I had an email today from a new writer who is trying to get published (aren’t we all) and, in replying to one of their questions, I realised it was probably a good topic for a quick blog post. SO, here goes.
First, the question:
In terms of submitting your work to different publishers, do you have an approach or strategy? (I.e. to increase your chances of getting noticed?) Or is it just a matter of submitting to the most appropriate publishers and crossing your fingers?
And now, my answer – a longer version of my email reply.
Yep, cross your fingers, hold your tongue at the right angle, sprinkle fairy dust, or salt, or glitter over your right shoulder, then turn around three times, tap your feet together and make a wish. Then post that submission and you WILL land a publishing deal.
Okay, maybe I’ve never done all of those things, but sometimes it feels like getting accepted is such a lottery that I might as well do that routine, as anything else I’ve tried seems just as hit and miss.
But really, in my experience, publishers mainly want only a few things. The number one thing they are looking for is a well written book, and the next most important things are your easiness to work with and whether you (as well as your story) will be marketable.
So, assuming that you DO have a well written book (that could be a whole nother blog post or ten) here are a few things I’ve gleaned over the years that maybe, just maybe, will increase your chances just a tiny bit of having your manuscript accepted.
- Research publishers. Note that my emailer used the term ‘most appropriate publishers’. She’s already well on the way to getting it right. Because not every publisher is appropriate for your book.Save yourself time by spending time before you submit on finding out which publishers publish the kind of book you have written. If they don’t publish picture books, don’t send them one. If they don’t publish poetry, don’t send them your collection. But even more specifically, if you’ve written a middle grade fantasy, and their list has no fantasy on it, maybe it’s not something they’re interested in.
- Follow submission guidelines. Every publisher has guidelines, even though sometimes they are hard to find on their websites. You may have to look into the deepest darkest recess of the site before you find them – sometimes under the ‘contact us’ page, sometimes on an ‘faq’ page, sometimes somewhere even trickier. (nb if there ARE no guidelines, you might take the hint, OR you might send an email through the contact form to find out if they have any). Once you find the guidelines, stick to them. If they say ‘send one manuscript’, send one, not three, not five, and certainly not ten. If they say double spaced, 12 point font, do it. Do they only want a synopsis? Send that. Show the publisher that you are easy to work with, and can follow instructions.
- Show that you are marketable. What is it that YOU bring to the table? Lots of writers (of all levels of experience) find this one challenging. After all, isn’t it the publisher’s job to market your book (and again, I could write a billion blog posts about this). If you are accepted, the publisher will do some marketing. But, if they know that YOU are also going to be promoting your book, then you become a great proposition. So, do you have a social media presence? A website? A teaching background? Anything that shows you are going to be able to promote your book. This is not where you tell the publisher about your wonderful idea for them to produce a stuffed toy/computer game/movie trailer. This is where you show what you can do yourself. And it doesn’t have to be a hundred different things – just a few things done well.
- I said that I’m presuming you have a wonderful manuscript, but before you hit send, make sure it is absolutely as best it can be. Proofread it. Compare it to other books you’ve read – you have read books in the same genre/format/age group that you are targeting, haven’t you? It’s easy to be so excited by your creative genius that you don’t take the time to get it perfect (I know I have made this mistake!) There really is no rush. If your work is brilliant, it will find a home somehow.
- Lastly, if you really really really want to get published, don’t set all your hopes on one book or one publisher. You can expect to get rejected. It’s part of the game. And the book you are so certain will be the one, often isn’t. Think of rejections as a badge of honour. There is no plot against you. There are no ‘gatekeepers’ wanting to keep you out. What there are are publishers who want to publish books to make money, and an almost unlimited number of manuscripts coming their way. They have to choose. It isn’t personal, but it is a game of persistence, and of working hard to tip the odds in your favour, by doing things like one to four above.
And, of course, it can’t hurt to cross your fingers. I’d avoid the glitter, though. It’s hard to vacuum up.