How to Find the Perfect Publisher

When I was getting ready to attend my first writer’s conference, I had a difficult time trying to figure out which publisher to pick for my editor appointment. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I didn’t know who would be the best match for my book, much less who would provide the type of professional working relationship that I needed.

I’ve learned a lot since then about what goes into finding the perfect publisher. In fact, the first thing I’ve come to understand is that there is no perfect publisher. Publishing houses are staffed with regular people like you and me. They’re not perfect. And as we all know, traditional publication is in flux. Changes are never easy on writers or publishing house staff.

All that to say, we have to go into the publishing experience with realistic expectations. We won’t find one perfect publisher. But we can work at finding the best match possible. And here are three ways we can do that:

1. Get an agent’s help.

Yes, you might be thinking. This is a no-brainer. Many writers want to hook up with an agent because an agent is usually the expert on the various publishing houses and what types of books they’re looking for.

However, there are times when an unagented writer catches the attention of a publisher or editor. In such cases, if a writer seeks out an agent before making any decisions with the publisher, the agent can offer advice, send the manuscript to other houses, and work at getting the best deal.

Agents are often more willing to consider writers who are garnering publisher interest. Let the agent know and follow up with them if they already have your manuscript. If you’re not getting through to the agent, enlist the help of a current client.

2. Research, research, research.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of learning about various publishers you’re planning to target. And if you’re planning to publish without the help of an agent, then the research is even more crucial. I’ve talked with too many writers who’ve gone with small or subsidy presses and have had disappointing experiences.

There’s no shortcut to immersing yourself in the industry and learning all you can about publishers. Here are several ways to research:

  • Read books by the publisher(s) you hope to target.
  • Study different publishers and look at what most of their books have in common.
  • Check with authors who work with that publisher. Save this step until you’ve garnered interest from a specific publisher. Then you can email the author(s) to ask a few questions like: Were you satisfied with the editing? How much marketing do they offer? How well do they communicate?
  • Investigate the Preditors & Editors list. Google the publisher. Ask other writers on twitter or facebook their opinions.

3. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Some publishers are coveted more than others.Without naming names, we all know which publishers are bigger, more prestigious, and can do more for their authors in terms of advances, editing, marketing, and sales.

However, we can’t automatically assume that we should target the biggest houses. And we shouldn’t resort to smaller house only if the big deals don’t pan out. Our books are individuals and need personalized plans of action. There is no one-size-fits-all for publishing. We need to find the “hole” that matches our book.

What do you think? What are some other ways writers can find the best possible publisher for them? If you’re a published author, is your publisher a good fit? And if so, what did you do make sure you were a good match?

Post Author: Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling book, The Preacher’s Bride, a Carol Award finalist. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children. Her latest book, The Doctor’s Lady, released in September 2011.

32 Replies to “How to Find the Perfect Publisher”

  1. Hi Jody. Nice to see you on this site. This is such great advice for writers, but why is it that the best advice is sometimes the hardest to follow? 🙂 For writers like me who have never been published and are looking for an agent, I think the strong temptation here is to jump at the first publishing house (or agent) that shows an interest in your writing and plan to deal with any problems later – as long as the book gets published. There is also the fear that this will be the only one EVER to be interested so if you miss this opportunity – that’s it! Waiting on God’s timing is never easy, but I think it would be a lot harder with a publishing carrot dangling right in front of my nose! 🙂 I’m just sayin’…

    1. Oh Sherri – this is so true and was exactly what was running through my head as I read the post. I know before I got my contract, I just wanted a contract. It didn’t matter much who the publisher was. Thankfully, I’ve ended up with an amazing publisher. But I think if another publishing house had offered a contract, I would have accepted. Unless, of course, Rachelle advised me not to. But then again, she wouldn’t submit my work to a house unless she thought we’d be a good fit. So trusting your agent is huge.

      The advice I would have – and I know this is equally hard – but find an agent you can trust and knows both you and the business. I think it’s more important to not jump into a relationship with just any agent. Don’t settle. Because once you have a great agent cornering your career, than you can trust their decision with the publisher.

    2. Sherri, I shared your thoughts as I read Jody’s post. Most of us are so grateful to receive an offer of representation or a contract offer that we’ll eagerly accept the first one that comes along.

      I like Katie’s point that having a agent who knows the market and is looking out for your best interests is very important. That’s why I researched agents and made a list of those I thought would be the best fits for me. I ended up with my Dream Agent. She guided me through the submission process and helped me choose between the two publishing houses that made offers, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  2. Great post and excellent questions Jody. For me, I just wanted a contract. I trusted my agent – that she wouldn’t submit my work to a house that wouldn’t be a good fit. So I would have accepted a contract from any house that offered one (so long as Rachelle submitted to them).

    Thankfully, I’ve ended up with Waterbrook Multnomah, and honestly, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m still early in the process yet – only working on edits for my debut novel, but my experience so far has been such an awesome one! Everyone is super supportive and helpful and encouraging and I’ve learned so much from my editor. She’s really made me feel like part of a team.

    Plus, my romance does not fit into the category of “sweet romance” which fits well with my publisher too.

    1. Katie, I didn’t realize your story wasn’t a “sweet” romance. Now you’ve got me even more curious to read it to see what issues and elements you added. Having read some of your articles and many of your blog posts, I know I’m in for a treat. You can really write!

  3. From the time I wrote my book, I knew which publisher I wanted to target. That particular publisher played into my testimony, so I wanted them to be the first ones to publish my first novel. I was so thrilled when Rachelle called in January to let me know Love Inspired did indeed offer a contract for my first book.

    Category romance is sometimes brushed off as being fluffy or not “real” writing. Harlequin’s standards are high for all of their lines. Love Inspired guidelines may be stricter than other CBA houses, but they know what works for their market.

    Before I submitted to them, I read many of their books–I’m talking years’ worth. I visited the site to read their writers guidelines. I participated in Spotlights where their editors spoke to ensure my novel would fit.

    When Rachelle signed me, she cautioned me about the limited houses she could submit to due to the word count of my novel. I was fine with that because I knew I wanted LI to be my first publisher. I love working with my team. My editor is a dream, and I look forward to seeing her at ACFW in about 6 weeks.

    Wonderful post, Jody!

    1. Lisa, I’m so glad you ended up writing for your dream publishing house. And I hear you on how tough it can be to get a contract with Love Inspired. I’ve interviewed many of their debut authors and heard how much work they went through to get a story to the point where it was contracted. The Love Inspired editors know their stuff and help their authors produce top quality books.

  4. Hi Jody, great post!

    I’m so glad you reminded people that a small publishing house can be a better fit. You might get personal attention, more marketing & PR help, etc. It’s not always bad to be a big fish in a little pond 🙂

  5. Jody, thanks for the insight! And Sherri, I do believe you’re describing the usual situation for writers. We don’t often have the chance to choose between a number of publishers–for one thing, timing is so individual for each publisher that even if two are interested, one may be too late to make an offer. This was the case for my novel–two publishers ended up having strong interest, but company number 2 was much slower than number 1 and we got a very gracious email from the second after we announced the deal with the first saying they regretted the delays and “maybe next time.” But since both publishers were excellent houses with good reputations, I was fine either way!

    Authors do usually take the first publishing offer that comes by, because it’s such a rare privilege to be published. However, we can use the “no perfect publisher” principle to help us return to patience and gratitude even when snags occur–which they will. We can also consider our options more down the road if we are blessed enough to be successful with our books. (Though It’s important to behave with some honor and not dump your first publisher at the slightest hint of trouble. After all, they did invest money in launching you and most debut authors take time to build sales. Unless things are just terrible, it’s not cool to run off after the first deal and give the increasing return on their investment to another company. It’s much better to make a real effort to work things out.)

  6. This is great advice, Jody. Do you advise unpublished writers to seek appointments with editors/publishers? I tried to go for two agent appointments at conference? But that didn’t work last year. I was assigned an appointment with an editor (who I had not requested, but I chalked up to God’s intervention) who informed me she wasn’t interested in writers who didn’t have an agent. I thanked her for her time and excused myself. That experience made me not want to pitch to editors unless research told me it might be a good fit, but even then, I’m a little shy after a bad experience.

    1. Chiming in here, Heather, even though I know your question was directed to Jody.
      I’m sorry you had a bad experience at a conference. Those kinds of experiences can make you gun-shy. (Email me and I’ll tell you one of mine!) It’s true that a lot of editors don’t want to see un-agented proposals. But there are other reasons to talk to an editor during a 15 minute appt. besides pitching a book–she could have given you feedback on your pitch or on your book idea. Giving that editor grace, maybe she was tired or in need of a cup of coffee. ;o)
      Sometimes at conferences it’s possible to switch appts or sign up with agents/editors who have time slots come open–so always be sure to check with the person coordinating the appointment schedules.

      1. Great advice, Beth. I bombed at my first pitch appointments, but I was able to use the time with the agent and editor to learn what they were looking for and how I could change my story to make it more appealing and more marketable.

    2. Hi Heather,
      I spoke with Rachelle about this because it’s a great question and concern. She said it’s unusual for an editor to dismiss someone like that; most editors, if they’re at a conference, are willing to meet with unpublished writers. If the editor is interested in the project, they’ll usually tell the writer to first get an agent, then have the agent submit the project.

      I agree with Beth and Keli’s responses. There are many great reasons to take advantage of your time with an editor.

  7. Great information here, Jody! Appreciate the link to Preditors & Editors. Your recommendation to do the appropriate research can’t be emphasized enough! I remember getting sloppy in this area when attempting to have an article published a few years ago, and boy was it a mistake…Lesson learned! God bless!

  8. I had an established relationship with the publisher of my nonfiction book, which was a Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS) book. I had written for their magazine, MomSense, for several years, so their editorial staff knew me. That certainly helped when I sat down and pitched a book idea to the book editor. I wasn’t a shoo-in by any means, but my track record with them certainly helped. If nothing else, the editor knew that I knew their audience.
    Jody, your advice to do your research is spot on. Talk to other published authors. Network. Don’t overlook the “comparable books” segment of your book proposal–Amazon and CBD makes it easy to find out what other books are out there like yours–and who is publishing them.

    1. Beth,

      What is the best way to approach MomSEnse mag? Go through the query process and such? I am wanting to look into submitting to magazines and the likes, but have yet to take a step down that path. Any advice?

      Jenny Lee Sulpizio

  9. Excellent points. One I really honed in on was to read what your targeted publisher is putting out there.

    I love my publisher. I specifically targeted Heartsong Presents as a place to start, with the hope of growing my career and my writing to encompass trade length with Barbour. Thankfully, that happened for me. I’m eagerly anticipating my debut trade length next month.

    1. Erica, I’m eagerly awaiting your debut trade length romance, too. I’ve got A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas pre-ordered on Amazon and am eager to receive the email telling me the book has shipped. 🙂

  10. Just letting everyone know that according to her latest Facebook status update, Jody is in WV with a spotty Internet connection (and a severe case of cyberspace withdrawal, I might add :-)). She’s asked me to let you know that she’ll check in when and if she can.

  11. Hi Everyone! I’m sorry I’m late to the discussion today! I’m actually dealing with a family emergency this week and am out of town in a place with very sporadic internet service. So thanks to others for chiming in and answering some of the questions! (Thanks for helping fill in for me today, Keli!)

    1. Whoops! The above comment was from me! Forgot to log-in! I don’t have a brain this week! 🙂

      1. We’ve missed you, Jody! Do what you need to do family-wise and we’ll cover for you as best we can. But as the Internet allows, join the conversation. Great post, by the way.

  12. Thank you JODY and WordServe authors!!!!!! Another great post and once again, so timely for me. Recently, I obtained agent representation (woot-woot), and now the process begins of getting my book sold. I know it can be a lengthy ordeal, and that there is so much to consider. In fact, I thought getting an agent was tough but that’s only step #1 in this journey. Thank you for this post and I will definitely have to bookmark it for the future.

    Praying for a sale in Boise, 🙂
    Jenny Lee Sulpizio

    1. Jenny, I’m adding my congratulations on your offer of representation. I wish you well as move to the next step on your journey and hope we’re able to share in your First Sale happy dance soon.

  13. I’m late to this post, Jody, but wanted to let you know that I read and enjoyed it, and gleaned some fabulous information! I’m eager to sell books, and am praying that with God’s help (and Rachelle’s!) one of my books will soon find the right home.

    Also, I’m looking forward to the release of your second book! I much enjoyed the first one!

    God bless you.

  14. Sometimes, like many have said, we focus more on actually getting published than the publisher we’ll end up with. It’s tempting enough to do. However I think it’s very wise to research, read books by the publishers you think you might be a fit for, see what they’re putting out there. We had such a hard time selling Yesterday’s Tomorrow that I all but gave up – however I hadn’t really considered going with a smaller publisher. Fortunately for me, OakTara was the perfect fit for this book and they got behind it all the way. That’s what your after. You want your publisher to be as supportive as possible, a place to call home. Sometimes the smaller houses are better at this. Not sure about the big guys because I have no experience with them. I’d be interested to hear others experiences who have published with the bigger houses.

  15. Thanks for the timely advice. It’s always a good reminder to trust God’s timing and direction, especially in situations like this. With my first conference coming up, I’m looking for and appreciating the input from so many others who are more experienced.

    Thanks again.

  16. Hello everyone,
    I’m new to this blog but really “in joy” stopping by! It was different for me; patience was something I had no choice but to have and at the time (over a decade ago) there were no “children’s spiritual publishers” other than religious, and I was really wanting to celebrate the Truth that ran through all spiritual beliefs. I had the support of Neal Donald Walsch’s (NY Times best selling author of the “Conversations with God” series)non-profit organization (ReCreation), but still couldn’t bring it to publication. Simply put, I couldn’t find anyone that could make a fit. I put my manuscript in the bottom of a drawer and there it sat for over a decade. The good news: times have changed and I did find a publisher that I adore in Australia that focuses on this genre. It’s a really interesting story and for anyone who feels discouraged – check out my blog for a little hope and humor! It’s a fairly new blog so it won’t take long to start from the beginning if you want the whold story. Hope to see you there at Thanks Jody for all you give and share with the writing community. As I stated before, you are someone I will model myself after. I appreciate you! Patricia

  17. Great advice from Jody and others here. As an unpubbed writer I requested appointments with two agents at the last conference. One was unable to attend. I was given an appointment with an editor instead. She was very helpful in her comments and requested my book proposal.. I’ve learned that it’s essential to rely on God’s intervention and timing for appointments. Thanks to all who gave their impressions on their publishers.I feel encouraged by your success stories. I’ve profited from the posts and discussions this week.

  18. So true! I can’t emphasize point #2 enough. As an editorial intern at one of the big houses and now as an entry-level professional at a university press, I’ve sent out so many rejection letters that say, “Sorry, not right for our list.” Sure, sometimes that language is just an effort to be polite or diplomatic, but it’s almost always the truth. If writers do the research to find editors/houses who’ve worked on books similar to what they’re submitting, there’s a much better chance of getting some attention.

Comments are closed.