How to Wisely Choose a Romance Publisher

The book of your heart (or at least the current book) is finished, revisions and everything. You stressed over each and every word, but now the writing is flawless. You won the battle with that character who wanted to go his/her own way or maybe you finally gave in and realized the character was right. The middle-of-the-book blues nearly did you in, but you made it beyond that point. Life kept getting in your way and trying to bog you down. But you wanted, needed, to finish the book to prove to yourself (and maybe other doubters in your life) that you could do it. Finally, finally your diligence paid off. You’ve put “The End” after the final word of the manuscript, or at least mentally put the words there. It all works, hopefully, and now you have something that will be an enjoyable read by someone other than your mom or best friend. (Okay, this may be a tad out there, but, hey, I’m a fiction writer. Go with it.)

Party time! The hard part of the writing process is over with. Now you can just get the book published and move on to the next book. Just get it published!? How? Where? This is not such a simple thing to do. Choosing, submitting to, and actually deciding to go with a publisher are a huge deal. Step wisely


1. You should already know your intended audience at this point, but fine tune the specific audience a bit now. Your book is a romance, that’s a given. What is the sub-genre? Contemporary, historical, inspirational, erotic, romantic suspense, paranormal, futuristic, fantasy, G/L, or one of the many other new sub-genres?
2. What is your desired achievement for this book? Do you only want to get published in a way that will put your book on the shelves of bookstores everywhere? Do you only want to be published with a recognizable imprint of one of the New York publishing houses? Can you settle for being published with a smaller or eBook press and have the main distribution of your book be online, as a download, or as a Print-on-Demand book? Do you not want to deal with either the big houses or the smaller presses and just want to publish the book yourself?
3. Money. What are your “I can only live with” goals as far as making a profit on your book’s publication? Will you only sell your book if you can get an advance (small for first time sales), praying you don’t have to pay the advance back or actually make enough in sales to earn royalties? Can you settle for contracting with a smaller or eBook press to receive only royalty payments of usually 35-50% for ebooks, 10-15% for print books? If you are self-publishing, can you pay the small amount to get the book published and be okay with receiving all of the sale money after that?
4. Okay maybe your book is as good as you can make it at this point, but it might be better with more editing. Would you feel most comfortable with having both an agent and a couple of editors at a big publisher cleaning up your manuscript? Could you be comfortable with working with one, maybe two, editors at a smaller publisher on editing your book? Are you completely confident in your own abilities to edit your book and work with a small publisher that doesn’t do any in-house editing? Or can you rely on your editing skills alone and publish your book yourself?
5. What about promoting your published book? You really should think about this aspect as well when you start thinking about finding a publisher. Unless you’re perfectly satisfied with selling only to your family and friends, promotion of your book is another big deal. Unless you’re a big name author like Nora Roberts, you are going to do a lot of the promotional work yourself. By publishing with a big New York house you might get more help in the promotional process, certainly with bigger distribution networks. Many of the smaller and eBook presses also have fairly good distribution networks set up, particularly with online distributors such as All Romance, BookStrand, Fictionwise, Mobipocket, Alibris, Abebooks, Baker & Taylor, BookSurgeDirect, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. If you self-publish, well, all promotional work is up to you.

FINAL STEPS TO CHOOSING A PUBLISHER: Research, research, research

1. Review the specifics of your book. Know your genre, your sub-genre, and your intended audience.
2. Go to a bookstore and spend time searching the shelves for books with similar focuses to your book. Make a note of publishers that you might be interested in learning more about.
3. If you are only thinking of publishing with a smaller press or eBook only press, go to the various online bookstores and peruse their “bookshelves” for books with similar focuses to your book.
4. Go online and lookup the websites of the big publishers or for the smaller presses and eBook publishers. Read everything you can about the publisher: publishing background, how long in business, their principals, how they distribute books, advances, royalties, payment schedule, cover art and how it’s handled, publishing schedule, how they communicate with their authors, and study their FAQs. Look at their available books, the number of authors they handle, how the website looks (Professional and helpful? Hard to get around?), and any helpful links for their authors and readers.
5. Pick a few of the publishers that most appeal to you and what needs you have for publishing. Focus on learning more about them. Read or at least skim some of the books that have similar focuses to your work. Would your book be a good fit for that publisher? Could you revise your manuscript for a better fit?
6. Use the writer’s grapevine. Talk to writers you know to see if anyone is familiar with a one of the publishers you are interested in submitting to. Browse the many available online forums that discuss the good points and bad points of various publishers. Check out The Writer’s Market for more possible information on the publisher.
7. Go online and get the guidelines for the publishers of interest to you. Read them over carefully and do exactly as they say when you format your manuscript for submission.

NOW SUBMIT YOUR BOOK. Then sit back for a day or two and just relax. Yes, you can party now if you feel like it. You’ve earned it. You’ve worked hard writing the manuscript and determining where to submit it for possible publication. There are more hard steps ahead in your writing career. But, for these precious few minutes after the work is submitted, life is good.


Reese Mobley said...

Great post, Starla. You really nailed it with this one. When I started writing I didn't know you were supposed to have a publishing company in mind. I thought you were just supposed to write the book and send it off and then, like magic, everyone would love it and want to buy it. Didn't happen like that. There are so many decisions that have to be made that you really have to treat this like a business. Thanks for the refresher course.

Rox Delaney said...

Wow, Starla, that was great! So well thought out, with tons of information for everybody.

Joan Vincent said...

This blew me away! What a gem of information and we can access it at any time! You've done an outstanding job of giving all the information one should consider and then some. Wish I had had this information years ago--glad to have it now!

Becky A said...

Miss Starla,
Can I borrow your brain for a few days? When I read a post like yours, which is great, my brain wants to shut down. So much to do. I've researched a lot of stuff but still have more to go.

One question I have that I can actually articulate at this point is, what about agents? The ones I have been researching want you to have media contacts as well as speaking engagements already at hand. They let it be known that you will be doing a lot of your own promotion which is maybe why I am now confused. In light of your article, if we understand all these things and pick the right publisher, would we even need an agent?

Thanks, Becky

Starla Kaye said...

Needing an agent is a personal decision...and sometimes a necessary decision if you want to deal with some of the bigger publishing houses. You do NOT need them for the smaller presses. I'm not sure they would even talk to an agent.

Pat would have better information on agent stuff. Years ago I had an agent and it was a complete waste of time. And, at the moment, I don't write for any big houses and doubt if I'd ever want to.

Not all big houses require using an agent. Sometimes an author chooses to use an agent because they simply don't want to go through the hassles of making contacts themselves with editors or figuring out on their own how to read the contracts. You do what you're comfortable with.

Rox Delaney said...

This link was passed on from Ally at Cataromance, and I thought it might help those of us who are struggling with how our writing should be marketed and how to choose a publisher.

Walk the Line: Seven Guidelines on Genre and Market Trends

Penny Rader said...

Great job, Starla! Everything I was going to say has already been said in the other comments. :D