This question may seem rather broad based on the title, so allow me to elaborate.

I am a self-taught author. I learned how to write, what works and what doesn't, all that good stuff. What I did not learn is anything at all about what happens once I've written my book. Publishers, agents, editors, distributors - all these terms are more or less foreign to me. The main thing is the process. I haven't a clue about how a book gets published.

I have a vague idea that you let the publisher look over your work. If he agrees to publish it, you sign a contract allowing him to do so. Who the agent is and where he comes in, I do not know. I also don't know how you get paid for your book (though there was a question about that, so I have a general idea).

I realize that publishing is a complex operation with lots of different methods involved, so all I'm looking for is a simple run-down of how it works, without all the technical terms and long sentences supplied by Wikipedia. A step-by-step process would be great.

Note: Yes, I could likely learn how the publishing process works simply by looking at Wikipedia. My main problem is that because I am new, I don't want to take the risk of being confused by Wikipedia, and then try to publish with a wrong idea of how it works. If I do that, there is always the chance I could make a really bad mistake, like signing away my power over the book or something. If I have a basic understanding of how it works first, then I can read Wikipedia and build off of that.

Thanks in advance!

  • While people could (and have) written entire books on this question, explaining at a very high level how traditional publishing works is certainly an answerable question. Unless other users object to this, I think this question is fine. Jun 24, 2015 at 1:23
  • I would agree, but that should be obvious. :) Jun 24, 2015 at 1:38
  • I would recommend you to find a book on the book industry and how the publishing process works. I'm not familiar with the British or American book market and cannot recommend a specific book, but I have two books on my home marked (Germany), one written by one of the best agents in my country and explaining what agents do etc., the other about the book industry in general, which is a standard handbook published every few years in an updated edition. I'm sure there are similar books for your market and Google will help you to find them.
    – user5645
    Jun 24, 2015 at 7:02
  • @what Thanks, I will definitely look into them. Jun 24, 2015 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


In a very general sense, the publishing process for new writers works something like this. This is not comprehensive: there are alternate routes, and there are always exceptions!

1. Author writes a novel.

A writer will writer their first novel; this is self-explanatory.

2. Author edits the novel.

This can include self-editing, using beta readers, hiring a freelance editor - some of these or all of these.

3. Author finds an agent.

It's generally easier for a writer to sell a book when they have an agent - someone who will improve the book, hone it to fit the current market, and know how to find a home for it. Agents take a cut of book sales; they are not paid by the author. It is possible to sell a manuscript directly to a publisher, bit it's a lot harder.

One finds an agent by writing a query letter, that sells you as a writer and the book itself.

4. Agent edits the book.

Agents work closely with publishers, and they have a good idea what will sell and what will do well. So they edit their writers' manuscripts to fit their vision. They usually have editors in-house (or a stable of freelancers they trust) who will do this work, working with the author.

5. Book is sold to a publisher.

An agent brokers a deal with a publisher. This is their goal and their reason to exist.

6. Publisher makes the manuscript ready for publication.

Getting a final manuscript in shape can involve proofreading, typesetting, and even further editing over what the agent and the author did.

7. Publisher markets the book.

Social media, print/radio/trade ads, getting cover blurbs, reviews in major publications, placement with major bookselling chains - marketing muscle is the best reason to go with a traditional publisher.

8. Publisher prints and distributes the book.

Making physical/electronic copies, getting them warehouses and sent to the correct places.

  • Good overview. Is it worth adding something about when, after handing the manuscript over to the agent, the author interacts with it again? For example, do any of the subsequent edits come back to the author for review/approval? Is it an interactive process? Jun 24, 2015 at 1:51
  • I left that vague, thinking it's a bit of a detail, but I can see now how it's an important detail. I'll clarify it now. Jun 24, 2015 at 3:05

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