Journey to Trad Publishing Industry

Hey you guys! I wanted your advice into taking my first steps to the Trad publishing road.

I’ve been researching thoroughly on Trad Vs indie Route and found that Trad is the way for me. Regardless of how long it may take (yes I’m learning to discipline my impulsive self), I believe it will be worth the wait when I hold my very own stories in my hand.

Now the question remains, what are the experiences for those who went to Trad publish route, or researched, you experienced? What advice would you give a debut author like me? Maybe wanna share Do’s and Dont’s?

(Or maybe wanna tag along and hear about my ramblings and learning experience :wink:)

Okay so I finally found the Agency I’d like to work with very much and would definitely like to be represented by them. I, also, just send them an inquiry email asking about a few questions that I needed to be clarified so that I can continue the step of applying their form.

However I have several questions:

  1. Does anyone have resources on how to best write a query/cover letter?
  2. Does anyone know sources of how to best find Comps? I researched recently what it is but I can’t find credible sources on my own that help provide comps?

Thank you for taking the time to read my long ramble and set of questions!

Looking forward to reading your advice and guidance

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I haven’t published or researched publishing personally, but my best friend has been going down the traditional publishing route for a few years now. Gosh I wish she had an account on Wacky so I could tag her here, because she could have so much to share with you and it would be better than anything I can write about her experience. But I’ll write her journey anyways because I think it can still be helpful.

My friend (RoseMarry on Wattpad, but she doesn’t use her account anymore) tried multiple times to publish. She hired a developmental editor to help her polish her book to the best of her ability and did a lot of research, perfected her submissions, and was completely rejected. She did this process 3 more times before she gave up on that book, effectively completing over 400,000 words worth of revisions and rewrites. After that, she went into a creative writing master’s program, which really helped change her strategy on getting published.

From what I’ve heard from her since then, connections to other trad. pub. authors, organizations, etc. and having small published pieces are absolutely necessary unless you have a solid fan base or social media presence.

After learning this, she’s spent the last 2 years publishing flash fiction and creative nonfiction essays to get her name out and build a portfolio of published work that she can take to an agent and say, “see, my work is valuable; it’s been chosen by multiple different magazines and journals.” Her mentor in the creative writing program suggested she get a website set up where she can compile all of them into one place. It would show to an agent that she was serious about writing. So, she’s currently working on this. Through this experience of getting her work published and a lot of the event coordinating she did at her university, she also earned connections and friendships with published authors and a magazine that she now edits for.

She also learned that she shouldn’t try to submit her passion project first. She should try first with a less ambitious, more easily sellable novel that targets a similar audience. This is because a publisher doesn’t want to take a risk with something that may be experimental, have strong messages, or be semi-controversial. But they would be much more willing to take that risk later after she’s proved herself by developing a solid fan base through other published novels. And so, her professors encouraged her to start a new book, which she is going to submit as her thesis for the program. Actually, this winter she’s going to complete a last set of revisions and start submitting it to the agent one of her professors referred her to. This is actually the same agent the professor went through to get his own books published, and so immediately her chances are going to be higher because of that connection. Which is kind of cool.

We’re both still not sure if she’ll get published this time, but I would say she has a good shot. Her writing has improved so much thanks to all of the guidance and feedback she’s acquired through her first publishing attempt and her program, and her story is pretty solid now. It probably just needs some minor edits here or there, which is what she’s going to be working on during this upcoming semester.

Overall, she’s probably written close to 700,000 words between all of her revisions and writing since the start of her publication journey. Before she started trying for publication, she had written 7-8 books I believe. She’s probably nearing a total of 1.5 mil words written if you add all of it up. The publishing journey is probably going to make you write and rewrite a LOT. And it might be a really long process for you, too. I do wish you luck! I don’t have advice for your other questions because I haven’t written any nor know how my friend wrote hers, but hopefully this was semi-helpful to read :star2:

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Nothing more to add than what we discussed earlier :rofl: but just here to follow the convo and see what others have to say :heart:

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Go through Query Shark archives.
Also look at Alexa Donne on youtube.
I think Alexa has a video on Comps, as well.

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You’re always wecome :purple_heart:

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Thank you for this blog! I went through it and it has some interesting points :thinking:

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Ooo does she have an it account that maybe I can follow and Dm her there?

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If I understand correctly, she’d recommend to start with small publishers then grow big, right?

It’s super is! :purple_heart:

When you refer to such number, you mean as her book is 700k or overall (with writing + edits + rewrites)?

It was very much! Thank you so much for your time and for writing this! :heart:

I do have a question, are there any means I can contact her and ask her further questions regarding her journey?

And I wonder if anyone knows how far could an agent/publisher accept experimental work even if I haven’t established a fan base yet?

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Ooo thank you for this!

I do watch Alexa Donne a LOT! but I haven’t reached those video yet (better start to then) XD

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Yes! Small magazines and journals are what she started with. She currently has 5 pieces published, and has one that she has just sent out and is still waiting on.

Yes, overall! Everything totaled together is 700k. Both of her final manuscripts are about 90k words long, so for current book material, she has 180k words. The rest of the 520,000 words have been lost in the revision and rewriting cycles ahaha.

She does have a discord, and she’s currently trying to set up some social media pages. I’ll let her know you’re interested in talking, and see which one she prefers to talk through if she’s up for it :smiley: when I know I’ll PM you.

I’m honestly not sure. She has been able to publish an experimental short story without a fanbase with relative ease. I can PM that to you if you’d like to see it. But as for a novel, I have no idea. I think it’ll be a lot more difficult of a process, though, and you might run into the same kind of money sink and rejection cycle she ran into (she regrets spending so much money on editors). But, this is also just one person’s experience, and one experience doesn’t mean it’s going to always be this way. Definitely worth talking to other authors about it!

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I have a few suggestions. I’ve received full requests for my work (though no representation officially yet, hopefully soon :crossed_fingers:) so I’ll try to share what I’ve learned so far.

As far as comps, here are a few things you can try:

  • Replace comps with “vibes.” Seriously, this helped me think outside the box because it didn’t feel so “formal.”
  • Use literature-magic.com to find authors you think write sorta similar to you. It gives you a “map” of other authors in the same area that readers also liked, and may help you find more books you can compare to.
  • Consider themes, character, and setting, not just plot. I tried for a long time to try and find comps that were similar in plot and failed miserably. But using the A x B model (ie. LITTLE MERMAID x BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) when it came to characters and themes helps. Most agents are just trying to get a vague sense of what they can expect from your novel.
  • Follow the directions provided. If the agent asks for the first 10 pages copy/pasted into QueryManager, ONLY provide the first 10 pages. If they ask for 3 pages and a 500 word synopsis, by golly make sure you do that. Nothing will turn off an agent faster than not following their individual directions. Agents use different methods to decide when they want to request full manuscripts.
  • Try to get right to the “high concept” pitch, like the “PitMad” event on Twitter. A couple sentences to give an “elevator pitch” of what your book is about. This is going to help agents (or their minions, in some cases) quickly decide if they like your concept. It cuts to the chase and saves everyone some time.
  • Stalk the agent you want to query. Seriously. Find their blog, their twitter, other social media, etc. This will help you personalize your query letter and ensure you are reaching out to someone who’s looking for what you’ve written. Then use that information in your query letter.
  • But don’t go overboard. If the agent you want to query likes ice skating and so do you, great! You can put in a single sentence toward the end of your letter that mentions this. Use what you’ve learned to highlight why you think this agent would be a good fit for your novel. It helps show that you did your research and know why this particular agent would be the best to represent you.
  • Keep your letter under 500 words. Sometimes it’s hard to boil down our precious works to nothing more than a few paragraphs, but agents run through dozens, maybe hundreds of queries a day. Make it pop with a little personality that ideally reflects your writing style (while maintaining professionalism). Below, see the query letter that got me a couple full manuscript requests to give you a few ideas.
Query

Dear ________
I’m submitting this query to you because upon reviewing your manuscript wishlist requests, my romance novel featuring royal mermen and lots of humor, heat, and intimacy seems to be right in line with what you’re looking to acquire.

While trying to achieve a record-breaking dive, River Hayes accidentally discovers the secret underwater kingdom of Nendavia, which was hidden from human savagery centuries ago. When Nendavia’s youngest prince, Endymion, finds River trespassing, he takes her captive to prevent the exposure of his people. Despite being an unwilling ‘guest,’ River is intrigued by the dark prince and his tortured past. Endymion and his six brothers want to know how she discovered Nendavia at all. As River finds herself falling for the enigmatic prince, she learns of a plot against the royal family that will upend Nendavia. River realizes she must convince Endymion that the real threat is closer than the human world, even if the truth means her home will be forever lost to her…and so might the sea prince she loves.

SONG OF THE ABYSS is a girl-power-cheering, sexy-merman-having, regency-centric 75,000 word fantasy romance set in a Grecian-style kingdom, drawing heavily on Greek mythology with an original twist and a bit of Phantom of the Opera thrown in. Despite the underwater setting, the novel’s heat level is fire. The story focuses mostly on the romance between Endymion and River, but a little political intrigue adds an extra layer of interest.

I believe SONG OF THE ABYSS checks all your required boxes, plus a few extra. You’ll note I marked it as being previously published—I self-published it on Amazon in early August of this year so a few friends could obtain physical and eBook copies, but I still retain all rights.

SONG OF THE ABYSS is a standalone novel but leaves open the door for additional fantasy romance tie-ins (there are seven princes, after all).

I appreciate your time reviewing my query and have a completed manuscript ready to send at your request. I look forward to hearing from you and, I hope, working with you in the future.

Sincerely,
CJ

There is no “right” way to write a query letter, but there are many ways to write a “wrong” one lol. I hope this helps a little (and doesn’t just make things more confusing). Happy to answer any questions you have!

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I have not published before (self or otherwise) but I would love to be traditionally published one day, and because of that, I have extensively researched the industry as much as possible (though, still learning myself) so I may have some insight to give.

There’s a lot to know about the trad-industry, some of it seeming like it’s obvious to know while other times, it comes on as brand new information because it isn’t talked about that much. So, if you have a bunch of questions you’d like to know, I can try to answer them. c:

But as far as some dos and don’ts? A couple that comes to mind about querying (as it seems like that’s the topic for now lol):

  1. Do your research on the agents you’re about to query.

What kind of books have they worked on, meaning their genres and target audiences? Were they popular at all? Were they published by the Big Five or other major or well known publishing houses? What are the things the agent/agency is looking for in regards to the guideline list?

The reason why you want to know about the agent and agency is because many writers don’t research who they’re about to query, which also means that they’ll query an agent who doesn’t represent their genre, target audience, or what have you. Querying an agent who doesn’t represent anything you write will give you an instant rejection. However, learning about the agency can also help you because if they’ve worked on some pretty big books, that means they can give you a chance at working with a big publishing company or at least with other opportunities (because technically, you don’t have to be published by a major publisher to get a movie deal or other kinds of opportunities).

  1. Do query a handful of agents at a time.

While you do want to keep in mind of agents who you want to represent you, you do want to expect to not be picked by most or all of them. This also goes back to researching about them because you do want to make sure they are a good fit for you, but also making sure you query agents that could potentially represent you whether or not they may check all the right boxes you’ve set up.

The other thing about this part is that you need to query a small handful of people before making any other decisions. First of all, querying to 50-100 agents at once can do some damage in various ways that are both on your behalf and theirs. Try querying 5-10 people at a time and if they give you feedback, review it and see if it can apply to your story. Then try again with a different handful. And again. If you’ve already queried like say 20-30 people, all rejections, look back at your query. Fix it. Or go back to your story and revise it. Then try again, with different people. If you’ve queried around 50 or more agents, and they’ve all rejected you, you may either want to revise your query or story again (make sure it’s been seen by beta readers and critique partners) or perhaps focus on another story and put this one on the backburner for a little bit.

  1. Do address the agent by their name.

Querying agents is very similar to applying for a job, and part of getting a job is writing cover letters (which is pretty much like a query letter). The problem that I’ve noticed with either group is that they might not address the hiring person (or agent in this case) by their name, but say something like, “Dear sir or madam” or “To whom it may concern.” And this can earn an easy rejection because it shows you didn’t do research. These people want to know you’ve done your research and that you put in the work and effort into the professionalism. If you’re querying to a Lauren Thompson or a Gregory Soto (fake names by the way), then address them in your letter by saying, “Dear Lauren Thompson” (or “Dear Ms. Thompson”) and “Dear Gregory Soto” (or “Dear Mr. Soto”).

  1. Do include the ending in your query.

When you’re writing the summary part of your query (talking about your story), you’re writing all of what happens in short. This means the ending is included. Your query shouldn’t be withdrawing information like that because the agent is wanting to know about the entirety of the story.

Again, think of it like trying to be hired for a job. The application includes any kind of work history you’ve previously had. If you’ve never had a real job before, you can talk about volunteer work, babysitting, mowing lawns, things you’ve done that shows you’re a hard worker and have some kind of experience.

Now yes, you don’t want to make your synopsis too long. However, you want to make sure everything major is included, and that goes for the ending.

  1. Don’t talk too much about yourself.

A lot of agents have reported an abundant of writers making query letters that are only about them… and this a red flag. You’re trying to sell your work, not yourself. If you want to sell yourself, then write a cover letter to employers. Not a query letter to literary agents. The only time when it’s probably okay to add something is when that information you’re about to share is relevant to your writing career like saying you have an AuthorTube channel and it has 20,000 subscribers or that you’ve written multiple short stories and novellas that have won multiple contests or that you’ve self-published a novel that has earned a bestseller status.

  1. Don’t follow up with agents if you haven’t heard from them yet… and it hasn’t been that long.

The publishing process is a long and tedious waiting game. This includes querying agents. They’re very busy people—even if they have assistants who’ll look at the queries for them—and get dozens upon dozens of queries. It typically takes a few months (even up to six months for some agents) to reply back if they do at all. If you try following up with them after a month or so, it could ruin your chances because they may think it’s annoying.

Now, if you have gotten some agents to take a bite, even said anything about requesting a full manuscript (which is a good sign) or may represent you, then you should email the rest with an update which could sometimes be good in your favor because then those agents who haven’t replied back might’ve actually liked it and may hurry up with an answer which gives you multiple agents to choose from to represent you.

  1. Don’t submit to agents within the same agency.

When you query to a single agent and they reject you, that means the entire agency rejected you. What I’ve heard what happens during the querying process is that the agent will pass the query around if they aren’t particularly interested and see if anyone else in their agency is, but if they give you a rejection, it means no one there wanted it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t query them ever again. After a certain amount of time—I believe it’s like six months or so?—you can query back to that agency, even to another person. But you do want to make sure your query is different along with a revised beginning of your story. If it’s the same exact query and opening scene you did before, there’s a good chance they’ll reject you.

Going back to the applying for a job analogy, it’s the same thing. I recently changed my job this summer. I used to work as a night auditor for a hotel and now I work at a library. I’ve applied to the library a few times—the first time (which was a few years ago when I barely had any work experience) they instantly turned me down, saying they’ve already hired someone. The second time was more recent—I got angry at my job one night because of how unfair and toxic they were being and decided to see if the library had any openings now that I had two years of customer service experience under my belt. I made a cover letter and revamped my resume (which hadn’t been revised since my mom made it for me when I was a teenager—and trust me, it needed a new look). A few hours later, got a job interview. But after a week (which they said they’d get back to me by then), they sent a rejection letter. A few weeks later, I went on vacation and found out they had another job opening. I emailed them, saying I would redo the application for their convenience and I decided to include a new resume look and a brand new cover letter (which was a tad bit longer as I added more about my passion for working in a library and my work ethic). Instantly got another job interview and a few days later, a job offer.

See, all these people—hiring managers and literary agents alike—are looking for people who actually put in the effort. If they weren’t particularly interested the first time (or interested enough to give you an offer), they probably won’t be the second time with the same information, you know? And yes, there are dozens of reasons why they may reject you, but you can’t always take that risk where it could’ve been because of the trends or they had too many queries at that time or whatnot. You need to make sure your story and your query looks their very best at all times.

  1. Don’t let rejects hold you back.

It’s very common to get rejected, even hundreds of them. But don’t let that stop you from querying or trying to publish overall. Some authors have written Book A that always got rejected, then decided to take a break and write Book B which, surprisingly, got them an agent and even published, and then eventually went back to Book A—whether right after Book B or after a few other books—which did get published. It is possible that this can happen.

It is also possible that the next agent you query will be the next who changes your life forever (for the good). Stephen King continuously got rejected and wanted to give up, for example. He threw his manuscript in the trash, but his wife told him to keep going. And now, he has published over seventy novels, sold millions of copies world wide, has dozens of movies and shows made based on his works, and is called the “King of Horror.” If he stopped trying to get published, he wouldn’t have been the author we know of today. And this is the same for every other author out there, so don’t give up!

I don’t think there is one specific way as there are a few that could help your chances.

When I revamped my cover letter/resume twice, I used examples off Google for the cover letter and a website to format my resume for me with filled in details.

Like, this is what I said in my first cover letter:

And this is what I said in my second cover letter:

This is what I’m meaning about revamping, etc. While the first one looks nice, it wasn’t all that great. The second one is so much better and doesn’t feel as monotonous like the first one.

Query letters a similar, and there are plenty of examples and websites for formatting to help you.

I definitely recommend looking into Reedsy—the YouTube channel and the blog! This one, for example, is all about comp titles! c:

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Oh also, aren’t there some agencies that do say that you can query other agents if the original agent you queried has rejected you? Because I have seen some agencies explicitly mention this in their submission guidelines, and some agencies explicitly mention not to query other agents with the same book, too.

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There are, but honestly, I would avoid querying to those agents because it’s completely unfair to wait 3-6 months for a single person to say no and then query that one other agent only for you to wait another 3-6 months for them to reject you when you could’ve possibly had someone interested ages ago.

The majority of agents expect you to query others. But like I said, you want to query a small batch not an entire fleet lol.

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