Every book passes through many hands before arriving at your local bookstore or library. We’ve developed a six-part series, How Does Publishing Work?, to shed light on a book’s journey to publication. From developing stories and characters, to editing and illustration, through to the publishing and marketing stage, this series takes a look at all the different people and processes involved in bringing your favourite stories to life.
In part one of our How Does Publishing Work series, we covered the key elements of writing a book, from developing plot and character to the process of writing a manuscript. Now, in part two, we’ll explain how to finalize your manuscript and submit it to a publisher, with a few insights from our managing editor, Laura McKay-Keizer, and writer/artist Jen Storm!
What do I do when I’ve finished the first draft of my manuscript?
Manuscript refers to the draft of your book that you will submit to a publisher. Before submitting your manuscript, make sure to revise your manuscript thoroughly and edit it to the best of your ability. A publisher’s first impression of you is based on your manuscript; think of publishers as potential employers and your manuscript as your resume. Your manuscript is ready to be submitted once you feel it’s the best possible representation of you and your work. If you aren’t sure how you might improve your manuscript, Laura has a few suggestions for new writers.
“Most libraries have writer-in-residence programs. The writer-in-residence at a library is often a professional writer who is available to consult on your manuscript, usually free of charge. The library is also a great place to look for listings for creative writing programs or writing groups in your area, who may be able to provide helpful feedback. Some writers also choose to hire a freelance writer or editor to work with them on the revision process.”
What is copyright, and how does it affect my manuscript?
When developing a book, it’s extremely important that your work is 100% your own. Copyright is a form of law that protects authors from anyone using their work without permission. Intentionally using someone else’s work violates copyright law and is considered a form of stealing; this is something a publisher takes very seriously. This page can help you learn more about copyright law in Canada.
Who is my audience, and how does it affect my manuscript?
As you revise your manuscript, spend some time thinking about the readers who might be interested in your book. Most authors find it helpful to develop an audience profile, which helps you think about who your readers are. To create an audience profile, write a list of characteristics your ideal reader might have. Some questions you can ask yourself while creating an audience profile might include:
- How old is my reader?
- What are their favourite book genres?
- Where do they live?
- What are their interests?
- How do they find out about new books?
You may also find it helpful to think of your audience profile as a character by giving it a person’s name, or even adding a picture next to the profile to give them a “face.” You can even create a secondary audience profile if you feel that more than one kind of reader will enjoy your book.
Many publishers will request information about your ideal audience as part of your query letter (a type of cover letter) when you submit your manuscript. Thinking about your book’s audience as you revise will help you prepare your submission later, and will also help you choose publishers to submit to.
I’ve finished editing my manuscript. Now what?
Once you’re confident in the quality of your manuscript, the next step is to submit it to a publisher. Traditional publishers are companies who licence an author’s work and handle the process of producing and selling a book. If a publisher likes your manuscript and wants to publish your manuscript, they’ll work with you on a contract that outlines how your book will be used, how long the licence will last, and how you’ll be paid for it.
So, how do I find a publisher that might be interested in my book?
In general, publishers have niches, which means they specialize in a certain kind of book for a specific audience. For example, Portage & Main Press publishes a wide range of innovative and practical K–12 educational materials, while HighWater Press publishes books by Indigenous authors with a focus on children’s books, young adult literature, general fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels.
The best place to start is by looking at books that are similar to yours! Flip open the books that inspired your story and you’ll notice that one of the first pages contains information about the publisher and the edition of the book. This is called the “imprint page.” The imprint page will have the name and logo of the book’s publisher, as well as information like their address and website. Another great tool for finding publishers in your niche is this publisher search tool by the Association of Canadian Publishers.
Once you’ve found a publisher that interests you, do some research online about the kinds of titles they publish. If people who fit your audience profile would like a lot of their titles, they might be a great fit for your book!
Most publishers are up-front with their niches in their Submission Guidelines, which are commonly found on the publisher’s website. If you review the Submission Guidelines for Portage & Main Press and HighWater Press, you’ll see a description of the kinds of books we do publish, the kinds of books we don’t publish, and instructions for submitting your manuscript.
How can I improve my chances of getting published?
This resource is filled with helpful, straightforward resources for emerging writers. Most of the questions you might have about getting published, establishing yourself as an author, and accessing resources are all covered!
What if my book is rejected?
If you submit your manuscript, and the publisher sends you a rejection letter, don’t be discouraged!
“There are many reasons why a publisher might reject your book, and they don’t mean your story is bad or not worth telling,” says Laura. “They may have already published something too similar, they might not feel that their audience is the right one for your piece, or they might just be too busy for a new project at the moment.”
Rejection is something all authors have experienced, and is a normal part of the submission process—so don’t give up. Take it from Jen Storm, who published her first book when she was fourteen years old.
“Don’t let rejection make you feel inferior or unskilled,” says Jen. “Move to the next thing and save it for another publisher.”
Who will review my manuscript?
Once you submit your manuscript, it will likely end up in the inbox of an acquisitions or managing editor like Laura.
“Once I receive and review a manuscript, I’m looking at a lot of different things,” Laura says. “I’m checking if the story is unique and whether we’ve published anything similar. I’m asking if it’s right for our audience. And, to some extent, I’m looking for a little more information about you; do you have a social media platform or website, and are they appropriate for our audience?”
When Laura finds a good fit, she reaches out to the author to discuss the next steps. What follows is a long process of editing, revising, and the many other steps that go into making and marketing your book, which we’ll cover in future parts of this series.
“Publishing takes longer than most people think,” Laura explains. “Children’s books and novels take at least a year, and graphic novels take about eighteen months, but these time frames can vary. A lot depends on an author’s ability to complete revisions quickly!”
How quickly will I hear back after submitting my manuscript?
After submitting your manuscript, be aware that you won’t likely hear back right away. Acquisitions editors often wear a lot of different hats within the publishing company, and may have a very busy inbox. If you don’t hear back within six months or so, you can send a follow-up to check on your submission. However, sometimes your best bet is simply to be patient.
What’s it like working with an editor?
Once your manuscript has been accepted, you’ll begin to work with an editor to fine-tune your manuscript. Editors look at manuscripts from a totally new perspective; they’re looking for ways to strengthen your story and make it even better for the reader. For Jen, this was a huge learning curve that helped her career in the long-term.
“I was young during my first time working with an editor, and I didn’t learn the terms and skills in high school that were expected of me,” she says. “For example, I didn’t understand what character development actually meant, or how to take their critiques and make a stronger scene because I didn’t understand the editor’s language.”
Jen’s experience is very normal for new writers, so keep in mind that you don’t need to know everything right away. The important thing is to keep working and continue learning, which is exactly what Jen did.
“The publisher ended up having the editor work with me piece-by-piece over a year, and it was a huge learning opportunity for me that I never forgot. They were very encouraging and helped me get my story where it needed to be.”
Meet Writer & Artist Jen Storm
Jen Storm is an Ojibway writer from the Couchiching First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Jen completed Deadly Loyalties, her first novel, at age fourteen. Fire Starters (an AIYLA Honour Book) was her first graphic novel. Jen was a 2017 recipient for the CBC Manitoba’s Future 40 Under 40. She can be found on Instagram @jenstorm_art where she shares her passion for creating art and updates on future projects.
Meet Our Managing Editor
Laura McKay-Keizer (she/her/hers) is a writer and Managing Editor at Portage & Main Press/HighWater Press. She holds a Bachelor of English Literature (Hons.) from the University of Manitoba, and started her career as a copywriter (which has very little to do with the copyright law we just covered!). She became an editorial assistant at Portage & Main Press in 2016, and has worked for the company ever since.
Would you like to be an editor someday? When asked what skills are essential to succeed as an editor, Laura had lots of great advice.
“Ideally, you should have a tendency to pick out typos, be comfortable asking lots of questions, and be extremely detail-oriented,” she said. “It’s also crucial to have really good communication and diplomacy skills; editing is Diplomacy 101 because you’re communicating sensitive feedback about someone’s deeply personal work.”