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I have spent years trying to get published. I even had a publisher at one time who took my hard earned money and never published my manuscripts. I finished my first manuscript in 2003. It's now 20 years later and I've gotten nowhere. I have dozens of completed manuscripts. All are 500 pages or more. All are handwritten due to my circumstances at the time. I've paid three different people to type them and none ever finished. I've tried read-to-type but it's too error-persistent. And now that I am out of prison trying to work, I just don't have the time to do it myself.

I would like to find a traditional publisher, as paying for it is not within my budget while trying to feed my family. I'm married with two children living with me, as well as my wife's uncle who has terminal liver failure. So any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

I have my manuscripts all on PDF. But where no traditional publisher takes unsolicited manuscripts, I have been unsuccessful in finding one. I've even resorted to looking for a co-author for the books I've already written, just to get them published.

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    Welcome. // Can you please Edit your question and add a bit to it? E.g. how many manuscripts do you have? How long are they in terms of pages or similar? Estimates will be good enough to get a better idea of your writing situation. If it‘s possible, one or a few photos of your scripts would be fine. Thank you
    – MS-SPO
    May 7, 2023 at 4:00
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    Can you clarify what access you have? Are you currently in prison? You apparently have some access to the internet. Do you have access to word processing software? To email?
    – James K
    May 7, 2023 at 19:49
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    Alas, that “publisher” was anything but. An actual publisher won't ask you money; they will pay you for the right to publish or otherwise use your work.
    – DaG
    May 8, 2023 at 8:58
  • @DaG - Isn't self-publishing a thing (where you pay the publisher to publish whatever you want)?
    – Vilx-
    May 8, 2023 at 15:41
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    Not exactly, @Vilx-. If you want to self-publish, you go to a typographer or its digital equivalent. A publisher, by definition, is an entrepreneur who invest in texts they consider promising, pays for it, manages its distribution etc.
    – DaG
    May 8, 2023 at 20:27

9 Answers 9

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The first step is to type up one of your stories in standard manuscript form. Preferably your best and most favorite story. 'Best' because that maximizes your chances of getting literary representation and 'Most favorite' because you are going to be reading and re-reading it and editing an awful lot, so it's important that you really like the story.

Also, avoid editing the story as you type it up. Fixing spelling errors and punctuation errors is fine, but avoid reshaping the narrative or restructuring the story until you have transcribed the complete story from your written pages to an electronic form. And, by typing it up, I meant typing it into a computer and not a typewriter. Optical Character Recognition is one possibility to convert scanned images into text. If you don't have access to a PC or laptop, public libraries have computers you can use. Google docs is a good application if you don't have a copy of MS Word. One plus of Google docs is that you manuscript is stored on the cloud.

Then, you edit your story. You make it the best you can do. Don't stop editing and revising until the story is satisfying and enjoyable. Your major focus should be on storytelling and the craft of writing.

Next, you write a generic query letter describing your story to an agent. You can learn how to write a good query letter from online resources. A good one is Query Shark. I've had it recommended multiple times by most professional authors who taught the writing courses I've taken over the last 3 years.

Next, you search for a literary agent. There are too many sites listing different agents currently accepting manuscripts. Most publishers -- all the big publishers -- will no longer take manuscripts from authors. They only accept manuscripts from agents. Small publishers still take manuscripts from authors as well as agents. If an agent agrees to take you on, that means they believe they can sell your story. That is how agents make their living. They are usually writers themselves. Once you find a dozen or more agents that want the genre of story you've written, you customize your query letter to each one and send it to them. Each agent will describe what they want to see as part of the submission. Usually, it's a query letter, a brief writer biography, and the first N pages of your story. All electronic submissions. No fees. It's all free. Then you wait and wait and wait. Usually, they'll tell you if they are interested or not. If they are on the bubble, like you are not quite there yet as a writer, they'll make some suggestions and ask you to resubmit.

While all this is happening, you can look for writers' groups to join and share your work with them. Honestly, a writer's group can be a mixed bag -- very helpful or destructive. But having a working relationship with other writers is very helpful since it teaches you how to give and receive criticism.

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    "Publishers... will no longer take manuscripts from authors" -- is this country-dependent?
    – svavil
    May 7, 2023 at 7:24
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    @svavil, I am only familiar with English language markets so the observation applies to Big Publishers in those markets -- you dropped 'Big' in your question. I don't know if it applies to the Indian market -- which is predominantly English. There are so many wonderful Indian writers and they have their own variant of English that is different from British English and American English that I have to imagine there is are publishers that service that market exclusively.
    – EDL
    May 7, 2023 at 18:30
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    @JamesK, since he has access to the internet, he can doing all of those things. A gmail account gives him access to google docs. Internet searches can lead him, assuming this is a him, to both agents and writing groups. Whether the OP is still in prison or not.
    – EDL
    May 8, 2023 at 6:50
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    @JamesK Nothing tells us if OP is still in prison. From the tense of the title, and that he was able to ask this question here and expect answers, I believe they're not.
    – Neinstein
    May 8, 2023 at 12:38
  • Thank you for this answer, now I am confident that I am never going to be able to publish my stories. Did not know the process of getting a book published in today's day and age is this difficult. May 9, 2023 at 9:34
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  1. Get feedback from qualified beta readers or a professional editor (you will have to pay the latter, so do some research on who the person is and how satisfied others are with their work). Seriously consider that feedback and don't reject it because it is painful to hear. If two or more beta readers say the same thing, it is very likely true. Beta readers are hard to find, so if you do find them, be nice to them.

  2. Never pay for publication (or for agents to look at your manuscript). Vanity publishers won't lift a finger to help market your book because they already earned their money.

  3. Find agents and publishers that (a) publish the genre you have written and (b) who publish authors with similar works.

  4. Follow their submission guidelines. This usually includes a specific formatting (printed or electronic, font size, header and title page with specific information, etc.) and selecting a certain part of your manuscript (either the beginning x pages or a specific passage in the middle) as well as accompanying material such as a summary of a certain length etc. Most publishers provide that information on their websites.

  5. Always submit to one agent at a time. Agents don't want to compete with each other and might drop your manuscript if they learn that you have submitted elsewhere. Always submit to agents before publishers. You may submit to several or all publishers at once, but I would begin with your preferred ones, wait a month or three for replys, and work my way to smaller publishers from there.

  6. If you have sounded out all agents and publishers, consider self-publishing. Publishing on Amazon, for example, costs you no money, but you'll have to do all of your marketing yourself.

  7. Write the next novel.

  8. Have a job you enjoy to earn your living and write for fun. According to statistics, on average authors earn 6000 dollars per year.


As a side note, getting rejected by a publisher can have many reasons:

a. Your text is just not good.

b. Your text is not what the market wants at this time.

c. Your text doesn't fit within the profile of that publisher.

d. The publisher already has enough texts to publish for the next few years.

Only between about 0.01% and 5% of submitted manuscripts (depending on publisher) get published, according to accounts on the internet.

Good luck!

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Regardless of the method of publication, you will have to get them into an electronic form, because computer files are how everyone handles such things these days. You could transcribe them by hand, or use a scanner and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to try to automate the process, though even the best OCR software will need proofreading unless your handwriting is immaculate.

Getting a traditional publisher to print one of your books and sell it will be difficult. You might want to try a non traditional route. One non traditional publication method that I know many authors have found significant success with is posting a book online, chapter by chapter over time, free for the public to read, but with the option of paying for early access to more chapters.

The most major sites I know of dedicated to this are Royal Road for publication of free chapters, which incidentally also predominantly hosts fantasy stories, and Patreon for handling paid early access. An example approach would be to post a new chapter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for a total of three chapters per week, while giving readers their choice of:

  • Read the story for free on Royal Road.
  • Or pay $1 per month on Patreon to read 2 chapters ahead of what's published on Royal Road.
  • Or pay $5 per month on Patreon to read 5 chapters ahead of Royal Road.
  • Or pay $10 per month on Patreon to read 10 chapters ahead of Royal Road.

Many variations on such details are viable, and it's fairly common for authors to also offer minor additional side content, such as artwork or worldbuilding details, as exclusive content for Patreon subscribers.

Highly successful stories on Royal Road often also eventually take down early portions of the story to sell those portions as e-books on Amazon Kindle, while continuing to publish new chapters of the latest continuation of the story on Royal Road and Patreon.

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Read it out loud into a voice-to-text app on any device/OS

Perhaps a better alternative to manually typing into a computer, or using handwriting recognition software would be to simply read the manuscripts out loud into a voice to text application running on a phone or computer.

Some of these may be free - some may even be built-in to the operating system of the phone or computer.

Unless you already know how to touch-type, I think this is one of the fastest, simplest and most effective way to get your stories into computer text form.

Then you can go about fixing typos and incorrect words the software might have mis-recognized. Any word processing program (e.g Microsoft Word or the like) will have a grammar correction option as well.

Once in a presentable format, you can then follow the advice in the other answers about approaching publishers.


notes: Reading one's own writing out loud is also an incredibly effective tool even when not transcribing! It's amazing how things can seem so different read aloud compared to reading our own written words, where our brain can subconsciously insert extra context or meaning that's not really written explicitly.

So given the choice, I'd recommend reading aloud into a voice-to-text translator OVER using a handwriting-to-text OCR program because it gives you a new view and perspective on work you may think you are very familiar with.

Also, I don't think you need to worry about reading it exactly as written only - if as you are reading you think of an alternative phrase or sentence here and there, or suddenly realize "omg this isn't going to work" or "oh it would be better if" go right ahead and make these comments out loud while you are transcribing!

During the editing process you will recognize your own "notes to self" and can make them parenthetical or move them to a separate page as you see fit.

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You stated you "spent 25 years in prison" and has been trying to publish for years. I'll assume you have ways to contact the outside world or are already out of prison.

Going the way of normal publishing is one way, but you are unknown. Nowadays, notoriety and a steady following might trump the "first publish" value. Web serials that have a high follower count are less risky for the publisher.

Set up a Patreon account. Start publishing in web novel format in sites such as Scribblehub, Wattpad, Royal Road, etc... that have a high reader traffic.

Make an advertising campaign on these sites. Attract readers to your story. Publish small chapters often.

Offer advance chapters on Patreon. Some readers will subscribe to your Patreon. That's one way to obtain revenue. Some top authors make thousands of dollars per month from Patreon alone.

Network with other authors who publish on these sites. Ask them to "trade shouts" on your stories to get more exposure.

With a high follower count, you can approach some publishers who usually work with the authors in these sites. Even if you can't find a publisher, you can even self-publish in the Amazon KU program, for example.

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Assuming you weren't in jail for something that people would hate you for (child abuse, rape, some murder), you may have an EXCELLENT back-story.

Having written the stories in jail is something that will make you stand out from the crowd. David Eddings' first work was written the same way, he made millions, and it never came out until after he and his wife died that they were in jail for child abuse.

Handwriting OCR is surprisingly powerful now that AI is a thing: you may well be able to get the documents scanned into a computer and parsed into text, without having to type 25 years' worth of work by hand.

Speaking of AI: currently, AI is not very good at writing, but it won't be long before it is, so getting this work out sooner rather than later is a very wise idea.

You may also want to consider self-publishing one or two of your works, self-marketing them, just to get your name out there.

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    "they were in jail for child abuse."... noooo, I love David Eddings. I had no idea. Just read the wikipedia article. That's awful. ugh, I'm never going to see his works the same way again. What a shame.
    – stanri
    May 8, 2023 at 14:49
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    @stanri How many authors, painters, actors, etc. do you know well enough to be sure they are nice people? Not everyone who hasn't been convicted is a good person. You need to distinguish between a creator and their work or you will never be able to appreciate any kind of art ever again. I'm not saying your shouldn't draw consequences from learning of someone's felony (such as kicking Cas Anvar from The Expanse), but I generally avoid obsessing about the people behind the works I love because I don't want my enjoyment to be tainted by them being narcists or homophobic or whatever.
    – user55858
    May 9, 2023 at 7:51
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    Does it matter what he was in jail for? Many people are wrongfully convicted, many are convicted based on statutes, like if you were 18, and mingled with someone 15, you could still be charged with child abuse / as a sex offender.. May 9, 2023 at 9:37
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    @user52445 Oh, there's many authors I like that are people who I disagree with, JK Rowling for one. I'm sure there are authors that have been imprisoned that I don't know about. This particular case hits home for me, though, since I have a 4yo and the child in question was 4yo and locked up in the Eddings' basement in the dark with physical injuries on them. I can't help but wonder what kind of person would do that to a child. I can't imagine doing it to my own. Nonetheless, that's different from some kind of moral failing.
    – stanri
    May 9, 2023 at 12:26
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    I even can enjoy work of art from people I disagee with, I love harry potter. But I cannot deny that I will see the books differently after this.
    – stanri
    May 9, 2023 at 12:29
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If you are asking about how to convert from hand-written paper to an editable computer document, reasonably up to date cell phones can recognize and transcribe the text by photographing a printed page with the camera App (certainly Android phones can do this). You'll wind up with a lot of one-page files to transfer from the phone to a computer and then glue into a book, but that beats re-typing it.

See if you can access a scanner with character/text recognition at the local library for free - it may have a multi-sheet feeder to speed things up. As a last resort you can pay for this service at a print/copy/office supply store, perhaps in a self-service section.

In any case you'll have to clean it up - none of the scanners are perfect.

Good luck!! Let us know when your first book comes out.

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I've seen several answers mention it in passing, but I would investigate self-publishing on Amazon. I have bought and read self-published books. You can also investigate self-publishing on Kobo. Take your time in looking into these things because I don't know what the rules may be for publishing on multiple platforms, or which is better.

You should also investigate getting someone to do a single panel cover art for your book, because that will be useful in the next step:

"But how will people find my book?"

An important step here is going to be spending some money on advertising, which is not as daunting as it may sound. Personally, I would advertise on Facebook. It's very easy to make Facebook ads, with targeted audiences, and you don't need to be a marketing professional to do it. I have used Facebook to good result in advertising local concerts and tours for a friend's band. You can spend as much or as little as you like (as in, I usually spent $10 - $20 on highly targeted local ads for local shows.) I get ads for books on Facebook now and then and have actually bought some books as a result of those ads, so they work on me, at least! The cover art is useful here because you'll want something eye catching for the ad, and all the ads I've seen just use the cover art as the backdrop.

"Step 1" is still going to be what others have mentioned, which is getting your manuscript(s) into digital format, and converted into the format for that platform you are going to publish on (Kindle vs Kobo) but there are tools which do conversions for you (free, if I recall correctly).

So: 1) convert one to digital 2) commission a cover art for it 3) self-publish on Kobo and/or Kindle 4) advertise.

Anecdotally, I have a sister-in-law who did this and has had great success with her murder mystery series. The hardest part, which advertising helps with, is getting the ball rolling on finding people who will want to read your book in the first place.

If you have success self-publishing the first one then you have a lot of leverage going forward, either to continue self-publishing or to get a publisher's attention for your next one.

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You may

  • approach a publisher
  • approach an investor
  • publish as an ebook such as Amazon kindle, Apple iBooks, etc
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    – Community Bot
    May 7, 2023 at 21:12
  • It would be difficult to publish an ebook directly from the manuscript given that te manuscript is hand-written, not typed. May 10, 2023 at 3:11

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