Thank you for your interest in Penguin Random House! The ins and outs of the book publishing process have long been opaque, and as part of our efforts to build a more diverse community of authors and create more pathways to publishing, we’ve written this handy guide to demystify the process and provide you with resources that help explain how the publishing process works.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all experience for authors, but this guide will point you toward the most common experiences of working with agencies and publishers. For a glossary of publishing terms that will help get you oriented in the industry, and better understand the information shared below, click here.
Step One: Complete your manuscript or proposal
If you have a great book idea, the first step is (in most cases) to complete that manuscript or proposal. Proposals are common with nonfiction projects, and full manuscripts are often needed with fiction. For help with nonfiction proposals, you can consult Jane Friedman’s How to Write a Book Proposal + Book Proposal Template blog post. For other help with writing and craft, check out this list of books that can help you on your way. There are endless resources out there to help you on your journey, so take some time to research and find what works for you.
Also during this time, it can be helpful to connect with other writers, since they may have additional suggestions for resources to refer to, and some might even become critique partners or beta readers as you prepare your book for the query process, or pitch your manuscript to agents and publishers. Finding a community of writers who are in the same stage of the publishing quest as you are can also be an important source of moral support and you navigate the likely ups and downs of the process. The easiest way to find other writers is via social media, and the hashtag #writercommunity on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok is a great place to start. Another path is to look for writers groups who meet either in person or virtually. The Poets & Writers website has a trove of suggestions for finding your community, including a directory of writing groups.
Joining SCBWI gives you access to all of the ins and outs of children’s book publishing if that’s your focus. SCBWI conferences offer an opportunity to build community as well as access publishing professionals to guide your path to publication.
Penguin Random House is working to remove systemic barriers for underrepresented voices by increasing access to and information about the publishing industry. If you’re looking for additional support and opportunities, check out the Black Creatives Fund with We Need Diverse Books, the Center for Fiction / Susan Kamil Emerging Writer Fellowships, and offerings from our partners and friends at Kundiman.
Step Two: Find a literary agent
Historically, most major publishers, including Penguin Random House, have not accepted unagented submissions, in large part because an agent plays a critical role in serving your interests in the business relationship you will have with a publisher. While we are working to create and expand open submission opportunities through programs like the Berkley Open Submission Program, in most cases an agent is still required and advisable.
When it comes to finding a literary agent, the first step is to do your research and find agents who represent the kind of work that you write. You can start by researching the agents who represent authors whose work you believe is comparable to your own–often, the agents will be named in those books’ acknowledgments pages. From there, you can find out more about those agents or similar ones through resources such as Query Tracker, Poets & Writers Literary Agents Database, Writer’s Digest Books, or the Deals page on Publishers Marketplace.
The next step is to create a query letter and synopsis for your book. When you query agents, note that each agent has their own specific submission requirements—to start, some will want to see your first five or ten pages, others will only want to see a query. Whatever the agent requests on their website, be sure to follow those instructions. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity with an agent because you sent the wrong materials. If an agent has interest in your project, they will respond requesting more material.
One great resource for this stage of the writing process is Jane Friedman’s How to Find a Literary Agent blog post.
Beware of scammers! It’s important to note that agents only get paid when they sell your work. The common relationship for an author and agent is that an agent will take a set percentage of the deal sales in exchange for their work earning the book deal and negotiating on your behalf. Be wary of agent or publisher scams out there that require money up-front to be traditionally published. The common saying is “money flows toward the author” and it’s always been a critical aspect of the publishing experience—getting a book deal should never be a “pay to play” scenario. One popular resource for investigating agent scams is Writer Beware. Learn more on our PRH Fraud page.
Step Three: Collaborate with your literary agent to prepare your work for submission to editors
Some agents use their expertise to suggest edits to your manuscript or proposal to prepare for submissions, which is when an agent submits your work to editors, who are independently responsible for selecting the manuscripts they want to publish, in hopes of attracting an offer. The process with your own agent may vary, but the goal will ultimately be the same.
This process takes time, and there is no guarantee that your manuscript will find an editor who wants to publish it. Submissions very rarely lead to an offer in days. Many manuscripts take multiple rounds of submissions spanning weeks or even years to find the right home. In some cases, authors won’t be successful in selling their book to a publisher until their second or third manuscript, or beyond that. Though this can be a challenging time for authors, know that all parties involved want your project to find the right home, one that will provide the best chance to succeed.
Step Four: (Hopefully!) Land a book deal
If an editor shows interest in your project, they may ask other editorial colleagues for second reads. The process varies by imprint and publishing house, but most groups have regular acquisitions meetings in which the prospective editor presents your project to others on the publishing team. At this stage, they decide whether or not to make an offer.
The editor will present a deal memo to your agent, who will compare that offer with any others. This process may take hours, days, or weeks.
Ultimately, you have the final say over whether you will accept an offer, though you will likely discuss your options with your agent. After an offer is accepted, a contract will be drafted as well as the deal terms laid out in the memo. Minor negotiations will continue after this point, so if at any point you have questions about a contract draft, you should discuss them with your agent.
Good luck on your writing journey. We sincerely hope to see you on our shelves someday!