How to Get a Book Published

Book, magazine, catalog production line into press plant house.

Getting published represents a combination of luck, talent and persistence. While the odds are long, today's literary hopefuls enjoy more options than ever to reach their audience. Deciding which route to take -- whether it's publishing a digital e-book, for example, or crafting a book proposal for an agent -- depends on what type of book you've written, what kind of audience will read it, and which markets seem most suitable for the vision you've committed to paper.

Enter a Contest

If competition doesn't faze you, submit your manuscript to a literary contest. This approach works well in niche markets like poetry, where many small presses hold annual contests to promote their publications. Winners typically get to publish their work and collect maximum cash prizes of $1,000, according to "Poets and Writers" magazine. Taking this route enables new writers to build an audience through the credibility of winning. However, expect to spend plenty of energy publicizing your work, because most small presses don't pay advances, nor offer large promotion budgets.

Find an Agent

Traditional publishers don't normally accept new book projects without referrals from an agent, according to publishing consultant Jane Friedman. Likewise, most agents don't review complete manuscripts on first contact with a writer. Instead, prepare a one-page query letter that briefly explains your project and why it stands out commercially. The agent will contact you if he considers your idea marketable. Exceptions include academic and specialized literary writing that won't recoup an agent's 15 percent fee. You're better off approaching such markets directly.

Prepare a Book Proposal

Some publishers require a 10- to 20-page proposal, which you'll normally prepare for a nonfiction book. According to Writer's Digest, strong proposals require eight elements -- including an overview of your book's purpose, intended audience, how your project stands up against similar titles, and how you'll market it. You must also provide evidence of your expertise and author's platform, or the steps you're taking to reach the marketplace. An editor will evaluate these materials against your outline and sample chapter to determine if your book merits publication, and an advance payment to complete it.

Self-Publish Your Book

Digital platforms have radically changed the definition of self-publishing. Since the mid-2000s, best-selling writers like Amanda Hocking have uploaded manuscripts to digital distributors like Amazon's Kindle Direct Program. Readers can download the resulting work, or e-book, onto computers or handheld devices, allowing writers to forgo investing in a physical product. According to Writer's Digest, e-books best suit authors with an established online presence and strong entrepreneurial streak. If you don't feel ready to shoulder all of that responsibility, including marketing and promotion, you may prefer to stick with traditional publishing.