Every publishing company has its own way of doing things. At Savas Beatie, we have always been careful about how we select manuscripts for publication; thankfully, we have always been blessed with a plethora of publishable manuscripts. Still, dusting the chaff from the grain is not always easy.
The process of acceptance is of interest to most authors, and rightly so. Sometimes authors inadvertently make the decision for us, without realizing it.
Of course, the genre, topic, research depth, and writing skills are important. But what most authors do not realize is that for many presses, acquisition editors (at Savas Beatie, I wear that hat) sometime employ a process akin to alchemy. Call it a gut feeling, call reading tea leaves, call it learning the hard way, but over the years I came to understand that if the genre is what we publish and the topic is right, research can be improved and writing can be cleaned up. But unlike fixing commas or digging into an overlooked archive, like leopards, authors don't change their spots. They are who they are. They have their idea on how the process works, and how hard they will work once their manuscript is published. For large houses, this is not as important, but for smaller independent presses, who often rub shoulders with their authors and work closely with them, personalities, outlook, and character matter--greatly.
Consequently, I have turned down many publishable manuscripts because of how authors present themselves. Unbeknownst to most writers, many of the hoops and mazes established to weed out manuscripts are also designed to weed out authors.
Here is one concrete example. Our website has clear and specific submission guidelines. They are there for a reason: they work well for us. They are also there for another reason: authors who can't follow simple directions won't follow simple suggestions or directions later--after we have invested significant time and money in their manuscript. Thus, when an author (or agent) calls and tries to pitch something on the phone, sends in a complete unsolicited manuscript, or does not follow our step-by-step guideline for submission, it tells us as much about them as it does about their work. And experience demonstrates that authors who will not follow requirements up front won't down the road, either.
I once told an author that, for most writers, obtaining a traditional publishing contract is like running around outside in Kansas trying to get struck by lightning. I am kidding; it is easier to get struck by lightening.
So writers take heed: if you have a manuscript and you want to submit it to a publishing house, determine specific submissions requirements (they vary house to house) and follow them exactly. Editors are evaluating the procedure as well the substance.