Trade Publisher

How to Identify a Reputable Publisher


Here are some basic guidelines to consider when searching and identifying a reputable publisher – independent or trade – and what some might describe as the “Big Five”.  But first a word of caution if you seek a publisher:

1. Don’t expect that trade publishers actively market your book – unless you are a celebrity.
2. YOU will need to proof them your author platform / potential readers.
3. Print books have only a couple of weeks to fly off the shelves in bookstores – or they become remainders.  Books that are not selling well in the first weeks will be returned to the publisher.

Where Can You Find Traditional Publishers?
Here are some examples of publisher listings:

Writer’s Market
For over 10 years, has been providing up-to-date listings and tools to help writers like you accomplish your writing goals. Over 9,000 listings for book publishers, literary agents, magazines, online publications, contests etc.

Publishers Global
A directory of global publishers, where you can sort by country, genre, language, city etc.  Browse through thousands of international service providers: editors, cover designers, printers, distributors, agents, publishers etc.

Publishers Weekly
Check out the yearly listing of the largest publishers.


… and certainly your local bookstore and library where you can find their books sorted by genre / category.  Booksellers or librarians will often know the names of many publishers, even small niche ones, mid-size houses, independent publishers, university presses etc.
Reputable trade and independent publishers don’t advertise for authors in newspapers and writing magazines.  Real Publishers are swamped with submissions.  They don’t need to look for authors!

Steps to Getting a Book Published:
Writing is an art – publishing is a business.  The first thing you need in every business is a plan, mapping out where you want to go and how to get there.

  • Determine your genre or category of work.
  • Calculate the commercial potential of your book.
  • Research appropriate agents or publishers for your manuscript.
  • Read submission guidelines of agents / publishers.
  • Submit a professional staged pitch to agents or publishers.

AVOID any publisher advertising for new authors
in newspapers, magazines and online.

Reputable trade and independent publishers don’t ask the author for money, ever, for any part of the publishing or marketing process.  A good publisher’s website is full of books and is aimed directly at the reading community – not to authors.  However, don’t always expect an advance (or a large one) on royalties from a small or niche publisher.  The size of advances is reducing quickly and some small publishers cannot afford anything more than a few hundred dollars in an advance.

Reputable trade and independent publishers
sell books 
– not author services. 

Unfortunately, more and more trade and independent publishers are developing imprints, and are offering publishing services.  Be very cautious of the motivations of editors or agents from publishers who refer your rejected manuscript to a paid-service imprint (of a well-known publisher or their affiliated self-publishing service.  You might be wondering why your book is not good enough to be accepted by the publisher, but still good enough to be published – at your own expense by an imprint or business affiliate the publisher owns or receives a commission.

How to Submit to a Publisher:
It’s difficult to directly submit to reputable publishers in the USA and internationally.  Some literary agents have insider contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work.  However it is somewhat easier in Canada to submit without an agent.  Publishers that accept unsolicited pitches, almost always require a letter of enquiry detailing a brief synopsis of your book for consideration.  Never send your whole manuscript to a publisher, open to direct submission, and be suspicious of the ones who are welcoming full submissions.  Here are 9 tips on how to write a query letter
and here is how to avoid errors when submitting.

Reputable publishers often have specific open and closed times each year for submissions due to the volume received.  Adhere to these guidelines and always study a publisher’s list before your submission.
Be wary of publishers you have never heard of – unless it is a large publisher listed in an official handbook – accepting anything and everything in all genres, especially poetry and short stories.  Most publishers, even independent ones, have specific imprints for various genres.

The “Other” Side.
Mike Shatzkin wrote in an article about the “indictment of the big publishers” that bestselling author Barry Eisler listed during a session at the Digital Book World 2015:

1. Trade publisher’s basic contract terms are all the same, which it felt at the time he was suggesting demonstrated collusion, but which in our subsequent exchange he clarified he interprets as evidence of “asymmetrical market power and a lack of meaningful competition”;

2. They pay too low royalties on ebooks, which he also attributes to their “asymmetrical power” and “an implicit recognition that publishers come out ahead if they don’t compete on digital royalties”;

3. They only pay royalties twice a year, rather than more frequently or more promptly, which Eisler also attributes to a lack of competition;

4. The term of big publisher contracts is normally “life of copyright”, which Eisler calls “forever terms”, and;

5. They reject a lot of authors. Here Eisler clarifies that this is not an “indictment, just an axiom”. I agree when he applauds self-publishing for creating a better world where “readers have more to choose from”.

Conclusion:  If an author has all these challenges, including  often unfair publishing contracts and waiting times, low royalties – and cannot even do the necessary marketing without huge problems, what is the point in having a publisher?  Why not author-publish, and be totally independent when it comes to your books’ design and marketing?


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