A Guide to Finding a Publisher for First Time Authors

laptop, writingSo you’ve finished your novel. It’s finalized, ready to go, and you know it’s going to be a hit. What do you do next? This is a simple 4 step guide for those who want to try to find a publisher without going through an agent.
1. Scope Out Publishers 
It sounds like an easy enough step, but how do you go about it? You might have seen suggestions to check out your local bookstore and jot down the publishers of books in your genre. But there are easier ways. More likely than not, you’ll find that a lot of those publishing houses do not take unsolicited submissions.
So where do you turn? Your best sources are yearly updated writer’s market books, such as Writer’s Market by Robert Lee Brewer, or Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market by Alice Pope. These contain information on almost every publishing house you could want, as well as agents and literary contests. Flip through these and find publishers who are accepting unsolicited submissions in your genre. It is also a good idea to then check out their websites for their most up-to-date information, such as whether they are currently open for submissions.
The internet is actually a more useful resource than a lot of other guides let on. There are quite a few lists of independent publishers out there and many of these lists are generated by other writers or collaborations of writers who have been through the same process. However, it should only be used as a secondary resource as these are not always official or licensed lists. Here are some lists of publishers from Book Market, IPG Book, and Flavor Wire to get you started.
Another option to consider would be genre-specific publishers. For example, Harlequin and Crimson Romance specifically publish romance novels while Down and Out or Mulholland Books are geared towards mystery and crime books.  This could be ideal in the sense that each publishing house has experience promoting your book’s genre and most likely already has a following.  Some of their customers would be inclined to buy your work simply because it was published by a company that has published other books that they enjoyed. One thing to be mindful of is that publishing through a genre-specific company would commit you to that one genre. For example, Harlequin may love your romance novel, but wouldn’t be interested in a new family drama you were working on.
There are pros and cons to each of these routes to publication, but you know yourself and your book best so be sure to weigh your options before committing to one.
2. Follow the Submission Guidelines
There is no better way to make a good first impression then to follow the publisher’s guidelines to the letter. There is also no better way to make a bad first impression then to disregard the guidelines. You will find that there is an astonishing amount of variability in what different houses look for in a submission package, so you’ll need to be flexible.
Some houses may want your full manuscript, some the first few chapters, and others may want a sampling from various chapters. Some accept electronic submissions while others do not. Some want a one page summary and others want a ten page summary. You get the idea.
It is a good idea to have certain generic pieces of your proposal prepared. For example, have a basic cover letter ready that allows for variability depending on what the publisher is looking for. Prepare a summary of your novel that is a couple of pages long that you can lengthen or shorten as need be.
Once you have put together a submission package that has all of the necessary parts, it’s time for the next step.
3. Send It Out and Wait
Most publishers will provide information on the length of their turnaround time, but it is important to know that it could easily take longer (or shorter, if you are lucky!). Be patient. If it takes a lot longer than they said it would, then it is okay to send a short message asking if your submission has been received.
Most houses are very good about not leaving you hanging and letting you know if you have been rejected. Once in a while, however, you might get no reply at all. In that case, see it as a rejection and move on.
If you happen to get accepted, then congratulations and best of luck! If not, then move on to the final step.
4. Deal with Rejections and Feedback
The number one thing to do when you get a rejection is to remember not to write back telling the publisher that they have made a mistake. This may sound silly to you, but people do it. Simply accept it, and move on. Unless you are one of the luckiest people to ever try to publish a book, chances are you will face rejection before acceptance. If you really believe that your manuscript can make it, then keep trying.
There is, however, the possibility that your book is not as great as you thought it was. You have to be willing to be critical and honest with yourself. Maybe you don’t need to give up on the whole thing, but it might need some editing or a re-write. Sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes to catch something you missed when you were so close to the project. It’s up to you to decide.
Once in a while a publisher, even if they reject you, may also send along feedback and pointers. This is a good thing and you should take it as a learning opportunity. The fact that even though they rejected you, they took the time to make constructive comments lets you know that they think you and your manuscript were worth their time. They might even ask you to resubmit after making the corrections.
Really take their suggestions to heart. Chances are that advice coming from someone in the publishing world will only improve your manuscript and increase your chances with other houses, as they typically look for similar things.
Of course it is always up to you to decide what advice to implement in your writing. You may receive contradicting advice from two different publishers! Ultimately, it is left to your discretion. Just remember to use every bit of feedback and every rejection as an opportunity to grow.