Thursday, January 22, 2009
Sorting Through (Unsolicited) Book Manuscripts. (Part 2 of 5)
For Part 1, the introduction to this post-thread, see Sorting Through Book Manuscripts: Part 1 (or, "How do you find your manuscripts to publish?")
Time to deal with the Lottery example, also known as . . .
1. UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS. Unsolicited means just that--we didn't ask to see them. Solicitations in this category include complete or partial manuscripts that arrive via email at email@example.com, or reach us through snail mail.
I am only speaking for Savas Beatie internal procedure, but I know my advice here follows for many and likely most publishing companies. And I have written a bit about this before, scattered within a few posts. Here it is in a more concentrated form.
Even though we are considered (by the book trade) to be a small (but rapidly growing, thank you) independent publishing company, we now receive an average of two unsolicited manuscript queries EACH DAY. We publish about 14-16 books a year (including reprints). Most of them are not the result of unsolicited submissions. Even if you are the product of a public school education (like me), the math is not that difficult to figure out. Your chances aren't quite as bad as wasting a buck on the Lotto, but they aren't that hot, either.
I once told an author that, for most writers obtaining a traditional publishing contract via unsolicited submission is like running around outside in Kansas trying to get struck by lightning. I was just kidding: it is easier to get struck by lightning.
Here are a few important tips. We watch for them. As authors, you must pay special attention to them.
First, do we ever accept unsolicited manuscripts?
Here is the link to our submissions guidelines.
Obviously we are trying to discourage unsolicited manuscripts.
Know in advance that every publishing company has its own way of doing things. Find out specific submission details before you submit.
Does the company accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts? Does it want a letter first, or a letter and sample pages? Does it want an email submission query? Does it refuse email submission queries? Does it work with agents only? Etc., etc.
Many companies specifically state, "We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts." That is about as clear as it gets. If that is the case, follow their specific instructions on how to query them about your work.
While we try to discourage them, we don't pitch unsolicited manuscripts into the trash upon arrival. On occasion, we have accepted unsolicited manuscripts. (A few of our best books were unsolicited from authors we had never heard of at the time of submission.) So truth be told, we at least glance at them before automatically returning or shredding them.
As a rule, unsolicited manuscripts end up in a stack in the corner of my office (the slush pile) where they often sit for weeks--or longer--without any attention. Why? Unless something special strikes my eye upon arrival (the subject, the proverbial "hook," the author's name, et. al.), I have others that are more important to me.
If you read our submission page and decide to send something unsolicited, make sure the books we produce and the manuscript you are submitting actually have something in common. Obvious? Sure. Widely ignored. Yes.
A completely unrelated query communicates a lot of information, none of it flattering for the submitter. It tells me that the author (or agent) did not research our company, did not visit our website, and did not study our list of published titles. It also tells me that (almost certainly) the "shotgun" approach to getting publishing is the author's preferred flavor of the day--i.e., send out as many queries to as many publishers as possible in the hope one will stick.
Would you interview for a job with a company you know nothing about? Would you tell your interviewer you are knocking on every door in every building up and down the street, whether or not you are qualified for the job, or whether or not the company hires someone with your set of talents? Of course not.
But that is exactly what an unsolicited submission in a genre we don't publish tells us.
Credible publishing houses receive a slew of manuscripts and queries (we get two a day--not counting all the others we have in development or are working to get contracted through other means; later posts to follow). The first ones tossed into the round file are those that do not match what we publish.
Unrelated? Strikes 1, 2 and 3. You're out.
You are also out time and money, and you just drained a few minutes and bucks from the company that has to handle brainless submissions like this.
As noted above, 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. It is that simple.
Lesson: 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.
Unsolicited manuscripts remind me of the lotto in another way: they can strike gold (in a manner of speaking) for both author and publisher. So every day we walk into the office and turn on the lights is another pull on the slot machine lever. You never know what is going to come across your computer or in the mail that day.
So prospective authors take heed: if you have a manuscript and you want to submit it to a publishing house, find out first whether they even accept unsolicited manuscripts (most do not). If they do, or discourage but to not exclude such submissions, determine specific submission requirements (they vary house to house), make sure the publisher and manuscript are a good fit, and follow them exactly.
You can bet your last dollar that acquisition editors are evaluating both the procedure of your labors as well the substance of your pen.