Traditional Publishing

When people talk about being “traditionally published” They are most often talking about getting signed on to one of the “BIG FIVE” publishers located in New York. (There used to be the “BIG SIX” but two, Penguin and Random Houses, merged. I will say that there are still SIX because for some reason many discount Scholastic. We’ll get there.) These big publishing houses carry the weight of history, name recognition, and most importantly – money – in their names. Who wouldn’t want to say “My publisher is HarperCollins”?

To get on with these BIG guys you have to have  the “it” factor. And maybe even then they won’t pick you up. And these guys typically don’t take unsolicited manuscripts.

You will need an agent. Not just any agent, or a new agent. You will need a BIG agent with a client list that reads from the stacks of Barnes & Nobel. You will need an agent who is connected, whose name gets the publisher to answer the phone, who has a rapport with these big publishers. These agents don’t typically take unsolicited manuscripts.

So, how do you get one of the BIG FIVE to notice you? How to you get a BIG AGENT to notice you? Perseverance. Watch these agents’ companies. Many times they will hire a new agent and that new agent will need to start their own slush pile and will make and open call for manuscripts. If yours is accepted, and if it is read, and if it is deemed worthy, your work might be moved up the ladder to the BIG AGENT. Or not. Regardless, keep sending the synopsis out to anyone accepting them.

The thing about the BIG FIVE (or SIX) is that they are very big. They have several smaller subsidiaries which in turn have several smaller imprints. Take Macmillan for example. Macmillan owns Henry Holt which in turn owns Holt Paperbacks. Each imprint and small press operate independently so you can solicit your manuscript to Holt Paperbacks, Kingfisher, and Griffin. They are all part of the Macmillan family. So, if your manuscript is picked up by Griffin, you are sort of published by Macmillan. Perhaps someday, your work will move up the ladder to St. Martin’s Press and upward to Macmillan. There is a chart of the BIG FIVE US Trade Book Publishers that is beautifully done. You can see it here.

The one that did not make the list is Scholastic. To me, Scholastic should be counted as one of the BIG names in publishing. They are the largest publisher of children’s literature and with six corporate divisions and almost 2 dozen imprints, Scholastic has some muscle. Let’s not disregard some of the titles Scholastic has published: The Baby-sitters Club, Freak the Mighty (series), Harry Potter (American version), Captain Underpants, and The Hunger Games (series). I believe that if you write children’s literature or young adult literature, you may want to investigate Scholastic as an option for publication.

With BIG FIVE publishing, you have resources for marketing – book trailers, blog tours, book signings, interviews, press releases, book store shelf placement, promotions, and so on.

If you are fortunate enough to get on with one of the BIG PUBLISHERS, just remember to read the contract very carefully. Rather, have your attorney read your contract very carefully. I promise the goodies are nice but the publisher’s contract was drawn up to their benefit. For that matter, have your attorney read your agent’s contract too. The bigger the agent and the bigger the publisher, the bigger the percentage you won’t see. 


Just a reminder, March 1st closes the door on the Dirty Little Secrets theme! So hurry and confess your sin or tattle tale on someone else. Do you have a secret ingredient in you famous chili you omit whenever you give out the recipe? Did you roll back the odometer before you sold your car?  Did you hide the hole in the wall behind an armoir when selling your house? Did you exaggerate on your resume? Do tell! Be quick!


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