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Presenting to Publishers(Ways to keep your manuscript out of the slush pile)
by Rachel Carrington

Personal experience has taught me that there is a certain protocol to follow when you submit your manuscript to a publisher or editor at a publishing house. Unfortunately, not every new author knows the rules. No matter how good your writing is, you cannot bully, beg or buy your way into a publishing house. This business takes a lot of patience, thick skin and professionalism.

Though editors are real people just like you and I are, they are also extremely busy people. To submit your manuscript outside the bounds of the publisher's requirements is akin to asking for a rejection. When you send a query letter to an editor, you are asking for an investment of time and knowledge. Express your understanding of this by being courteous and patient.

All of the suggestions listed below have come from the School of Hard Knocks and an author who has, in this instance, lived through each and every one of the rules. I've broken some, bent others and received a lot of rejections as a result. In the end, I learned that following rules really isn't that difficult. Take a look and see for yourself:

1. Learn the terminology in the publishing industry today. Though it may sound simple, as an editor, I've received many queries which show the author is not familiar with the basic wording of publishers, i.e., unsolicited manuscripts, simultaneous submissions, slush pile, exclusively, SASE (many authors forget the stamp), marketing plan, queries, synopses, proposals and third person biography. To submit your work without knowing these terms, especially if a publisher makes reference to them in its guidelines, can be detrimental to your submission.

2. If you're a first-time author, do not call a publisher and expect to be able to pitch your manuscript over the phone. That luxury is usually afforded to major league players in the publishing industry. I'm not saying it never happens, but don't take chances your first time out of the starting gate. Most editors don't have time to chat on the phone with an author they've haven't signed or don't know. As a sidebar, this usually doesn't work with agents, either.

3. Get the writer's guidelines from the publisher before you submit anything even a query. In better terms, know which market you're submitting to before you send out your work. Once, long ago during a time I'd rather forget, I submitted a query to a publisher about my steamy romance novel. Less than two weeks later, I received a curt response back from the publisher....a religious publisher of inspirational fiction only. While a steamy romance novel might be inspirational in some ways, it wasn't exactly what this publisher was looking for. Had I written to ask for the publisher's guidelines, I would have saved myself some embarrassment and a lot of lost time.

4. When you get the guidelines, follow them to the letter. This point may be self-explanatory, but you'd be surprised at the number of authors who try to get around one or more of the publisher's rules. If the publisher took time to include any rule in its guidelines, it's obviously important. Don't skip it. Yes, it might cost you a little extra time and money, but anything worth doing is worth doing well. Spend the time and invest the money. You'll be one step closer to living your dream.

5. Properly prepare your manuscript by following standard format guidelines. What exactly is standard? If it's not in the publisher's guidelines, it's usually safe to use one inch margins all around and double-space your manuscript. Don't, under any circumstances, use font which is difficult to read, continual bold font or italics unless it's just to emphasize a few words in your manuscript. Use regular bond paper and double check to make sure the ink hasn't smeared and the pages have printed correctly. Any editor will appreciate the extra attention.

6. Address your manuscript to the proper editor. If you have to call the publishing house to ask for the editor's name, do so. The last thing you want is for your manuscript to end up in the slush pile because no one claimed it. Richard Curtis, author of "How to be Your Own Literary Agent" and president of a leading New York literary agency, refers to this as "far and away the most important advice he can give about cracking the market." So following this advice should be number one on your priority list.

7. It's also important to create the best impression you can possibly make without presenting yourself as egotistical or impatient. Putting your best foot forward involves polishing your query letter until it shines, creating a sharp biography and always, and I mean always, keeping your letter courteous even down to the closing. Never end a letter with an expectation of acceptance or any type of timeline. To do so is to give an editor one reason to push your manuscript into the trash bin next to their already overstocked desk.

8. Keep track of where you sent your manuscript and when you sent it. An easy way to do this is with the use of a manuscript program. Charlotte Dillon's web site (www.charlottedillon.com) has numerous programs available for authors to download, at least one of which is a manuscript tracker. Just check under author resources. Although, you don't absolutely have to follow this guideline, it's always nice to know where you've sent your manuscript so you don't submit to the same publisher twice in a row, possibly in the same month. That's a red flag to any publisher, and the sign of an amateur writer.

9. When you follow-up to ask for a status request (after you've given the publisher ample time to review your novel), be polite, not demanding and never, ever indicate you have another publisher interested in your work unless it's the truth. Attempting to blackmail a publisher into accepting your book will only backfire on you in the long run.

10. Ample time to review your novel isn't three weeks. Some publishers can take as long as six to eight months to review an entire manuscript. A shorter amount of time is usually required for a partial or the synopsis alone, but don't begin hounding the publisher after a few weeks asking for a status update. I find that a simple letter requesting an update and providing my e-mail address usually gets a response within forty-eight hours. Sometimes, a publisher will have its turnaround time listed on its website. Just calendar the suggested timeline and query the editor after that time has expired not three weeks before the deadline.

11. Should your manuscript be rejected, send a thank you note to the editor. This certainly isn't intended to be used as a bribe or as an attempt to get the editor to reconsider. It's simply common courtesy. Though your work wasn't accepted, the editor has taken the time to read your article/manuscript and proper etiquette dictates a thank you. This is not the time to prompt the editor for information as to how you can improve your writing. It's an acknowledgment of an editor's review of your work. Nothing more. Nothing less, but trust me when I tell you that editors take note of authors who accept rejection with dignity and professionalism, and they may remember your name in the future.

12. Honesty is, and always will be, the best policy. In your query letter, don't proclaim knowledge you don't have and certainly don't indicate you know an author or have been referred by an author unless you actually have been. Some editors, though not all, will follow up on references, and just like lies on a bad resume, dishonesty in a query letter can practically guarantee your manuscript won't be considered.

13. Always think of your query letter and submission of your requested manuscript as a job interview. Now is not the time to crack jokes or talk about how much your Aunt Betsy liked the manuscript. Editors want to-the-point, impress me and catch- my-eye query letters, and while you're mulling over this point, consider how you send your manuscript or query letter as well. Keep the packaging simple but efficient. Never use gift envelopes or boxes or "cute" tape. You're a professional writer. Present yourself that way.

14. And my final point is do not keep submitting the same piece of work over and over to a publisher unless you've done extensive revisions and feel the work is considerably different. While it's true that assistant editors and editors do come and go at large publishing houses, you run the risk of getting the same assistant who will quickly tire of reading the same book (if it gets that far) or worse, will recognize your name and not read it at all. Sometimes, it's better for the publisher not to know who you are, especially if you've made a nuisance of yourself.

Now, having said all this, following these rules will not guarantee an acceptance of your article or manuscript. Rejections come for many reasons. You can follow all of the guidelines listed here and still receive a no thanks.

As an editor, the toughest part of my job is sending out a rejection letter no matter how good the query letter was or even the manuscript itself. As an author, it's just as difficult to be on the receiving end of that "thanks-but-no-thanks" correspondence. But the road to publication is a tough one, and as much as it takes rules and regulations, it also takes perseverance and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. But when you present your manuscript or query letter to a publisher, it's better to learn from my mistakes as prior to my own publication, I violated almost every one of these rules. I learned the hard way. Here's hoping you don't have to.

© Copyright 2005, Rachel Carrington

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