So you want to get published? Apparently, over 81% of Americans think they have a book in them and that only they have the unique voice to make it fly off the shelves. That’s 367,678,462 people in America alone.
American literary agents receive 15,000+ queries a year. In 2010 in the United States, 328,259 new books and editions were published.
Now, imagine how many people work in editorial acquisitions. How many people are there to read the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts which people send to publishers?
Due to the statistical differences between these two groups (people who want to publish books and editors), editors have gotten a bad rap. All too often, writers see editors as uncaring, heartless, ruthless gatekeepers who prevent them from achieving their dreams.
The truth is, editors are nice people limited by their circumstances: they don’t have the time to read every single manuscript they receive in detail, and they can only publish so many books in a given year. Editors can only publish what their company can sell. They only have a certain number of slots available depending on the genre of a book. Also, editors can only publish what the general populace, or a large target audience, will read.
Editors want you to succeed. They want to find bright new talent. They want to find that next great book. An editor who is extremely excited about your book is a great asset. But, you have to help the right editor find you first!
I decided to write this little article because I see manuscripts and book proposals often. And, I want to help you make them better and more successful, while convincing writers that not all editors are out to crush their dreams and steal their souls.
Here are my tips:
1) If at all possible, find yourself an agent. A good agent. Now, I understand this is hard. The number of agents out there are considerably less than the number of people with manuscripts. Not everyone can get an agent. Still, having a good agent makes a HUGE difference. Many large book publishers do not even read or consider manuscripts which are not vetted and brought to them by a respectable agent. Small and medium-sized book publishers are more likely to consider unagented talent. Now, this likely seems unfair. Let’s think about it from another perspective:
Division 1 College football. These top tier college football teams recruit, scout, and bring on talent. Scholarship star athletes make up their teams. The same goes for publishing companies and agented manuscripts. Agented authors are the scholarship star athletes of the publishing world and not even all of them are published. Editors draw from a pile of agented manuscripts first.
But, there is hope. Consider the “walk-on” in college football. Some big teams–like Notre Dame’s–take unsolicited talent. Occasionally, one of these players makes the team and bumps off a scholarship player in a “Rudy” moment. Similarly, in rare circumstances, an editor will find an unagented manuscript, fall in love with it, and fight to get it published. But, without a good agent, you are fighting an uphill battle on mountainous terrain.
2) Think very carefully before publishing a book on your own or with a company which will not help you sell your book. Believe it or not, an editor will research your publishing history as part of scanning your manuscript. If you have published before and your book did not sell well, that is a heavy strike against you. For example, you have published five books with a publishing company. Each book only sold, say, 50 copies. Now, you are reaching out to another publisher with your sixth book. The editor thinks: why didn’t your first five books sell well? Why aren’t you using the same publisher again? Maybe there is something amiss with your manuscript? You don’t want to have any strikes like these against you if you can help it.
On the flip side, if you self-publish, say an e-book, and because you market it really well and it sells splendidly, this counts in your favor. I have seen authors of independently published e-books re-published in print by a publishing house.
3) Treat manuscript submission like a job application to a position in corporate America. Be professional. Be polite. Use correct spelling and grammar AT ALL TIMES. (Now, this one can be tricky. If you look closely, you will likely find the occasional spelling and grammar mistake in my writing. But, this is integral. Have multiple people read your writing and correct it. Wait, sit on your submission, and read it a few days later.) Spell the name of the company you are submitting your manuscript to correctly. Do not send an angry message to a publisher if they do not send you detailed comments the day after you submit your manuscript.
Research the company you are submitting your manuscript to thoroughly. Write a cover letter which targets them directly. Say why you want to publish with THEM specifically and how your book fits in with what they are currently publishing. Have a specific target audience in mind for your book. Compare your work to what’s out on the market. What do you bring that’s new and fresh? You have to sell yourself and your book to the utmost. Send all materials in one neat package. Don’t send a publisher a letter asking if you can send them a manuscript. They don’t have time to reply. They’re off reading the other million manuscripts they received. Don’t send a email without a writing sample and invite the editor to contact you “if they’re interested.” Don’t send your manuscript, go “oops,” I missed a document, and re-send it. You have to do it right the first time because you likely will only have one chance to get the attention of an editor. So, make the most if it!
4) Be ready to edit your manuscript and even change the name of your book. You may not get it right the first time around, unless you are a one-write wonder. Writing is a process. You don’t know everything and your editors don’t know everything, but they will provide you with an honest opinion, professional expertise, and knowledge of what sells. Now, this can be difficult for people who have already published themselves in e-book form. They’re already published! What changes could an editor possibly make?!
Still, be ready. Steel your mind. Writing is emotional and being criticized can feel like a personal attack. Sometimes criticism can be a personal attack. Remember that time when you went to a writer’s group and all you got was insulted without getting anything in return? But, good news: editors are generally professionals. They provide constructive criticism as often as possible. If a company takes on your book seriously, they will do all they can to make it better. Learn to sort out “constructive criticism” from “destructive criticism” in your heart and mind, and to embrace the fact that an editor will criticize you because they care.
5) Be patient and develop a strategy. A plan of attack. Oh, you just finished your manuscript! So exciting. You want to send it off to every major publishing house this instant!! You’re going to be discovered. Wait. Take a deep breath. Pat yourself on the back. You have just accomplished an impressive feat. A whole manuscript. You have completed the first phase of getting published, but that doesn’t mean you’re done just yet. Go on a mini-vacation. Put your manuscript down for a month or so. Come back to it. Edit it. Have people close to you read it. Listen to their suggestions. Maybe go to a writer’s group, provided they are offer constructive feedback. Put it down again. Do other things. Edit it again. Once you are convinced that it is as good as you can possibly make it, consider entering a writing contest. Different genres of writing have competitions regularly for novice writers judged by editors from big name publishers.
For example, the Golden Heart Award for romance novel writing: http://www.rwa.org/cs/contests_and_awards/golden_heart_awards.
Competitions are a great way to get noticed, get good feedback, and network. Speaking of networking (that dreaded word), network. Join an online community of authors in your field of writing. Go to conventions regularly if you can. Befriend other novice and professional writers of your genre. Maybe they will be able to help you later on. Or, perhaps they would be willing to do a manuscript swap. Consider writing a blog to showcase your writing skills and creativity. Build a loyal following who will buy your book when it is published.
These are simply a few things to consider as you think about trying to publish a book. Some mistakes can be avoided!