One of my duties as editor with a small traditional publisher is to review submissions. Like most publishers we receive many, many, sometimes hundreds of submissions. Because we are a smaller press the majority of our submissions are unsolicited. Unsolicited means that the book does not have an agent representing the author and recommending the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Publishing is a very subjective business. Someone could have written an amazing novel but they just have not found the right agent to represent them yet. It’s all about the fit.
Unsolicited also means that we receive many submissions from writers who may or may not be ready to publish. Ready to publish means that the writer knows their chosen genre and that there is very little that needs to change within the content of the novel for it to be salable. A book that is not ready to publish is another story.
So here are some tips to help with the submission process if you want to submit a query to a traditional publisher (If you want to independently publish I’ll have tips for you too, at a later time).
Tip 1 – Do your research on the agent’s/editor’s/publisher’s website to make sure that they are looking for what you have written. It is discouraging to write something that you think is a great novel, a YA novel for example, and submit it only to hear back several weeks (months?) later that the publisher doesn’t publish YA novels.
Tip 2 – Don’t submit multiple queries to different agents/editors/publishers at the same time. If you write a fantastic novel and submit it to me and I want to accept it for publication but I find out that you also submitted it to XYZ Press, I then consider the manuscript to be unavailable and the publishing process goes no further. Multiple submissions can create copyright infringement and other issues. Please don’t do it.
Tip 3 – Submit your query exactly as requested on the agent/editor/publisher’s website. Each entity will have very specific submission requirements. Follow these directions. Sometimes not following directions will just get your query deleted.
Tip 4 – Be professional. You are representing yourself as an author as well as your book. The author/publisher relationship is a business relationship.
Tip 5 – Submit your best work. Don’t submit a draft that you just finished. Review it. Have someone read it that you trust to give you their honest opinions. This person is not your mom, who will tell you how amazing your book was, or your spouse, or your friend who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. This person will tell you why they loved it or why they didn’t. Revise and re-write. Make sure you have quotation marks around all your dialogue. Make sure your character has the same name throughout your story. Make your manuscript as perfect as it can possibly be. Agents/Editors/Publishers want to say “YES!”
Remember that publishing is a subjective business. A rejection could mean your novel is just not right for the publisher (because they don’t do YA) or it’s just not right for them now (because they have their YA quota for the year and really we need erotic romance). Or, it could mean that you didn’t submit your best work and you need to revise. Regardless, just keep working, keep writing, and when you get a rejection notice, find another editor/agent/publisher and submit your work to them.