How to write a book and get published

Whether you are a fiction or non-fiction writer, it helps to understand the entire life cycle for a book. If you are just getting started, here’s a short primer to set the ball rolling.

Writing the book

Your writing will fall under two broad categories – fiction and non-fiction.

In a novel (another label for fiction books) is where you create a plot (imaginary or inspired by the real world), characters (that your readers will love or hate) and bring them to life with your narration.

The sub-genre (romance, thriller, fantasy, young adult, humor, chick-lit, erotica, horror) will decide the twists and turns in your plot and the tone, style of writing.

For the non-fiction genre, it could be self-help, history, philosophy, business, biography or a host of other themes. Publishers and readers of the book will take you more seriously if you are already considered a subject matter expert in that area.

Writing the manuscript is the easy part, relatively speaking. The fun starts after you have a manuscript ready.

Choosing between the various publishing options

Traditionally, when people spoke about getting published, it would be safe to assume that they were referring to print publishing. The internet has opened up newer avenues to get published.

However, traditional publishing is still alive and kicking. Publishing houses offer multiple options from print publishing to digital publishing.

Vanity publishing is also a thriving industry and is an option for authors who don’t have the inclination or the patience to go through the relatively torturous mainstream publishing process. This is where the authors pay the publisher to print out a pre-defined number of copies on their behalf.

Finding an agent or going solo

If you choose to go down the traditional publishing path, you’ll need to line up in front of the publishing company that specialises in your genre and pitch your idea (for non-fiction) or plot (for a novel). The initial letter or email that goes out to the publisher is called the Query Letter.

If your concept for the book gets the publishers interested, they’ll ask you to send across the manuscript (or the first few chapters). It’ll then lie in a ‘slush pile’ for periods that range from several weeks to several months depending on how big and popular the publisher is.

Due to the volume of queries that publishers get, several may insist that you approach a literary agent first who can represent you. Agents can play a key role in getting your work in front of the right publisher, helping you with the legalities of the contract and managing the various print, movie and digital rights. In return, they take a commission from the royalties. The process of pitching to literary agents is similar – Query letter et al.

Getting the publishing contract

If you have never seen or signed on a legal document, the publishing contract can appear pretty intimidating with a lot of clauses that seem to cover everything under the sun. The advance you’ll get will also be mentioned in it. Other aspects include – the royalty, copies in the print-run, scope of work for future editions (in case of non-fiction). Most the textual part is part of a standard template that has evolved over time to safeguard interests of both parties – the author and the publisher.

The editorial process

Don’t assume your initial manuscript will go into printing in its original avatar. Even if you thought you have created a masterpiece before your submission, the publisher will have other ideas for the book. If you are working with a traditional publishing house, you’ll have an editor assigned to work with you. It’s the editor’s job to work with you to make the book better before it ends up in bookstores.

Each chapter, sentence and word would be scrutinized to see if it takes the story forward or is just adding to the word-count. Gaps in the plot, structural/logical flaws (if any), would need to be fixed. For the publisher, your book is more than a work of art. It’s a product that needs to generate revenue. So, commercial aspects also need to be considered.

Then there are the aesthetic elements of designing the book cover. Unless you are an established name in the industry, most readers will judge your book by its cover. So having a relevant, eye-catching and impactful cover can help book sales.

Book Marketing and Promotion

As with any product or service, a book needs to be promoted. This is a task that authors generally, as they are more comfortable with the artistic part. Many feel that the business elements of book publishing is something that their publishers should manage independently.

Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Unless you are a superstar author with a saleable brand name within your genre, it’s most likely that your book will not automatically draw in the crowds by the sheer power of your storytelling.

Typical promotion activities associated with books are the book launch, book trailers, book-signing, internet marketing (through author blogs or websites designed specifically for each book), contests, networking events, workshops (for non-fiction books), speaking assignments. What you do will be limited only by your imagination.

Building a brand

If you don’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder (the probability of your first book becoming a best-seller are remote, but for a few fleeting moments of euphoria let’s assume it does), it’s very important for you to start building your brand.

Your first book would have given your readers an idea of your writing style. It helps if your subsequent books fall in the same genre, as you’ve already got an audience who knows you as the brilliant writer that you are. With a loyal reader-base you aren’t building your readership from ground zero.

Give your readers something to look forward to. Build the anticipation. And ensure that you deliver the goods to meet their expectations.

So there you are. A single blog post can’t give you all the answers, but hopefully this will give you an idea of all that you need to do to write a book and get published. There’s a whole lot of information on the internet about each of these phases. So roll up your sleeves and dig in.

33 thoughts on “How to write a book and get published”

  1. dear sameer,

    I have written and compiled 3 educational rhymes book.Without any publisher can i sell it in the market means in the schools?
    If i print the name of publication of mine which is not registered ?and form or register the bussiness after rossing the limit of 5 lak turnover

  2. Javed,

    If you are ready to be a book salesman, sure, you can self-publish and promote your own book.

    I know several Do-it-yourself category of books that are being sold in schools that don’t even have a publisher name. And considering the price tag on the book, the author (entrepreneur, actually) makes a lot of sales and a HUGE amount of money. I think he doesn’t care if the traditional publishing industry even existed.

    Btw, if you cross the 5 lakh turnover mark, you’d be a bestseller author. That’s a very ambitious turnover target you are setting for yourself.

  3. I have written a short story. I believe i have expressed myself a lot in it. Can i please write you a few paragraphs from it so that i can be sure if it is worth publishing.

  4. Rajan,

    Congrats on setting the ball rolling. That’s always the toughest part for any new initiative.

    For now, the help I can provide is limited to the blog posts and the Q&A interactions (that happen through the comments section) on this site. I’m afraid my other commitments don’t leave me with enough bandwidth to help out offline on an individual 1-on-1 basis.

    Maybe you could share it with friends and colleagues to some idea if you are heading in the right direction.

  5. Hi Sameer,
    Thanks again for the article. I have few relevant questions here. Shristi people are asking me for the few chapters. My problem is that my chapters are so big that I will end up giving them the entire manuscript. So,
    1. Is it wise to share the whole write-up?
    2. If not, then what should be the way-out? I have sub-divided my long chapters inserting the special symbols. Can I submit that subdivision of big chapter(from the start till the first special symbol of the chapter).
    3. You mentioned here role of literary agents which is different from those who charge money to do the edit. Are literary agents of publishers different from the regular ones you quite often mentioned in your blogs?
    4.This is tricky one, what if I have small chapters. I only gave them the completed chapters for evaluation so to save my time in completing other chapter or left over research or may be proof read left over chapters during the evaluation time. By the time publisher come back to me asking the whole manuscript I have all chapters ready.
    5. Is there any chance of rejection from publishers once contract is signed but still they feel the write up is not upto the mark or they have been decieved during the synopsis stage.
    6. When the editors of publishing house will anyways make you overhaul your work, can they not consider a manuscript having errors and mistakes but still having a good potential to be a best-sellers based on its story or the concept.

    Crazy questions but i think you only can answer them.

  6. Mayank,

    Answering your queries below:

    1. It’s a matter of trust. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your manuscript (partial or full) with any publisher, then they are probably not the right team for you.

    2. I’m assuming you’ve used some logical segregation to divide the chapters. See if you can re-segregate into smaller chunks and yet retain the essence of what you are trying to do.

    3. I think you have got the concept of literary agents wrong. There are no categories here. Literary agents are supposed to sell your book to publishers. Period. Those who edit your book are editors. Be careful who you are dealing with and what you are expecting from them.

    4. If you are writing fiction, it’s best that you start approaching publishers after you have completed it. You are taking a risk if you rush in too early.

    5. Rejection can happen at any point in time. A contract doesn’t guarantee that your book will be published. A ton of things can go wrong along the way. Another reason not to rush in when you aren’t fully ready.

    6. No publisher has the patience to spend a lot of time on work that’s got basic flaws. Even if they might suggest changes, they still prefer a book that’s ready for publication.

    Bottomline: Every author thinks s/he has a best-seller. Publishers don’t think that way. Make life easy for them and address the basics before you approach anyone.

    Good luck!

  7. Firstly, kudos to Sameer. He is reaching out to many an aspiring author.
    Believe it guys, it is pretty hazy out there.
    We need to get together, and fight our ways to glory.

  8. Sir, THANK YOU for your guidance.
    I have some queries.
    1.My book is nearing completion.I have planned to finish it by May ’15.Normally how long will it take to get published?
    2.I have picked up a heart touching emotional tragedy.I’m not sure of its impact on agents and editors.
    3.What kind of a publishing do you suggest for me?
    4.Is it good to go through college or by self?

  9. hi sammer,

    I m going to complete my book .can u tell me .how I can promote it in market .is there is any law regarding for patent & copy right in india.

    varun choudhary

  10. @Riya: It can take a few minute (if you take up the Amazon KDP option) to several years (if a traditional publisher signs you up) to never (if you insist on top-tier traditional publishers and they don’t show interest).

    I’ve written posts on this site that highlight the pros and cons of self-publishing vs traditional publishing. Choose the one that fits your interests.

    @Varun: Read these post on book marketing and book promotion.

    Also read this: Should authors copyright their work?

  11. Hi Sameer,

    I have been visiting your site for quite some time. Thanks for all the information. It is very useful. Could you write something about the contractual obligations that writers have to follow usually in India.
    I got a contract recently which has a right of first refusal clause for all my future books in it. As I know, it is not considered an ethical practice in many foreign countries. Is that the same in India or do Indian publishers put such clauses invariably in author contracts? Won’t self publishing be a better thing to do in such a case if the publisher is not so big instead of getting stuck with him for all your life?

    • Hi Eklavya,

      I did have the topic of ‘What authors should know about Publishing Contracts’ on my list when I was writing these posts. But it slipped through the cracks as I started spending time on my main (MBA blog).

      Most contracts that come from the publisher have clauses that are in the interest of the publisher. But don’t assume it needs to be in there, if you aren’t convinced.

      Why should an author be locked into a long term relationship with a company, when they aren’t guaranteeing that every book they publish will become a best-seller.

  12. Hi SK,
    I have travelled and lived in almost every part of India and had been writing a journal ever since. Some of my foreign friends, who read parts of those, have suggested me to convert it to a book. According to them, the journals contain useful info and some deep truths about India which should be shared.
    I tried to contact a few publishers. They want me to pay!
    These are about 15 journals of my last 20 or so years.
    What shall I do?
    By the way, I am an undergraduate. I passed my 12th in 1995. But I have a full control over English and Hindi. Can also speak several Indian languages.
    Kindly suggest something productive.

    • As you’d have already realised, publishers are generally less supportive than friends.

      I’m not sure if your journals are maintained offline or online. If you have a blog, it’ll give you an idea of whether there’s really a demand for your work. You could use it as an additional data-point to convince publishers about the book’s market potential.

      Check this out: Do you have a publisher-friendly blog?

  13. Hi Sameer Kamat ,

    I am awor, I have written a story which basically is an outcome of an inspiration of certain life experience. It is truly heart wrenching. And many people find it greatly captivating. I want to develop more on the same. But I am not sure how to get publish it. Besides some articles on religious stuffs, I have not written any book. Please help.

    Regards and gratitude.

  14. Hello Sir,
    I am writing a novel and i am worried about publishing it. I searched a lot on google but I’m just confuse, how to publish or how to contact publication house. I read about sending manuscript but in which format I have to send and to whom I need send. There are many such questions which troubles me so please help me.

  15. Hello Sameer,
    Want to know whether it is fine to send a full manuscript to the publishers outside India. ???

  16. hi sameer, i like to write a fiction on my story but i dont understand that first i write a novel or first i find publishers and tell them my story if they ready then i starts write my fiction novel.

  17. I have written a book of appx 208 pages A5 size and now I am stuck, as my language is raw and not professional
    It is a unique book not available on Google, can find solution and it does not allow me to sleep.
    Your above article seems to be hope of ray. Can you please help. It is on cars and life. Evey person on the planet will get connected to it.
    Please help

  18. i guess nothing much has changed regards the publishing industry since you wrote the article Sameer.
    i have already self published my first poetry book “Winds of Change – poems through the heart” through Patridge India. Even after 18 months i have neither received the online and offline sales details nor seen any royalty payment
    i am writing a novel. can you please refer any literary agent or agents…it would be of great support in the right direction for me.

    Sameer , thanks for reading my comment.

  19. @Awor & Nitin: There’s plenty on the topic that I’ve shared on this site. Do spend some time to read the articles. Hopefully many of your questions will get addressed.

    @Abhijit: Only if they ask for it. Generally, most expect only a query letter.

    @Sudesh: Mentioning a wordcount is the standard in the industry (as opposed to page dimensions). Start off by sending a query letter to a few publishers.

    @Pradeep: Here’s a list of literary agents in India.

  20. Hi Sameer . Thank you for your valuable guidance. I have completed writing down a book and its genre is a fiction and sub genre is romantic Horror.
    I want to take the path of traditional publishing. Can you help me in choosing a right publisher who would value my work. Please suggest me a few.

  21. Sameer I just came across your blogs. You have cleared almost all the doubts I had about this crazy business of publishing. Honestly I had almost given up. Thanks for all the information.
    I read in one of your posts that penguin asks for hard copy, but in their submission guidelines they have offered email option as well. Do I need to send the hard copy then because a week back I had emailed the proposal.

  22. @Saumendra: Reach out to a few leading publishers with the idea. If they see potential, they’ll sign you up irrespective of whether they specialise in the genre or not.

    @Vartika: The publisher’s site has the most credible and recent guidelines. Follow that rather than old posts on other websites (like mine).

    @Aru: Shared the list of agents in the earlier response. Here are some tips and suggestions on sending query letters.

  23. heya sameer,
    i have read your blog and that appears quite a volunteer you help new authors. i do need a bit of favor i have also written a story that is based on purely fiction. so can you please tell few names of best publishers in this regard. i know few yet i am searching more.
    thank you.
    warm regards,

  24. Will traditional publishers respond if covering of publishing and marketing costs is arranged by a first time author of a novel in English? Of course, it is assumed that they approve .the manuscript

  25. Hello Sameer,
    That was a great insight I must say! I have been able to complete my book and I am very happy about that. I can get to live my dream if I could see my book out in the market. As this my first venture, I am a little skeptic about it. How long do you think it takes for the entire process and will I get the proper support? What is your opinion?
    Thanks in advance. You are inspiring and off a great help for people like us!

  26. Hello Sameer,
    What if my grammar skills are not good enough and I tend to do a lot of mistakes. Can I get my fiction to be published?
    Or do I need to contact some editor for proofreading before visiting the publishing houses?

  27. Hello Sameer,
    I am done with my first piece of fiction series. I am planning to send it to publishing houses directly without the help of a literary agent. I’m confused about certain aspects though. How much should i be investing in my book? Will i have to invest anything or the publishing house will take the job? ( The money i mean). Should i be sending my manuscript along with a cover and front page already designed or they will do it later?

  28. Hi Sameer,

    I have started writing some Hindi Stories and wanted to get it published in form of anthology. I need your help to understand following points.

    1. What is the future of writing in Hindi?

    2. Ideally, how many stories and pages should be there in one anthology?

    3. Apologize for my cheap question, What should be an ideal price per copy of such book?

    4. I want to get it printed , market and sell on my own with some friends help. Do I need any license to do that?

    Thanks & Regards
    Munna Kr. Singh


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