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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting Published--A Refresher Course. Pt. 1

Every publishing company has its own way of doing things, and we are no different.

At Savas Beatie, we have always been careful about how we select manuscripts for publication, and as I have written, we are blessed with stacks of publishable manuscripts. Back in 2008 when I began this blog we were receiving  about one query a day. As of this writing, that number has jumped to about four.

But dusting the chaff from the grain is not always easy. Out of that trio of submissions, one will be fiction (it says clearly on our website that we do NOT publish fiction), one will be in area we do not publish ("Sharks Can be Sexy, too"), and the third and fourth will be something in our area of expertise and interest. But two a day is fourteen a week, or sixty or so a month and  . . .you can do the math. That means, generally speaking, for every twenty or so potentially manuscripts we get in, we will publish . . .  one. (The real number is lower, because many books are ideas we develop ourselves and seek authors to help us with.)

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) sometimes employ a process akin to alchemy. Call it a gut feeling, call it reading tea leaves, call it learning the hard way, but over the years I have come 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, rewriting clunky sentence structure, or digging into an overlooked archive, authors--like leopards--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 rub shoulders with their authors and work closely with them, personalities, outlook, character, and work ethic matter and affect everyone's bottom line.

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--or who buck against them--won't down the road, either.

Just the other day an author called and ARGUED with one of our staff about having to provide the information we requested. "Why can't I just email you my manuscript?" he asked. "You can take a look and that will be there." 

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'm kidding: it is easier to get struck by lightening (at least in Kansas.

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.

Parts 2-4 to follow.



Anonymous said...

Excellent entry, Teddy!

Can't wait for Part Two.


Jim Schmidt said...

Ted -

Very good post. And I look forward to #2-4.

I have been fortunate to have more than 60 historical articles published in magazines and newspapers and to have 5 nonfiction books to my credit as sole author (3), editor/contributor (1) or contributor (1) and I have learned a lot on the way.

I'm not sure what you will cover in part 2-4, but I think that many more people will find success if they 1) "follow the rules," as you mention above, 2) "pay their dues" by building writing credentials and establishing a platform by writing short-form (articles, etc.) first and/or developing an online presence (blog)...I do not think professional credentials are necessary or sufficient, 3) acting professionally, 4) showing a willingness to do the work required to sell/market, and 5) knowing their goals - i.e., knowing whether it is important for them personally to be published or to make a lot of $

I think, most of all, more people would try - and the quality of those attempts as they come in your inbox and mail would be better - if they would seek an experienced person to tutor them and take the myster (such as it is) out of the process.

To that end, I am going to be teaching some free workshops at our local library on how to get magazine articles published and how to prepare a book proposal.

I also have some advice on writing and getting published on my blog, styled as ""SCHMIDT'S WRITING TACTICS: FOR THE INSTRUCTION, EXERCISE, AND MANÅ’UVRESOF THE WRITER OF CIVIL WAR HISTORY"

Most recent part is here (with links to previous):


Best wishes to you and S/B for continued success...it's good for all of us.

Jim Schmidt

TPS said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jim and for your kind words, observations, and best wishes.