Banner for Justice Unending, showing the title, the author (Elizabeth Spencer), and the book cover.

My debut novel, Justice Unending, is being published by Evernight Teen on November 4th–and today, I’m going to talk a wee little bit about how I got there.

Justice was not the first novel I ever finished. Depending on how generous I want to be, I’d call it either my 5th or 6th one. (I wrote a 120K-long abomination in my college years that was kinda-sorta a completed story, but only because I stopped at the “midpoint” to see how long a YA should be and realized that OMMGGG i should stoooop.)

So, yes. 6th-ish novel. Let’s go with that.

But Justice was the first one that I really, really put my heart into pitching. I did the agent thing. I got requests. I didn’t ultimately get representation.

So then it was time to look at small/medium presses. And I was lost.

I knew how to query agents. There are bajillions of resources about how to query. If you want to know how to write one, or you want to see successful ones, or you want to get yours critiqued, you can find a ton of places to help.

But what about small presses? I, er, didn’t…actually… know?

It was kind of embarrassing. I had experience. I wasn’t new to writing. I had done lots of research. But small presses were different and I was completely out of my element.

So here’s what I did:

  • First, I tried Writer’s Market, the publishers of the annual Guide to Literary Agents books. They have an online database of agents and publishers. And while I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their agent lists, the small/medium publishers in their database were… ehhhhhh. Not only were there very few options for YA fantasy, but I had to put a lot of manual work and time into filtering out ones with poor-quality editing and cover art.
  • Then I tried Query Tracker, my absolute favorite website for tracking and logging queries to agents. But, again, they just didn’t have very much there. I did find a few places to look into, but I didn’t feel like I had a really good list yet.
  • Finally, I just went post-by-post through the “Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check” forums on Absolute Write. Literally. I just clicked thread-by-thread and copied the URLs of any place that looked high-quality and had a good reputation with the posters. And even though this was an extremely manual process, the comments gave me some insight into whether the publisher was responsive, easy to work with, and reliable about payments.

Once I had a small list of publishers, I measured each based on whether:

  • The books they published appeared to be well edited.
  • They some amount of promotion. Small presses are small, but they still have promotion and marketing processes that you can compare to each other.
  • They had professional-looking covers.
  • They had a generally good reputation on Absolute Write. (If they had a reputation for non-payment, for example, I wrote them off immediately.)

In the end, I had a list of 11 publishers I trusted. Considering I queried way more agents than that, it felt like an anemic list. But thankfully, I didn’t need to find more.

But honestly, I never found a really good database that did the same thing for small presses that Query Tracker or Writer’s Market did for queries. If I need to go through this process again, I know I’ll definitely need to look harder for one.