Finding a Publisher in the 21st Century

Not all that many years ago, if one wanted to find oneself a publisher for one’s newly minted writing project, one would have had to research publishers in a big directory printed annually, find out what sorts of books they publish, what their region or specialty or preference is, which person is in charge of which section, and what their submission guidelines were. Then one would print off a chapter or two (using the directed guidelines for margins, double-spacing, page numbers, etc. etc.), or a synopsis and table of contents, or the entire manuscript. One would prepare a well-written hopefully clever and well-researched personal letter of introduction, add a self-addressed stamped return envelope, package the entire thing in a box, get to a post office and mail it off, with a tracking number, knowing that week one would be taken up just getting it to its delivery address. This would be repeated with as many publishers as possible. Then one would wait for the prescribed number of weeks, or months, and one might be lucky to get a reply, generally in the negative.

Of course not so many years ago, the publishing industry was suffering, with technology warning everyone that paper-bound books were going the way of the dodo (i.e., man-made destruction), and so publishers were extremely wary of accepting material at all, let alone from a new, unknown writer.

Now things are actually better than they were in the olden days of 20 years ago. Technology did not kill off books, but encouraged even more of them with Amazon providing titles from anywhere to anywhere and delivered to the door within a few days. People became protective of their local bookstores and libraries and supported which ever ones they could. Software options meant anyone and everyone could be their own publisher, and market their book online. It also meant that researching traditional publishers was easier, and finding out individuals’ names to send submissions to was more up-to-date and targeted, and submission guidelines recommended emailed manuscripts, which could be prepared quite quickly and delivered immediately. Now, the postal service is the industry that is suffering.

Of course this means that publishers are now inundated with even more submissions. Producing a book costs a publisher many thousands of dollars at the very least and so publishers are still wary of untested writers, and have to spend hours and hours to get through the flood of inappropriate submissions to find something that might interest them. Most do not even take unsolicited submissions, but only work with agents and writers and recommendations that come from a trusted relationship.

So now that I was ready to approach publishers for my book, I knew I had to do my research. I spent a lot of time in different bookstores and museums and libraries looking at books that were similar to mine in theme, topic, treatment or sector, and made a note of the relevant publishers. Then I researched the publishers’ websites carefully and examined their books, as well as their philosophies and areas of interest. I was also realistic. My book is not Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism on a grand scale: it is a book of local interest, with themes encompassing history, biography, memoir and women. My biggest hurdle was to figure out which publisher/s might reasonably be interested enough to invest in my manuscript and all that would be involved in turning it into a published book.

So I chose three publishers that were accepting unsolicited manuscripts: two small and coastal, and one national as a throw-your-hat-into-the-ring gamble. They all wanted slightly different submission materials, and I made sure I followed their guidelines to the letter. But I did have one very lucky foothold.

One of the women in my book has co-written her own book: The Rescue of Nanoose, a children’s tale based on true events and real people ( It has been a quiet and steady success since it was first published in 2004, helped by the fact that it takes place in Telegraph Cove, which sees tens of thousands of tourists every summer, many of whom have children or grandchildren and all of whom want a souvenir of their visit. Just after I had contacted this author, Mary Borrowman, to interview her about my own project (being one of the Resilient Women of Telegraph Cove), she was herself contacted by her publisher about a new edition of The Rescue of Nanoose. In their conversation, the publisher casually asked if Mary knew of any books in the works that were based on Vancouver Island, particularly its history, and perhaps reflected women’s lives? My new best friend Mary Borrowman told her about my budding project. At the time I was just beginning the research phase and had no idea whether I had 2 or 3 or more years ahead of me, but was asked to keep the publisher in mind.

Two and a half years later, this publisher was one of the ones I researched, thrilled to see that its catalogue indicated it would be a perfect fit for my book. Secretly in my heart, I hoped this one would work out over the others, as it truly would be an excellent option. And even more secretly in my heart, I knew it would be the right option because the name of the publisher is TouchWood Editions, and the name of my house, painted on a ceramic placque installed at my front door for 25 years, is Touchwood.