Journalists: 3 Tips for Finding a Publisher

Our advice for journalists seeking to publish books, including defining your book’s niche, learning about the publication industry, and finding the right publisher.

You’ve spent countless hours delving into uncovering hidden truths and scandals, analyzing political movements, tracking down an elusive source, or investigating whatever topic has captivated your readers. You’ve become an expert in your area. While the subject you cover as a journalist is well documented, you have a unique perspective that’s not been written about before. You believe you’re ready for the next step: realizing your dream of writing a book. How do you translate your initial idea into finding a publisher to help you bring your vision to life?

Finding a publisher can seem like a monumental challenge, but here are some steps that will help you get started.

Tip 1: Define your publishing goals

Before you begin the journey of deciding which publishing route to take, ask yourself several key questions about your book:

  • What is the purpose of your book and why are you writing it? 
  • Are other comparable books already available on the market? How will yours be different?
  • Who is your target audience? What do you hope readers will get from reading the book? What general themes might readers glean from the book even if it’s categorized in a special genre?
  • Have you discussed your subject on social media, written about it in an article, or have a website dedicated to it? 

Considering these goals will help you define who you want to publish with and help clarify your thoughts about writing a book proposal.

Tip 2: Learn about the publishing industry

Understanding how the publishing industry works will help you decide which avenue to pursue to turn your idea into an actual book. Authors who are well versed in the intricacies of the production and marketing processes will have a more significant impact on their book sales. The more you know about which publishing path would better fit your book, the greater your chances of publishing a successful book.

The publishing industry is divided into several sectors:

Traditional publishers: The most familiar is traditional publishing. This is where the publishing house bears the cost of everything—the editorial process, production, marketing, and distribution of the book—and you pay nothing. In this sector, five publishing houses dominate the industry: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan Publishers. These publishers wield considerable influence and primarily focus on accepting genre or commercial fiction or nonfiction. They operate with bigger budgets, achieve higher sales, and are more inclined to offer larger advances.

Even with these advantages, working with larger publishers does have drawbacks. Larger publishers juggle many authors—you may receive less personal attention, your book will probably require a longer lead time before it is published, and your royalties will be smaller than if you choose one of the other ways to publish.

In addition, these large publishers almost always only accept submissions from literary agents, rarely accepting pitches or manuscripts coming directly from authors. As the gatekeepers, agents have inside connections with editors at these companies and will help you navigate the industry. They will also negotiate your contract terms and potentially secure you an advance. For these services, they will typically charge a 15 percent commission.

Small or Independent Publishers: Despite the appeal of signing with a powerhouse publishing company, breaking into the industry as a first-time author is still tough. Small or independent publishers offer distinct benefits: they’ve carved out a vital role for first-time authors, are willing to take chances with innovative writing styles, and provide more opportunities for niche books that fit within their publishing scope.

Smaller publishers will collaborate closely with you, ensuring thorough support during the process and giving your book an extra level of personal attention. Because they operate on tight financial margins, they are more passionate about the books they plan to publish and will work hard to promote yours.

Additionally, with an independent publisher, you are also relieved of the burden of assembling your own editorial team. Instead, you will work with highly skilled professionals whom the publisher has hired and trusts. This team will provide a broad range of services, from copyediting to book coaching, developmental editing, and line editing. Small publishers often also involve authors in creative decisions like book cover design, a level of participation less common in larger publishing houses.

Moreover, small or independent publishers offer royalty rates that range widely depending on the contract terms from 10–26 percent of a book’s net sales compared with the average 4–15 percent figure you might receive from larger publishing houses. This compensates for their practice of rarely paying advances.

Faster publishing times are another benefit of using smaller publishers compared with traditional publishers. From the time content is finalized until the book is published can be as little as a few months.

Although larger publishing houses have deeper pockets and extensive marketing and distribution resources, many smaller publishers maintain strong relationships with book retailers and boast excellent distribution networks. 

Self-Publishing: Apart from traditional publishers, self-publishing is another viable alternative for those who prefer creative freedom and have an entrepreneurial mindset. You pay for everything from hiring book editors and cover designers to marketing the book. But you have greater control and can publish your book faster, earning much higher royalties per copy than authors from traditional publishing houses. Self-publishing also offers more flexibility and gives you the freedom to publish any genre or format you choose.

However, if you opt to self-publish, the faster pace might be daunting, and you might struggle to make significant sales or distribute your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores. For first-time authors, managing marketing, distribution, and the editorial process could be overwhelming. You might find yourself bargaining over various publishing expenses while striving to maintain top-notch editorial standards without compromising quality.

Hybrid Publishing: In recent years, a relatively new publishing model has emerged that blends the best elements of traditional publishing with self-publishing: hybrid publishing. Using this model, you pay the publisher production costs and, in return, the company supervises the publishing process. The company collaborates with a highly skilled team who edit and design the book, ensuring professional quality.

Hybrid publishers also typically offer much higher royalties than those at traditional publishers (typically 50 percent), while also bringing their books to market faster, often in weeks or months compared to the longer time frames traditional houses require.

Marketing the book, however, depends on the contract terms negotiated between the publisher and the author. The distribution networks of hybrid publishers are limited compared with those of traditional publishers, but they still offer greater capabilities than authors can achieve through self-publishing.

Tip 3: Find the right fit

As you comb through databases, note which books are similar to yours and identify the publishers. This is a good first step toward finding the right publisher for your book.

Many resources also exist that list publishers and agents. Here are a few of the better known, more established ones:

  • Duotrope—an all-encompassing, subscription-based database that lists fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art publishers, and literary agents worldwide
  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents—a comprehensive guide that provides tips and contact information for hundreds of agents and editors and will help get you started
  • QueryTracker—an online database that lists more than a thousand agents and has an online tool that enables you to organize and track your queries
  • Manuscript Wish List—a website where editors and agents post the kinds of books they are seeking.

To pitch your idea to an agent, start by checking agent and agency listings in online directories or databases, what they represent, and their current clients. Establish a strong social media presence where you can follow and network online with other industry professionals. Attend in-person events like conferences and workshops where you can generate awareness of your work with agents and publishers.

When you’re prepared to make the actual pitch, it’s crucial that you adhere to the press’s submission guidelines, available in directories or on publishing house websites. These guidelines specify what publishers are looking for, such as whether they require a query letter with a synopsis, a book proposal, or the first chapter. Follow the directions to the letter. The struggle to capture an editor’s attention is fierce. Failure to comply will result in your manuscript being disregarded.


Regardless of the path you choose, identifying a publisher or an editorial team you can trust is essential. Your vision of the book and the publishing agency you work with should align. With many people involved in the editorial process, you want to feel confident that the book will be one you can be proud of and one that you still recognize as your own.

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