Understanding the publishing industry

Let’s say the publisher has responded to your letter of inquiry and is willing to look at your book. You have formatted your manuscript to the publisher’s specifications (see formatting your manuscript), and now you send it off. Again, you wait. In the meantime, learning about the publishing industry and how it works can only improve your chances of success.

Know the industry

Learn more about the industry you are trying to get into. The following books are recommended to help you get an understanding of the industry: From Pitch to Publication by Carol Blake (Macmillan), The Writer’s Guide to Contract Negotiations by Richard Balkin (Writer’s Digest Books), The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect and Use Written Works by Stephen Fishman (Nolo Press), and The Writer’s Rights (A&C Black).

Understanding the publishing industry

You also might want to check out the Publishing Law Centre’s website (www.publaw.com) to read up on articles about intellectual property and other publishing-related legal issues. You do, after all, want to understand the contract you are about to sign. Trade websites and magazines can help you better understand the publishing industry and spot trends as they occur.

There are a large number of these, particularly in the USA, so it is best to check out the latest Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books) book or visit www.WritersMarket.com to find the ones that deal with the specific areas you are interested in.

Payment and Contracts

At last, the publisher responds to your submission, and it is either accepted or not. If it is accepted, the books listed above, or others similar to them, will help you understand how to negotiate with the publisher and whether the contract being offered is a good one.

Here, though, is a fundamental outline on how the payments work and how to handle this stage of the publishing process: Payment for your book usually comes in two forms: advances and royalties. Advances are upfront payments on your book.

Royalties are the percentage you earn on each copy sold. Generally, advances are broken up into three payments to the author. The first payment is on signing the contract, the second is on delivery of the completed manuscript, and the third is on publication of the book.

Depending on the contract you sign, a significant advance on your book will probably mean you receive less of royalty on individual copies sold. You will also only begin to receive royalties once your book has earned back, for the publisher, the money they gave you as an advance.

If you feel you need some help with your contract and don’t have or want an agent, you can enlist the services of a lawyer, although, if you do, be sure that it is one who specializes in intellectual property and has experience dealing with publishers.

A lawyer who doesn’t know the industry could waste a lot of time – time you are paying for – arguing over details that are standard in most publisher contracts and frustrating the publisher in the process.


Don’t get discouraged if your manuscript was rejected. At least, you have a manuscript to reject. If the rejecting publisher offered you advice on how to improve your manuscript – which hardly ever happens – then do take it, as it will more than likely improve the saleability of your book.

Otherwise, just find another publisher to submit it to and keep working on your next book. The road to publication is paved with rejection, and each one is a sign that your book is still getting out there.