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What Do Publishers Want?


WritersServices Factsheet 1 by Michael Legat

What do Publishers Want?

  • First of all, publishers want a book that they can sell in sufficient quantities to make it financially viable.
  • Magazine publishers want stories and features that will be enjoyed by their regular readers.
  • Publishers, whether they deal in books or magazines, want material of the right length. Check the magazines for which you hope to write to find out how many words are used in the stories and features which they publish. Publishers of novels are not normally interested in anything less than 60,000 words. There are fewer restrictions affecting the length of non-fiction books, but you will have a better chance of publication if you can provide at least 35,000 words.
  • Although it is notoriously difficult for writers to break into print, publishers are always on the look-out for new authors who have a real talent.
  • Publishers of fiction look for a strong plot which is based on characters who are seen in depth, and for an original approach.
  • It is very difficult to be totally original, and there is a temptation for authors to jump on the bandwagon of whatever is currently successful. But you still need something which makes your work different – publishers are not usually interested in clones of already established authors.
  • If you are writing non-fiction, you must have a really good knowledge of your subject, and if you have something new to say about it, you will have a good chance of publication
  • Publishers want authors who use words well, who understand such basics as spelling, punctuation and grammar, and whose prose is easy to read.
  • Publishers want authors who will be able to write additional publishable books or stories or features for them. They prefer an author who continues to write books in the same genre as their first work, rather than one who is a jack-of-all-trades.

Publishers want authors to be paragons. They like writers who will co-operate with them, who will help to promote their books, who will be loyal, who will not bombard them with complaints, who will be on time with the delivery of their work, who will not submit a work which contains libellous or plagiarised material, who understand that not all books are as successful as the publishers (and especially the authors) hope. Don’t be discouraged if you have any doubt of your ability to be a paragon of such qualities – publishers know that such writers are as scarce as the editor who has never rejected a book which turns out to be a mega-bestseller for a different publishing house.

  There is more on this subject in An Author's Guide to Publishing

© Michael Legat 2001