This is an article I wrote for Reading Matters, the in-shop newsletter published by Bookazine, last month.


tvbcHERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Hong Kong has a thriving industry of independent publishers. Here is even better news: this is not London or New York, and most (if not all) presses are happy to receive manuscripts directly from authors. So, assuming you’ve written a great book, you don’t necessarily need an agent to get published.

These ideas should help you get started.

First, find a suitable publisher to submit your manuscript to. Here’s an obvious but often overlooked tip: choose a publisher which already publishes works similar to yours. They will be more adept at promoting your book, and the editors there are more likely to take a personal interest in it.

You can do your research online; many publishers’ submissions guidelines can be found on their websites, or in annual directories. Or simply walk into your local bookshop and browse the shelves for titles similar to yours, and note who publishes them.

It is a fact that many publishers are overwhelmed with submissions from prospective authors, and if your proposal is vague, poorly presented or inappropriate, it will be consigned to the ‘slush pile’ to be read at a later date – or never. Only a tiny proportion of the books written each year get published. To make sure yours is one of the few, you’ll want to craft a proposal which grabs the attention of the reader, states your concept clearly, and provides all the pertinent information in one place.

Write a bright covering letter, indicating who you are, what kind of book you have written, and why this publisher should be interested in it. If you can, compare it to other books on the market which have done well. Your aim is to convince the editor of two things: that this book is a winner which will sell, and that you are an exciting author who is able and willing to assist in making it a success.

Include a one-page summary of the book, and two or three sample chapters or illustrations. If you ‘tick all the boxes’ in this way, your proposal is likely to go straight to the head of the queue. Good luck!

Publishing contracts vary, but in most cases will set out that the publisher is granted a licence to publish the work, at its own expense, and will pay you royalties on sales. Some publishers may pay an advance, but this is not universal among small presses with limited resources. Most will require the author to co-operate in promoting the book as widely as possible. (If you are a shrinking violet, this may be the perfect opportunity to conquer your fear of public speaking).

Finally, the usual word of warning: If your publisher asks you to pay for production expenses, or asks you to buy quantities of your own book, then you may be dealing with a vanity press. If they have not invested their own money in the book, then they are unlikely to put much effort into marketing it. For more advice see the FAQ at the Society of Authors. If you absolutely cannot find a commercial publisher to take on your work, then you are better off self-publishing it. There are numerous ways to do this these days and at least you retain control over the process.

Pete Spurrier runs Blacksmith Books, a Hong Kong publishing house.