Q - I have just finished a book proposal along with a few smaple chapters. As a newbie to the "world of publishing," I am not sure what the next best course of action should be. Some say find an agent, yet I've had interest from a subsidy publisher, but can't afford to do that right now. What should my next step be? Help!
A - These days, most of the major publishers require that you have an agent, so if you think your book is best suited to one of those, then you will want to look for an agent first. If you plan to find an agent, the important thing is to do so before you start submitting to publishers. Agents will not want to take on a book that has already made the rounds of publishers (those are the same publishers they would be submitting to). Just keep in mind that finding an agent is often as hard as finding a publisher.
If you decide against an agent, or are unable to find one willing to take you on, then there are certainly a lot of publishers who will consider manuscripts directly from the author. Just use the market guide to determine which ones require agents and which ones will accept a query letter or a proposal from the author. The guide will also tell you exactly what the publisher wants you to send initially. For some, that means just a query letter describing your project and asking if they would like to see a proposal. For others, you may submit the proposal initially. Almost every publisher will provide you with writers' guidelines, so send for those for any publishers you are interested in submitting to. The most important thing is that you send each publisher exactly what they ask for. Some will reject the project outright if you have not followed their guidelines.