My Twisted Writer Brain…

A Simple Explanation of the Publishing World.

What comes first: The Agent or the Publisher? or is it the Editor? Ugh…perhaps it’s the Indie–whatever the heck that is… It’s all so confusing…

Not to worry. I’m going to walk you through this sometimes confusing world of publishing and writing.

So first and foremost is the…


Yay…that’s us.

Let’s face it, there’d be no writing industry if it weren’t for writers. We are the foundation of this business, so keep writing.

Over time, the world of writing and publishing has changed dramatically. Writers have access to so much more information and communications than ever before. They also have software to assist with editing, phones to take instant notes, and research material at the drop of a hat. Books can be self-published in a day or two, or a writer can slug it out and try for traditional publishing (also called trad-pub).

No matter which way you turn, the competition is fierce and the writing is expected to be stellar.

But with that being said, writers who have a burning desire to thrive in the industry will learn the system and make it happen one way or another. Writers, it’s up to you.

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing and Self Publishing

Traditional publishing is done through submissions to a large publishing house like Penguin Random House, Harper Collins etc. The thing is that these larger houses will, for the most part, only take submissions that have been vetted through an agent.

To publish traditionally is difficult but desirable for many. It means you have a team behind you to assist with editing, marketing, and the publication itself. The author is still relied upon to market themselves and be available to sell the product.

Now, let me tell you, the process is slower than slow. I mean we’re talking a napping snail pace here. It’s definitely not for those in a hurry.

Indie Publishing and Self Publishing for all intents and purposes are the same.

In both of these there is no agent, editor, designer, or publisher…It’s all up to you. Indie-publishing used to be different from self-publishing in that small presses were part of the process but now the terms are pretty much synonymous. (I’ve put these two together for the sake of simplicity…if you want a detailed breakdown of the difference–go for it.)

With self or indie-publishing you’re the boss. You make all the decisions and take all the risk. With that, you get to call the shots of when, how, where and what you publish. You have to do all of your own marketing (you best get started on a platform now–read this), selling, and every other part of the business.

No one will be setting up book signings for you or getting your book into the hands of reviewers…that will be up to you.

Self-publishing used to be frowned upon, seen as amateur, and judged harshly but there are writers out there that make a healthy living by self-publishing. I also know a bestselling author who got a call from an agent after self-publishing. You can read his incredible story here.

The key to success is in the quality of the product. Make sure your writing is clean, concise, and well-edited. And remember a good story, told well, can still be successful.


What in heck are these creatures called Agents and how do I get me one?

That is the question of the century.

I have an agent but haven’t been picked up by a publishing house yet. Sigh….slow…Patience is a big part of the game.

An agent is a go-between for authors and publishing houses (including the big ones). They are representatives of an agency and of the author/writer. An agent takes you on as a client because they believe in your work and something resonates with them. If they’ve taken you on as a client then they’ll try and sell your work to a publisher on your behalf.

The agent will receive 15% of sales but there is no costs up front.

Not all agents are editorial agents so be sure you’re sending your best stuff. (See all about editors below…)

There are a couple of ways to secure an agent.

  1. Send a query letter –after you’ve studied their profile, client list, and currents wants and needs to determine they’re a good fit for your work. That query letter will be sent to the agent who will either ask you to send more of your work, or not.
  2. Pitch to an Agent–this is usually done at a writer’s conference or festival. This will mean sitting in front of an agent and ‘selling’ your ideas, your work, and you as a person they can work with. It means really doing your homework before hand and trying to stand out amongst a sea of other writers. It is not easy. It’s nerve wracking. It can also feel defeating if you’re not getting any positive feedback. Remember, do your homework and it only takes one yes.
  3. Win a Pitch–there are contests, often through literary magazines (I know Writer’s Digest offers a prize package including a pitch session with an agent–there are others as well).
  4. Pitch-Wars on Twitter is another way where agents and writers connect. #PitMad is a big one where the writer tweets a maximum 280 character pitch to grab the attention of agents who search the platform looking to connect with something unique.
  5. Word of Mouth–This is a special one that few writers think about but involves the writing community and having someone who already has an agent provide an introduction. Now I can tell you, I’d never send anyone to my agent unless they were pretty frikken spectacular but it does happen. Always build that community–not to use them but to learn and share. You never know what’ll happen.
  6. Sometimes it’s all About Serendipity… Being in the right place at the right time like riding an elevator up to the 21st floor with an agent who says ‘what’ve you got?’ Always be prepared. Always be professional. Always believe in yourself and your work.

Let’s keep going…

Okay, so now you’ve decided you want to continue with traditional publishing and you’ve secured an agent…Excellent.

That agent will now work on your behalf and try to sell your book to a publisher. You should get on and write your next book. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep notes as to what’s going on. Agents will understand there is a learning curve.

What if a publisher comes to you and says, I want to publish your book… ?? What should I do?

Call an agent before you sign anything and let them negotiate a contract.

There’s a lot of different things involved like publishing rights, movies, or foreign language rights, etc.

The most difficult work for an agent can be to find a publisher to take on a project so if you have the publisher the agents work is done. Yes, they’ll take a percentage but you’ll have a better contract.

Are Agents and Editors the Same Thing?

No. Far from it actually.

Agents, as described above, work as a representative of your work.

Agents, unless working independently, are part of a larger agency. Some or all, of those agents, will prescribe to similar preparation of manuscripts prior to submitting to a publishing house to try and sell it. My agent is an editorial agent so she assists me with recommendations and editorial comments for rewrites. Not all agents will do that.

It’s imperative that your best work be forwarded to a publisher–so get an editor.


An Editor is not an agent. An Editor will not go in and fix your mistakes. They will direct you and help you but the real work is up to you.

Sometimes it feels like starting from scratch and there’s a lot to know like Show Don’t Tell, Passive vs. Active Voice, and Filler Words–ugh…so much to learn but you’re well on your way.


Not all publishers require submissions to come through agents. Many have open submissions periods where you can send your work or query. Here is a link for Canadian Publishers where you can research whether they’d be right for your work. Another good resource is Writer’s Market which includes information for agents, publishers, magazines and a lot more.

Remember, the publishing industry wouldn’t exist without writers. Keep writing.

4 thoughts on “A Simple Explanation of the Publishing World.”

  1. Just a note: Most Canadian trad publishers do NOT require an agent, and quite a lot of smaller US trad publishers don’t either. That said, an agent can do a lot of work for you (submitting to publishers) and if you can get a good agent, it’s a sign to publishers that your work may be well worth considering! (And that you’ve done a lot of work yourself in finding an agent!)

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