Breaking Into Traditional Publishing

Have you written a novel? Or are you thinking about writing one?

You’ve probably heard of people landing book deals with major publishers, and that sounds like a sweet gig. Unfortunately, the route to traditional publication is riddled with hidden landmines. Fortunately, I’ve written this blog post to help you navigate the bizarre world of traditional publishing in 2020—starting with your manuscript!

So how do you land a book deal?

The harsh reality: there are a lot of people who are good writers. High-quality writers, even. Setting yourself apart from the rest is difficult, especially in the competitive market of traditional publishing. The first thing you need when pitching your book is a unique selling point, and a great way to pitch it.

What is a Unique Selling Point?

Maybe you wrote a sci-fi adventure that involves virtual reality. Did you know there are thousands of books with that very same premise? They’re. Everywhere. If you want to stand out, you need something unique, even if it’s tiny.

Take Ready Player One as an example. The unique factor comes into the 80s nostalgia. It’s virtual reality, but there’s a 80s trivia game hidden throughout the story, and the main character has to solve it. People love nostalgia (it sells) which makes this a great “unique selling point.”

Ask yourself: does my novel have something that sets it apart? If it does, focus on that in all your sales pitches—it take you places.

Next up: Avoid clichés.

There are tons of overused clichés in literature, and if you want to land a book deal you need to do one of two things. (1) Avoid writing overused plot points and scenes, or (2) write them so well that people don’t even realize it’s a cliché.

Since it’s VERY DIFFICULT to reinvent the wheel, I would suggest you just avoid scenarios and scenes that agents and publishers see on a daily bases.

What are they? They include, but are no limited to:

  1. Starting the book with a dream.
  2. Having your main character describe themselves by looking in the mirror.
  3. Having a “chosen one” prophesy.
  4. An evil dark lord or something similar.
  5. Instant-love between characters who just met each other for the first time.

Again, you can have these if you really want, but just know that editors and publishers see them ALL THE TIME from debut authors. It’s so common there are hundreds of blogs dedicated to this problem.

Lastly: there is a trend for strong social justice narratives.

I was told by three editors and four agents that novels with “strong social justice themes” are what the major publishing houses are looking for. What does that mean? It means stories that involve non-white characters, pro-environmental change, or fighting against racism/homophobia/sexism, etc. are vastly preferred over books that don’t have these characteristics.

As a matter of fact, these themes are often used as the “unique selling point” as discussed above, so having them can fulfill both roles.

For example, the recent novel, Slay, is about a virtual reality video game (again, there are thousands of books with that setting). The “unique selling point” and “strong social justice element” are the fact that the main character in Slay is African-American and deals with a white supremacist troll.

Do you need these kinds of narratives in the story to get published? No, but publishers are looking for them. It’s just a fact of reality to keep in mind if you want your novel to stand out above others.


So, hopefully this information has helped you in some small way! If you want to help me in some small way, you can check out my novels–KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST (Fantasy Adventure) or STAR MARQUE RISING (Space Opera Hard Sci-Fi).

Have a wonderful day!

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