Publishing, Literary Agents and NDAs

I am not sure if this is the correct forum or not. I have just finished my book. Now I have to learn the business of getting it published. This is a business that I need to learn a lot more about. I have done a lot of work with a grammar checking program and had several friends review my work and give me feedback. One friend sent some reviews to Amazon and Amazon publishing reached out to me. When I looked at the material Amazon sent to me they wanted me to sign a fairly massive NDA agreement right up front. I had to try to understand why this is needed. Amazon is what I would call a “Vanity Press" where, if I pay approximately $1,500 they will do a front cover, edit, and market my work through their channels. Then there is a 65% commission that I assume I would get, rather than Amazon getting.

A problem is that the NDA says that it would be in effect for life. I am not interested in signing away my rights at this point, especially without a better understanding of their business model, which Amazon won’t disclose without a signed NDA. I consider this work to be quite good, as reviews have well stated. I would use Amazon as a fall back position once I have worked to get my work in front of movers and shakers who can either endorse my work, or somehow get through the maze of online noise to be fairly considered by a publishing house.

What I would like to ask is what suggestions or resources others can suggest to get me farther down the road so to speak. I am now thinking that it may well be in my best interests to find a literary agent who knows how this game is played. But, how to find a literary agent, and how do I find a good one who is interested in promoting my particular genre. There are other tasks that I would like to address but have no idea where to start, such as finding a professional editor, getting an ISBN number or a copy-write registration of some kind before I start passing my manuscript around.

For the record, my work is a spiritual autobiography of sorts, some call it a testimony, but I think it is more than that. The genre would be creative non fiction. It is my 40 year journey including having two near death experiences and doing my best to put my life back on track after being left behind after being severely injured on active duty in the Air Force. My journey includes doing hundreds of FEMA emergency housing inspections in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, working with children with cancer, deaf blind children, and working to deliver corporate team building programs with many Fortune 500, governmental agencies, and non profits. My spiritual journey to make sense out of all this has allowed me to balance the reality of suffering with the certainty of God, tempered by my love for humanity.

My spiritual journey has gone from Christian to new age, self help, Sufi, Native American, therapy, Christian mystical, to traditional Christian. It’s really a story about why we need God, without shoving God in your face. In my best moments I think of it as a modern version of “The Road Less Traveled” that will encourage deep introspection and combines ideas in spirituality with ideas about psychology by using my team building underpinnings to show why balance is so important in life, in a marriage, in a group of any kind, in ones self, and yes, in a country.

You may want to try, or at least consider, self-publishing. The ‘giants’ in self-publishing are Amazon KDP, which is different from Amazon Publishing; Draft2Digital, which can distribute your books to numerous platforms, Barnes and Noble and IngramSpark.

Your post indicates the more traditional approach to publishing.

By all means, try for an agent (but not needed in self-pubbing).

I’m intending my reply to just ‘kick things off,’ I’ve self-published through Amazon KDP and Smashwords (the latter now owned by Draft2Digital.) I never plan to go the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ approach.

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There are firms who will review proposed contracts for a fee, without committing to represent your work. The National Writers Union has pointers to relevant resources:


There is a lot here I do not yet understand. When I imagine “getting published”, I think of getting good reviews online, which will lead to more people being able to recommend my book to their friends. That would mean to my best understanding that Links would be available where people could link to purchase, and have the book printed and delivered to them. Yes, Amazon does come to mind. But when I think of a best selling author such as Jordan Peterson with Penguin House, I have no idea what any of that actually entails. I know when my cousin Mary (Mary Freeman Rosenblum, Drylands, etc. in the science fiction category) became a successful author, she had to go on book tours to promote her work. I assume giving talks or lectures or readings is a part of getting published as well.

When I hear “self-publishing”, I don’t fully understand as I thought that was what the Amazon Publishing offer was about? They would put together my work for a fee and market it. Isn’t that self publishing also? If Amazon KDP means Kindle then they were offering that as a part of the package they were offering to me.

Thanks, I will look into that group.

Amazon Publishing appears to be a traditional ‘brick and mortar’ division of Amazon. They may just use their sister division Amazon KDP as a distributor.

Regarding marketing and advertising: most publishers do not do that for authors, except for those author who do not need it. Stephen King, James Patterson, etc., get marketed. New ones not so much. For either self-publishing or the traditional, the author typically has to do all the legwork of marketing and outreach (getting reviewers to read it and so forth.)

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A traditional publisher does take care of administrative tasks: copyright registration, ISBN numbers, making sure the book is available through distributors, etc. If you self-publish, those tasks are your responsibility, though Amazon, Ingram Spark, and similar services may (for a fee) handle them for you.

There are lots of scammers out there, too. You should check SFWA’s Writer Beware archive before signing a contract or sending money to anyone. They also have lots of information about what various terms mean, how various kinds of publishing work, and so on:


The difference between self-publishing and traditional is that in self-pubbing there is no editor save for whomever you hire or find to give feedback/criticism on it. These may be family, friends or social media contacts whose opinions your trust and these serve as ‘beta readers,’ or there are actual self-publishing editors who make their living offering editorial services to writers.

You upload the work to the various distribution sites I mentioned (they are all non-exclusive) and then do your best to ‘get the word out’ on your book.

In traditional publishing, the editor serves as a ‘gateway,’ as to whether the book merits publication (in addition to working with the writer on issues related to the work.)

Draft2Digital offers much of what a trad publisher does, including ISBNs.

(I’m not an employee or whatever. They bought Smashwords and are migrating accounts/books over. Hence, I’m with them and will use them going forward. They are trying to position themselves as a chief alternative to Amazon KDP.)

To publish the book you’ve written, edited and corrected, you have two options:

  1. Traditionally published with a publisher via a literary agent (the bricks-and-mortar-route)
    If you can find a literary agent that will accept your manuscript, that agent will present it to a traditional publisher. If that publisher accepts your book, they will assign an Editor to your manuscript and work with your to make it the best book possible. they will produce the book (design interior and cover, buy and assign an ISBN, print a certain amount of books at the printers), and distribute through official channels so the book ends up on websites and in bookshops for people to buy.
    This is a slow and demanding process, because of gatekeepers in agents and publishers that won’t allow just any book to be published. The editing process is slow and demanding as well.
    Marketing and promotion of you books still is something you’ll have to do yourself, via marketing campaigns on Facebook, Amazon, or various other channels. Use Social Media to connect to your target audience.
    The pros are that your book is officially published and the publisher’s brand can help selling books. Meanwhile you can write your next book. The cons are that much of the design choices - like for the cover and the interior - are made by the publisher, and they get a large share of any profit.

  2. Self-published by you
    You’ll have to produce your book yourself, meaning it’s up to you to find and pay a graphic designer and/or illustrator to create a cover and and design the interior of the book. You’ll have to buy and assign your ISBNs yourself. You’ll have to receive digital files from the designer you can deliver to a platform or a printer for a print run or Print On Demand (POD) so there are actual books to sell.
    Publishing the book means you upload them to platforms that can either digitally deliver you book as an e-book or print it in POD for you and distribute the book to buyers via that platform. For Amazon that platform is Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), for Kobo (Canada and Europe) it’s Kobo Writing Life (KWL) and for widely distributing e-books and recently also paperbacks you can sign up with Draft2Digital (D2D). All of them is also good practice.
    It’s much harder to get your books in bookshops, but easier to sell them online through these platforms.
    Marketing and promotion of you books you’ll have to do yourself, via marketing campaigns on Facebook, Amazon, or various other channels. Use Social Media to connect to your target audience.
    The pros are that no gatekeepers can prevent your book from being published, and you get a larger share of any profit. The cons are that all responsibility for getting your work out there is on your shoulders.

Hope this helps


It’s important to note that while the author’s share of self-published books is larger (as is the author’s financial investment), traditionally published books tend to sell better. (Probably because of the gatekeepers. Identifying books that will sell is literally their job.)

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This was very helpful, thank you. The one thing that isn’t clear is, remembering the offer from Amazon to publish my book with a fairly hefty fee up front for editing, cover design Search engine ranking (SEO) and sales, is that a form of self publishing, or what you refer to as brick and mortar publishing?

I have always thought or assumed that the reason a traditional publishing house such as Penguin, Random House, or Moody would do better was because, 1. They lend credibility to my work by established reputation of the publishing house, 2. They would provide distribution channels. 3. Producing a quality product to read in your own hands (or in a Kindle or eBook of your own), 4. There would be expected marketing commitments to travel, give talks about my book, do book signings at book stores, book fairs, etc.

All of this assumes that my story has legs and that there would be sufficient positive reviews and word of mouth positive recommendations to recommend it to others. That of course is the function of the gatekeepers in the BAM (Brick and Mortar groups). Going it self published is I suppose a different question.

Your offer is definitively a Traditional Publishing offer, where they will publish your book without wanting to take any risk upfront. This is a sign of a Vanity publisher, indeed.
As said before they could use their online platform to distribute your book.

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One of the things that I really would like help with is the legal side of publishing. I have worked as a technical writer and editor so I am aware of style guides from New York, Chicago, etc. I am not going to get too crazy about punctuations inside of or outside of quotation marks at this point as that is a matter of style which can easily be changed before a final version has been decided and laid out, I assume by an editor. What I am more concerned about is the legality or creating future problems from where I have inserted small amounts of quoted text and if I need written permission to do this - or not. Some quotations I use are from classical text such as Biblical references and quotations from Kahlil Gibran, Rumi, Kierkegaard, and as such “should” be fine. Others are from more contemporary material, for example, Dear Abby, Dostoyevski, and Madeline L’Engle; this is where I need the advice of more seasoned writers as I am flying blind here. My book has quite a few photographs and artistic illustrations or models (graphics) which are all my own design and creation so other than formatting challenges I am not worried about copyright restrictions there. In this day and age where there is so much censorship raising its ugly head, having a legal understanding of things couldn’t hurt, assuming my work becomes successful.

If you can find an agent willing to propose your book to a publisher, either may help you solve the legal issues. But you should have your priorities straight and worry about that later.

The site to find an agent is: Manuscript Wish List.
Once you’ve deviced and send a Query, use QueryTracker

Good luck!

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Thanks everyone for the help. Now I have some work to do to follow up with these suggestions. One thing that worries me a bit is that so far I have shared my manuscript with people I trust. I have password protected it as a PDF file so as not to get lost on the web. The material is not copywriten or protected yet and so it worries me a bit as to how to start soliciting my work from unknown agencies or persons who may be able to put me in touch with the agencies or persons I am trying to reach. Learning what a query is sounds like a way to better understand this question.

So far I have only made one submission, to Shambhala Books, a subsidiary of Random House. They had a two page PDF that I downloaded and adhered to in preparing my submission. It took two months but they said they were not interested in this sort of story at this time. Their submission guideline however sounds like what a query would cover. They wanted a one line summary of the book, who had endorsed my work, a chapter outline, and two paragraphs selected by me to show my writing style and ability. Then they wanted to know what movers and shakers I knew, how large of a media or a social media presence I had, etc. Since I have no social media presence at this time and only only a handful of reviews, albeit very good reviews, I suspect this is why they passed on my work, but I received no real feedback about why it was rejected.

anyway, you can google yourself, right?

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Traditional publishers do not ask for money up front. (@AntoniDol, I think there’s a typo in your post.)

Yes, the proposal from Amazon describes a form of self-publishing. If you go that route, I would strongly advise you to seek competitive bids for at least the “creative” publishing tasks (editing, cover design, etc.), and to understand exactly what promises they are making regarding SEO and other marketing functions.

Yes, the Amazon NDA was being pushed very hard up front. I have been around long enough to know when too much pressure is being applied - too quickly. Once I take the time to review the NDA, who knows, maybe, and maybe not. The idea of someone saying we will be happy to get your book published if you just pay us this amount, whether it is good or not, does not interest me as I am not writing this from a place of vanity.

I don’t mind paying for actual work, services, memberships, etc., but, it is difficult to ask in depth questions if they want the NDA signed first before going into how they will do what they say they will do. One of the links provided in this discussion is a writers legal resource that will apparently advise me as to the validity of the Amazon NDA. I plan to do that.

I am a first time author (or I will be when this gets published). I have no established reputation yet. One of the ideas I have, but don’t really understand if it would be possible or even likely, would be to just get it published (self published), purchase an ISBN number, pay for professional editing, cover design, etc., get it all ready to go. Then use Amazon as a book seller (without a NDA), get enough people interested through sales and user (reader) reviews, and once demand goes higher, I have more easily gained the interest of a money making publishing house because of real world experience.