Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Follow the Rules if You Want to Get in the Game

I received a call this week from a first-time author who was asking about the procedure for submitting a book manuscript to publishers. The gentleman stated he'd already contacted the same publisher who'd handled my last four books.

When I asked to which editor he'd queried, he sat in clueless silence.

"I don't know. I just sent it in care of the publishing house. Query? What's that?" he replied.

"You didn't send a query? What exactly did you send?" I inquired with a sinking sensation.

"Well, I sent my entire manuscript," he said defensively. "That's what the writers guidelines said."

This puzzled me, for in my previous dealings with this particular publisher, I'd always followed the accepted industry standard of first sending a one-page query, then if I received a positive response from the editor, I'd follow up by sending a formal book proposal. At that point, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, the editor would request the complete manuscript.

"Didn't the writers guidelines give you a specific editor's name? "

"No, at least I don't think so. I didn't really read it that closely."

I didn't know how to let him down gently. "Then I fear that your submission went directly to the slush pile. If it was addressed to no one in particular, that's who will open it. No one. And most traditional publishers are so busy these days, they'd never get around to reviewing an unsoliticied manuscript. That's why they request one-page query letters first, to weed out the manuscripts that aren't on their 'grocery list' that will just waste their time."

If you want to play a game, you have to follow the rules.

I looked up the Publisher's guidelines in my trusty Christian Writers' Market Guide (the writer's BIBLE) and I could see how the fellow could have gotten a bit confused. Although it does say "accepts mss through agents or authors" it meant that submissions are acceptable from authors, not just agents. Farther down in the listing it stated, "send e-query; proposal/3 chapters when requested."

Rule of thumb: Unless clearly stated otherwise, when submitting to traditional book publishers (that means publishers who pay royalties, NOT self-publishers or subsidy presses) follow the standard formula (in this order) :

1) One-page query
2) Proposal/sample chapters
3) Entire manuscript

Do your homework, aspiring authors! If you send unsoliticited material, it is highly likely that your time, expense and hopes will be dashed and it will land squarely in the slush pile.