Be ready.



Kristi said...

@Literary Cowgirl - thanks and best of luck to you too! I still don't grasp having to write a query for a PB - it took almost as long to write the letter as it did to write the book. Oh well, back to my YA ms....

Nathan Bransford said...


Mike Shatzkin actually just posted on this. In the near future the advantage is still going to lie with the mainstream publishers because right now they still offer an unmatched range of services. That may change if there's ever a tipping point to mostly e-books and they become more important than print.

I'll negotiate on behalf of my clients with whomever is delivering the content, whether that's a publisher or an e-distributor. What is keeping me up at night right now isn't that content delivery will change. Piracy is what has me really nervous.

Strange Fiction said...

Okay. Desperately seeking agent. What would the odds be of one showing up at the ranch one day-- desperately seeking an author? Crud. That’s exactly what I thought.

Anonymous said...


That's something best discussed with your agent."

Alas, I don't have an agent. Just a publisher. I guess I'll just shoot them a note when I have rewritten the thing into the best I can possibly make .

nkrell said...

Write, publish, repeat. Sounds good to me.

Nathan Bransford said...


If you haven't already, you could also first try and find an agent with your current manuscript. If agents aren't biting, yeah, when it's ready.

Literary Cowgirl said...

Nathan has some great posts on writing a query. He even has a formula post which I love. And, if your PB took you less time to write than a query would, brace yourself. You'd be surprised how much editors can push you with 1000 words. Revision should be a four letter word. I hope your luck is better than mine. Just like with my Flash Fiction, I find it takes far more editing than my longer work. But then again, my ms deals with a very sensitive topic.

Sorry, but I completely disagree. I don't think that offereing work for free is going to be likely, unless you want to read books by retirees, the unemployed and stay at home moms. Therefore, money will still be involved. I believe that the model will change somewhat, but I think that, especially with internet content and e-readers, advertising may come more into play. Lots of bloggers are making a living this way. Perhaps publishing houses will be linked with advertising firms- firms that want a good strong product to carry their brand. And oh boy, is that ever going to pump up te need for agents. The need for agents actually seems to be growing. I know a verteran, very well known Canadian writer who is shopping for an agent right now. She never had need of one before.

Just my opinion. And then again, maybe I've been whiffing too much horse crap today.

terryd said...

Excellent post, Nathan. I knew it wasn't the stork, all along!

My forthcoming book (a First Page Contest finalist on a certain agent's blog) just passed my editor's muster, and I'm awaiting the proofreading phase.

Laura Martone said...

C.D. - I LOVE that commercial... because, sadly, it's so true. I've seen many a friend with "principles" sacrifice his/her story and integrity for the accoutrements of wealth and fame. I hope that never happens to me - luckily, I've never been terribly materialistic - but I'm sure it's a great temptation for many people.

My favorite part of that commercial is when the studio exec says the script (which has already been bought by the studio) is too violent... and the screenwriter says "Yeah, it's about Jack the Ripper." Later, all it takes is one look at his hot girlfriend - and he's cool with changing the main character to "Jack the Rapper".

Incidentally, what bothers you about the commercial? The apparent lack of integrity? Or the fact that you don't have a hot car and/or girl of your own yet? Just curious. :-)

iamfrightenedtoo said...

i would honestly almost rather self publish. even though possibly having to self publish makes me want to be dead. or even become an inde publisher, but that is expensive. who has this money?

not to mention apparently there is more respect from being published through a house than a self pub.

even though when i walk through borders and find hundreds of books that would never ever make it to my shelf. even books in my preferred genre.

agents talk about the slush pile and the no pile, how do half of these books ever make it to the publisher? someone is lying to us somewhere. (kidding) but kind of frustrated. (mostly because my work sucks, but still.)

great blog

Clarity said...

Hi Nathan,

Variation on a former query: With regards to the second work, if the writer wishes to offer a book of a completely different genre, can that make no difference at all, be a positive or prove to be challenging for the agent?

Nathan Bransford said...


These days: it can definitely be challenging. But it depends on the author and the project.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Well laid out. Thanks!

coffeelvnmom said...

Excellent post Nathan. The perfect reference for us, and also for writers to send to our family and friends who don't know the specifics of this time-consuming process!

Kristi said...

@Literary Cowgirl - thanks again. At least now the query is written so I just need to "personalize" it to send other places. I'm the revision Queen left to my own devices - it's probably a means of procrastinating my submissions but we all have our issues.

OK, 3000 words later on my ms and I'm going night night.

Rissa Watkins said...

Getting a book published is easy peasy then, huh?

My question is when does the writer get paid for the advance in that process? I know you mentioned in previous posts that some publishers are changing when they pay out.

Thanks for another informative post. So glad you are one of the agents I stalk, I mean follow.

Clarity said...

Thank you Nathan.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank you, Nathan, for spelling out the steps involved in the mainstream publication of a book. I’m delighted to discover that these steps are exactly the process I thought existed after reading blogs of agents, editors and mainstream authors and corresponding with authors in writing groups.

I’m also delighted that, within the past few years, I’ve discovered more and more books written by authors I’ve met online in bookstores! It’s been very exciting. Last night, before going to the movie theater to see PONYO, I wandered into a local Borders bookstore and discovered copies of TWO novels by an author in one of my writing groups on a prominent display table. The book covers also announced that she’s now a New York Times Best-selling author. Awesome! I cross my fingers that I’ll one day see my own books in bookstores.

Kia said...

But...I can't face starting another novel. I know it's what authors must do if they want to make a living from their books, but it's almost like giving birth and then immediately trying to get pregnant again... ok, bad analogy but the sentiment is there.

> iamfrightenedtoo
"I would honestly almost rather self publish. even though possibly having to self publish makes me want to be dead."

Don't give up! Keep polishing your work until you ARE proud of it and then start querying. If you find that you can't get an agent, maybe you can try some small presses (NOT 'independent' ones that you pay). If you still don't get anywhere, start another novel. There are so many published authors who only managed to publish with their fifth/tenth/twentieth novel so don't give up!

(Ok, I'm done with the Coach Carter routine.)

Gina said...

´I don't think that offereing work for free is going to be likely, unless you want to read books by retirees, the unemployed and stay at home moms.´

@LiteraryCowgirl: I do want to read books by these people! I like Frank McCourt and JK Rowling!

B. said...

Hi Nathan,

I've been wanting to ask: let's imagine a writer is from one of those bizarre countries where the fine occupation of literary agent does basically not exist (yes, France, I mean you). Let's imagine our writer's chosen genre is not quite as popular locally as in English-speaking territories. If our foreign writer bravely decided to attempt writing in English instead of her native language, would an American (or British) agent even consider representing her? Has it ever been done before?

Gina said...

@B. - my tuppence worth:

If you check out agents in Britain and their client lists you´ll find that it´s done all the time (start here: )
However, it´s generally agreed that since the demise of the Net Book Agreement (start here, it´s an ok explanation: ) in Britain (and lately also due to the global recession) the publishing industry there is having an even worse time than elsewhere, with the obvious result that even less risks are taken, in particular with debut authors. So you might consider it a better idea to try the US.

Hat Man said...

This is one way a book gets published. Some of our best books were self published. Thoreau's Cape Cod for example.

The other way is to publish it yourself. This is not anymore necessarily a road to oblivion.

If you want to learn more about the future of publishing, email me at

T.Wolfe said...

I guess I have a question ...

Is it a good idea to have all the books in a series done before you look for an agent or is it okay to start the process with just one of the books finished?

Each book has closure it is just that the last book finishes the main overlying theme.

Lydia Sharp said...

So that's what you were doing over the weekend, instead of responding to your avalanche of e-mails? Tsk tsk.

But seriously, this is an excellent post.

You say the submission process can take anywhere from a week to a year or more. Just out of curiosity, what's the average wait time you've experienced with the authors you currently represent?

Also, can you clarify this (or perhaps give an example): "Sometimes the offer will be for one book or sometimes the offer will be for multiple books." In the case of multiple books, does that mean multiple book proposals were submitted (I'm assuming, in any case, that only one MS goes out), or does this mean that the publisher wants to see a series, or the like?

Sarah Erber said...

Great post Nathan!

I always love reading solid information that's put simply. *Smiles*

Beth said...

Great info. I'm printing this out. THANKS.

Just finished my debut women's fiction novel, am in the editing phase and hired a professional editor. Was that a good move?

Mira said...

Marilyn, I hope so too! How bizzare that award winnning works aren't in bookstores. Although, so many people buy from Amazon now, that at least your books are still accessible.

Nathan, thanks for this. I learned alot. Sometimes you don't even know what you don't know.

SZ said...

Thank you for another great and imformative post !

Do you need an agent to submit short stories ? Any thoughts from you or your readers on the idea of writing a short story then maybe the novel at a later date if well recieved ?

wranglerdani said...

Wow! Great post. This is super helpful.

So, forgive if this has been covered, but about how many pages should one send for a nonfiction proposal? How much of a nonfiction MS should be completed before you query? Sorry if these seem obvious... I'm new to this whole gig. :)

Literary Cowgirl said...

to use your analogy, I'm not sure anyone is ready to commit to the time and effort of having another baby right away, but the fun is in the "trying", even if that's all it is.

Great stuff! Keep going! Can't wait to see you in print.

crow productions said...

I enjoy your blog. I have a math question. If there are more writers than readers how many agents are there?

Literary Cowgirl said...

Gina, ok, great point. But how many more works would they have been able to produce? And, I poke fun because I am a stay at home mom who is finally abe to write seriously, because I'm unemployed (except by three little tyrants, their father, and our spread of critters).

Reesha said...

Thanks for the link in the comments, Nathan. Great stuff.

Reading over this process never gets old. It excites me every time I imagine myself getting there and going through each delicious step, even rejection.

Can't wait 'til my book is polished enough for me to start querying.

Books, books, books! Read 'em and write 'em! yay!

Also, Literary Cowgirl, your name is awesome and it sounds like your life is great. Can I live vicariously through you?

Agent Smith Smith said...

haha this is great :D thx

Literary Cowgirl said...

Reesha, thanks. You are definitely free to, but it isn't all as glamorous as it sounds. I mostly scrub chicken crap off of eggs, run lunch to the tractor, and try to put three little ones under 6 to sleep in the truck, because I'm hauling hay out of the field late into the night (last night). But, the in betweens are amazing, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Andrew Ross said...

look at what the ipod did to cds. soon an e-reader (tablet? who knows) is going to do the same to the publishing industry, let alone tv. and as soon as a device comes along like this for tv, a massive cultural (and advertising $$) shift is going to be devestating for those not already in position with online (video) content. go e-books!

Ian said...

Fantabulous! You're providing a valuable resource, Nathan. Many thanks.

B. said...


Good bits of information both, thank you! I am somewhat reassured. By which I mean, I know my endeavor is this side of crazy, but at least I'm not alone in this.

Nathan Bransford said...

I'm sorry, those last two comments are fishy. If the authors want to e-mail me to convince me otherwise please feel free.

Nathan Bransford said...

Whoops - for those viewing comments I meant two deleted comments, not Ian's and B's.

Anonymous said...

KNCA - Question here for Nathan or anyone who knows... What are the differences in duties between content editing and "book doctoring?" Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

Content editing is for books that need restructuring, redevelopment, content added or deleted. The editor with suggest reorganizing of information, add new material, change where artwork is placed and improve the clarity of writing. It is close to book coaching but is targeted at the words. Book coaching is higher level.

Cat_d_Fifth said...

Hi Nathan, First of all, thankg for all these tips and info... they're really invaluable!
I've just finished my first manuscript, and am wondering whether agents only want to see a polished manuscript that has been professionally edited, or whether they're open to seeing work self-edited by authors and may not be quite as polished as it could be. After all, the work will be edited further by the publisher's editor, right?

Nathan Bransford said...

Hi Cat, there's a post on that in the FAQs.

Anonymous said...

Ok so let's say that I have finished and polished my international best seller (and I assure you it will be), it's on the shelves and I am being dubbed the next Stephenie Meyer x Stephen King x Dean Koonz x Dan Brown (LOL). I as the author can't wait to see the movie. How would the author/agent/editor/publisher go about pitching movie directors (or whoever it is that turns a book into a movie)?

Sorry about the absense of monkies but my MC kept eating them.

Anonymous said...

So what's the best age to look for a literary agent? When where's a good place to look?

I'm 12yrs old I'm in the middle of writing 2 books and I've got 15 other book idea's. Would some people take pity on me just because I'm 12?

Linda Randall said...

I love your blog, I was doing research on Wall Street Journal Best Sellers, trying to figure out who Stephen King's Literary Agent is, and there's no INFO anywhere.

I blog about writing novels, fashion news, movie and book reviews and I have an Entertainment site as well.

I've written several manuscripts (unpublished) and I'm working on building a platform as a writer, studying the marketing and promotional side of writing, authors and publishing, before I send out queries. :)

vitalpulp said...

Hello Nathan,

Your blog and information is very helpful and greatly appreciated. My question is: should I get a lawyer or anything copyrighted before I start sending agents query letters/partial/entire manuscripts? In other can it be guaranteed that no one will steal my ideas or book?
Thank you so much for all of your help.

Nathan Bransford said...


Please consult the blog FAQs.

Heather said...

I am just beginning to learn how to have a manuscript published. Could you please answer - sure to be a stupid question - if it should be copyrighted before it goes to the agent.

Your sight has been truly helpful.

william ball said...

Hey Nathan,
I have a publisher who is willing to work with me but they say I need to have my manuscript formatted correctly as far as dialogue goes. Who do I get to do this? Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated!

Dan said...


Thank you so much for all this information. It's so helpful for writers who are trying to make sense of the industry. The layout of your website is great too. It's extremely user-friendly.

Looking forward to your next blog!

Anonymous said...

Do you personally require a manuscript to be completed before sending a query to you?

Deepa said...

Hey Nathan,

Thanks for the really simple explanation on the process, helped an awful lot!

I have a question regardint location... barriers. Do I have to be us resident to get a book published here? or get an agent here?

thewritestuff said...

Great read, Nathan. I have a question about how editors and agents look at a manuscript(s). I have a 100,000 word fantasy story for middle grade readers. Yes, I know that's way too long. If I break it up into three books, do I pitch only the first book, or all three books as a series? Thanks for your input.

2 Ply Parachutes said...

Damn...glad i stumbled across this blog. Just surfed on in.

You have an almost eery ability to clarify questions and cover topics that have been treading water in my melon for some time.

I know this is an older post, can't wait to browse everything else you have up. Its like discovering your first Dylan album and realizing you're just getting started.

OK...maybe its not quite THAT cool, but you get my point.

Anyway, great blog.

Its almost feels wrong that this information is so easily accessible.

Or maybe it feels right.

I'm gunna double down on "right".

God I love the internet.

I'm going to stop typing now.

Anonymous said...

How do you get an agent any way I understand the rest of it but, how you get an agent and how do you write a query letter any way? Sorry these are probably really stupid questions but i'm a 15 year old with a book that has 70,422 words on her hands and wants to get it taken care of.

Nithin R S said...

Is there any scope for poetry?

Anonymous said...

Typesetting has now been folded into the design part of the process. The look of the page vis a vie the font, spacing, and margins is part of the design.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, anon.

Jeff Shear said...

What happens within the publishing house after an agent has submitted a manuscript to an editor who wants his or her company to take the project on? What is the process that leads up to a contract offer. How are pages and payments worked out; is this SOP?

jessi said...

I am curious what the ratio of query letters to request for partials is. If an agent responds to a query and asks for a partial, is the author more likely to get published than all the other people submitting queries? Or do agents ask for partials and decide against going any further all the time?

I have recently had an agent request a partial, and while my friends and family are ecstatic and can't wait to hear more, I feel very cautious about getting my hopes up.

MaryAnn said...

Nathan, what if I sign with an agent and they don't sell the book? At what point am I allowed to find another agent and let them try?

MaryAnn said...

I've finished my book, I think it is polished. I'm so afraid at this point. Afraid that it stinks. Because how do you be objective about your own work? I mean, I think it's good, but will anyone else?

I can't seem to get up the nerve to send that first query.

Anonymous said...

Very useful post Nathan
I Have two questions
a) How serious are literary agencies when they reject your submissions with sugar coated words- interesting ideas, great plot, good writing etc
b) To what extent the writing is done by the editors in terms of removing the typos, improving the language grammar etc

Anonymous said...

Very useful post Nathan
I Have two questions
a) How serious are literary agencies when they reject your submissions with sugar coated words- interesting ideas, great plot, good writing etc
b) To what extent the writing is done by the editors in terms of removing the typos, improving the language grammar etc

Nathan Bransford said...


Answer to question #1
Answer to question #2

Jennifer Shepherd said...

For novelists and children's book authors, publishing the traditional way may make sense. If you want to make money immediately after launching, however, and you write non-fiction, Ebook publishing and self-publishing print books through a program like Amazon's Createspace can work well. Also, if you publish technical manuals, creating your Ebook as a simple PDF file and selling it can be a great way to retain ALL your profits.

These days publishing houses have very little time/money/personnel available to promote a non-celebrity's book, so the promotional efforts all fall on the shoulder of the author. If you're going to be doing all the promotion yourself, and, presumably, a lot of this would be happening through stuff you do online with your own website, then marketing your own work can be a much more profitable, quick, and fun way to reach your audience - ASAP! :)

Kaete Mariaca said...

To add to Jennifer's comment - yes, self-publishing eBooks can be highly profitable and lots of fun (though please hire an editor ;). CreateSpace is not the only place to self-publish. Google Books, which opened on December 17, is a great platform for self-published eBook authors, as is Amazon, though you have to convert your book to DTP, which is now very easy to do on their website.

One recommendation I didn't see here in the whole "how to get published" process, though Jennifer alluded to it, is the importance of writers, whether going the traditional or the eBook route, to build a platform.

Building a platform of eager-to-get-their-hands-on-your-book readers is essential, and fairly easy to accomplish. Besides, when you write your query letters, it is always nice to be able to include something along the lines of, "And I have 1,000 daily visitors to my author blog."

JaysonC said...

Nathan, I have a vague recollection of looking into publishing a novel when I was much younger and thinking that process seemed quite intimidating. However, as of late it doesn't seem to be all that frightening and to be sure I think that your post has helped alleviate some of that fear.
Also, I'm nearer the end than the beginning with the first draft of my first novel so I'm keenly aware of how much further I really have to go. So in spite of my lack of experience with the process from beginning to end I do realize it's a long road ahead but I have to emphasize what some others have written here, it makes me exited.
Finally, I have no allusions that getting one novel published will bring me great riches but it's one of things I can say that I did. I figure even if I only ever complete a second draft and try to get it published then I can say I tried.
I kind of feel that way about the novel I recently adapted into a screenplay. I keep it in view at all times to remind of how much I can actually accomplish when I actually try. Sometime soon I hope to add my novel to that pile.

Steffy2106 said...

Hello Natha.

Thank you for writing sich a useful blog.
I published a lot of VERY popular stories on
I was wondering if it was worth mentioning it in my query letter?


Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for all the great information. Once a contract is signed, is the author free to speak openly about the contents of the book before publication? Also, for marketing purposes, how much can the publishers reveal before publication?

Thanks a lot,

BKent said...

Calling ALL Writers! Write for the "Book Times" and get published online! Read more:

Michelle Worthington - Author said...

The journey doesnt end with your book getting published, the work is just beginning. Keep motivated and focused on sharing your passion with the world.

Anonymous said...

THat was cool

Anonymous said...

Uhmmm... Lets say I'm a really young author. Just imagine if I were like 10? So can I still get a book published?

kat said...

How does one become an editor?

Katie Aiken Ritter said...

Nathan, thank you so much for this post!

I've revised my novel at my agent's request before she pitches it to publishers--and I've been frustrated wondering what the process is and how long it should take.

What can I do to NOT drive her crazy in the meantime? It feels as if everything takes so long--for my revisions to be read, for the agency to be satisfied...for the pitch to even start. Is it helpful to nudge every now and then, or just plain annoying?

I'm learning be patient, be patient, be patient...that the summer bestseller I envisioned last autumn ain't happenin' that fast!...but I sometimes worry that I'm so far down on her priority list that I'm miniscule.

Which is probably nuts. But thanks for any advice or encouragement on the timeline question above.

Silly Guy said...

I started writing my own books when I was about 8 or 9. I got a lot of insparation to start writing books from my best friend.

David Yearwood said...

This is powerful I can now write the book I am saying no to for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am not a writer but am looking for the proper channels to take to get my story out to the public. This happened to me and each time I tell it to people the typical reaction is that could be a movie. It involves an IVF (in Vitro Fertilization) treatment and my x-wife. I have the best intentions for geting this story out but need help.

Could some one point me in the right direction Please.

God bless

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan for a great set of posts. Few questions for you and other visitors.

1. How much of content suggestions come - something like, its better to have another view point here or quote your source et al. and at what phase/stage?

2. I see lot of books which have extremely high level of citations. Is it usually authors who go through all of them painstakingly? or is there someone who carries out research based on the objective stated by the author?

3. Is it common for say jr. editors (or someone else maybe) to suggest alternative words. I mean you could have a writer with solid content but is weak in vocab, which means lot of such suggestions.

Anonymous said...

How is it that some authors are able to bang out 3 books in one year (trilogy)? I noticed you posted from final manuscript to release of the book can take at least a year or more.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious in our day that anyone with any kind of audience (radio/tv/music) gets an automatic book deal.
This should suggest to most "writers" who want to be published, to have a subject that crosses easily over into mass media. John Grisham does this unashamedly and very well while Steven King does not. This shift in taste also means that writers will cater to internet audiences like in the massively popular (frontpage news now) spookypasta. Millenials do not care about your outline to success when everything and anything is instantly published online, read, critiqued and re-printed ad nauseum. Payment comes in many forms depending on what "writers" are looking for: fame, infamey, ad clicks, hard book deals, movie deals, recognition by anyone they care about.

Deborah S. Nelson said...

About that typesetting comment...Many processes today in digital publishing still use that older terminology including typesetting, the book layout, galleys, plates, press check. With digital printing, we use the keyboard for typsetting, what was once the book layout is now the digital file, the plates equal the master file set up if the book is print on demand, the press check is an interior digital review. Since I now work in self-publishing, instead of a contract we use an Intent to Publish Agreement (with ourselves and/or publishing coach.) Great article, very thorough and interesting!

Anonymous said...

This is sort of like a primer on how a book gets published in an ideal world that no longer exists. For beginning writers, it can be almost impossible to get an agent and the agent you are likely to get will be some faker who is more of an obstacle than a help. Then you are not only being ignored by publishers, you are being ignored by your agency even before you get to any publishers. I am an editor and even though we say we want agented mss just to cut down the traffic, the fact is I accept lots of mss direct from authors. The 2 main things an agent does is tell you if your ms is any good then if it is pester editors to read it. Some agents will also help you spruce up a flawed ms. to make it more appealing to publishers. But if you can also make all this happen yourself. You can polish your ms by workshopping it in a writers' group or working on it with an editor you contact yourself (there are reputable editing associations). Then you can start submitting it to independent presses that accept direct manuscripts and also many presses like mine that say they don't but really do if it looks good enough. Don't send out one mss and wait for six months for a response. Spend a lot of time making up a really professional, really hot really short submission package. Get blurbs from published writers if you know any. Put the best possible spin on things. Then send it out to 20 publishers at a time, re-contacting them every 3 weeks in a nice but persistent way. That's what agents do! This is hard and frustrating work but it is not easy to become a legitimately published writer these days and this is often the only way you can get your start.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the info. I enjoyed reading the post and all the comments below it. this is helpful since I am just starting out. At least now I know a general starting point and can feel confident when I send out Query letters and go for an agent.


Anonymous said...

I'm laughing at the comments regarding, "why doesn't the writer start writing book 2 the minute book 1 is sent off to the agent/publisher" and the variant, "but some of us looo-oove to write" - well, my first novel is just at the stage of being read by publishers and I have been writing it while working full time in a very stressful job for about three years - including all the rewrites. This means writing all weekend, every weekend, plus a couple of hours each evening for as long as I can remember. I am burned out, people! No brain cells left! it's going to take me a good few months for anything even vaguely creative to start welling up again!

Anonymous said...

Great Website

Anonymous said...

Great information. I now know how a book gets published!

Anonymous said...

Thanks I am ten and I found this very informitive. Also I am wrighting a ficton book

Anonymous said...

You gave so much info


Anonymous said...

Thanks,now it seems even more discouraging, but I'll not think about it until I get there ( maybe ).

Sheri Douglas said...

First time writer here. Should I get my book edited for errors (grammar and the such) first before looking for a literary agent? Or would an agent help me with that as well? Everyone keeps saying to have it done before looking, but how "done" should the book be first? I love my baby but I don't want to spend 5 years polishing it up if it's not worth it, wouldn't an agent be able to tell me this before I potentially waste all that time?

Nathan Bransford said...

Hi Sheri,

Here's my post on that:

Also, if you decide you want to go the paid route, I'm offering edits and consultations:

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