Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


How is finding a publisher like fishing?

My husband and I were having a glass of wine together the other night and, since I’ve recently had another of my books accepted by Shanti Arts Publishing, the conversation, of course, turned to that topic. All my books have been released by small presses of varying sizes, and he wondered how I knew which ones to approach for my books.

Before I had decided to work with independent publishers, I went through the traditional route of finding an agent and having my work submitted to the major houses. Unfortunately, this road turns out to be very narrow. Agents and large presses all have a niche and usually aren’t open to anything outside of their limited vision. They also don’t welcome writers who don’t already have a track record in publishing. I eventually realized I didn’t fit their categories.

So after spending far too much time trying to break into that rarified world, I eliminated agents from my address book and focused on small presses. As for how I chose the ones I did, partly it was a crap shoot; partly it was my response to how they presented themselves to the world via their websites. Much as we react to a person’s clothes, facial features, and body language when we first meet someone new, I used similar criteria in selecting the presses I queried. I wanted to work with publishers that have an aesthetic sense, as evidenced in their sites, and would give my books a welcoming home.

But ultimately, finding a press that would show interest in my queries reminded me of an activity my fisherman son is so good at. He can go out on his boat for hours at a time and not catch anything. Yet he’s not discouraged because it’s the process, the act of fishing, that is also an important part of his enjoyment. When fish don’t bite, it gives him time to reflect and just be present with himself. It also teaches him patience. Not every fish will bite. Similarly, not every press will want to see your manuscripts. But eventually, if the work stands out, one will.

This fishing metaphor boils down to a quality that most writers need to acquire: determination. As my son has taught me, if you wait long enough and continue to throw out your line, eventually something will happen. My son tries different kinds of bait and plants himself at new fishing spots at the lake where he lives. But he never stops believing that he will catch fish eventually. And neither should we writers stop believing in ourselves and our writing. Patience and commitment are the food we need to catch our fish, a publishing contract.

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