How to Get Published by a Major Publisher

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Do you want to be published by one of the Big Five publishers? Being published by a major publisher has many advantages.

But while many authors aspire to break in, with a shrinking book market and corporate emphasis on profits, it's becoming harder and harder to break into the big leagues of book publishing.

That said, publishers need authors, and the notoriously passionate people who work in book publishing still get excited about great writers — especially those with proven and/or good sales potential.

Here's what you'll likely need to catch the attention of an editor in a Big Five publishing house:

You'll Need a Platform

Whether that platform is your own web series or a hundred thousand Twitter followers or an established history of literary publications and prizes or a popular blog, your publisher will be looking to you to help bring an audience to your work. It's a rare author these days who — with nothing but a great manuscript — stumbles upon a publisher.

Even if your book is just a gleam in your eye, learn about:

You'll Need Great Manuscript (Fiction) or a Great Book Proposal (Non-Fiction)

If your media platform is fantastic and your following is huge, then your literary agent and/or book publisher will likely forgive a few typos and formatting errors and proposal bobbles. 

But if you have something less than a hit TV show or viral web series or 100,000 Twitter followers, then be advised you will need to not only be a great writer or have a great idea but to present yourself and your work in the most professional light possible. To that end…

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You'll Need a Literary Agent

Literary agents are the gatekeepers for book editors, and they vet the gazillions of manuscripts and book proposals (see above) that want to get over a publisher's transom. Credentialed literary agents can be powerful advocates for your book and for your livelihood.

Note that though there are opportunities to catch the attention of traditional editors — in digital-first imprints of major publishers, for example. But, generally speaking, to publish with the majors an agent is essential. 

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You'll Need to Give up Some Control and Some Profits

If you're published by one of the Big Five, they are making an investment in you, the author, and your intellectual property. From editorial to production to sales and marketing and publicity, they are staffed up to take books from manuscript to the marketplace, and these resources cost them money (as they would cost you if you go the self-publishing route). 

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Because the publishing folks feel they know best, there are likely going to be some creative compromises and, because you've sold them some of the publishing rights to your work for a price, you're going to see less of the bottom line.

Traditional book publishing contracts favor the house so to insulate yourself from being taken advantage of, learn about:

The Alternatives

Does all of the above sound like too high a bar for you? Then note that small trade presses generally have the same types of parameters - but they operate on a more modest scale and might be a better fit. 

If it all sounds daunting for your highly personal book project, then you may want to consider self-publishing as an option - start by reading these reasons you might want to self-publish your book. And if you have a business or modest marketing platform you want to exploit with a book but don't want to do the required work to get a publisher or "go it alone," consider doing business with a hybrid publisher