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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
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
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
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
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
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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