If you’ve written your book, want it published and don’t want to do the publishing work yourself, then you’ll be contacting agents and/or publishers. Self-publishing service providers aren’t selective, so if you’re happy to self-publish with someone else doing the work, then you just contact a self-publishing company and go from there; you don’t have to present your book well in order to get them to want to read it. But hybrid publishers, like my company AIA Publishing, are selective. Although the publishing process is author funded, hybrid publishers don’t publish just anything, and so you’ll have to submit a query and see if they think your book is good enough for them to publish, just as you do with an agent or mainstream/legacy publisher.
I started in the literary business as an author, and I researched how to write a good query letter and best practices to maximise my chances of snagging a publisher. Some of the advice I found—though I followed it all—made me wonder why such advice was given; now that I’m a publisher, I know exactly why. Understanding the publisher or agent’s point of view will help you communicate appropriately, have realistic expectations and not to unwittingly lower your chances of them reading your manuscript or giving you a publishing deal.
The numbers game
The more well-known a publisher is, the more submissions they get, and even small publishers like AIAP can have such a steady stream of submissions that the sheer volume of submissions makes it vital that they quickly weed out the poor quality books, time wasters and authors who may be difficult to work with. Unless a publisher doesn’t have a good reputation or isn’t well known, they will have plenty of books to choose from and so can afford to be very fussy. This means that your submission has to stand out and be highly professional in its presentation in order for the publisher to even want to actually look at your manuscript.
Even AIAP who only publishes around 7 books a year rejects the majority of submissions without looking at a manuscript.
Why? Read on and find out what to do and what not to do when approaching a publisher or agent.
Publishers don’t want to work with authors who may be difficult to work with. When publishing a book, they have to juggle many tasks and staff, and do not want the added stress of an author who takes an enormous amount of their time by doing such things as asking questions to which any professional author would know the answer or that are answered on the publisher’s website, changing their mind, not answering emails or not understanding them or not answering them fully, misunderstanding instructions and responsibilities, being rude or unreasonable, or otherwise making life difficult.
How does a publisher or agent weed out potential time-wasters? By rejecting any query that indicates that the author does not have a professional attitude. This is why it is vital that you:
- Identify the kind of titles a publisher publishes so that you understand exactly what kind of publisher you’re submitting to and whether or not your book will fit with their titles. It wastes everyone’s time if you, for example, submit a children’s book to a publisher that states that they do not publish children’s books.
- Don’t submit unless you’re certain that you want to publish with this publisher. Read all about the publisher’s publishing model—especially if it’s an author-funded option—so that you can say why you want to publish with that publisher or go with a particular agent, and know exactly what you’re up for if your book is selected. If you haven’t read all the details, or you’re uncertain if this is the right route for you, it will likely show up in what you say and will give a bad impression. If you aren’t sure about a publisher, you’re probably not looking at the right one and are likely wasting both your time.
- Read the submission guidelines fully and follow them exactly. Submission guidelines are usually clearly laid out by both agents and publishers on their websites, and they are as they are because to have submissions come in in a certain format fits with the publisher’s workflow, and anything outside of that format makes more work. I reject submissions that don’t follow the guidelines because they are laid out very clearly on the AIAP website, and I don’t want to work with anyone who cannot read and/or follow instructions. Ignoring the guidelines also shows a lack of respect for the publisher’s process and time.
include questions of the publisher with your submission. If you include a
question, it indicates that you aren’t sure about the publisher, and so, even
if your book is selected (which is a long and time-consuming process) you may
change your mind, thus wasting the publisher’s time. Don’t even ask how long they
will take to get back to you – that’s just pushy!
If you have a question that is not answered on the publisher’s website, and isn’t in a FAQ section, then ask it in a separate email so that your questions are answered before you make your submission. But make sure you read the website thoroughly first, because asking a question that has a clear answer already on the website will be a mark against you when you do make your submission. Publishers who are careful in selecting their authors as well as their books will make a note of the names of authors who waste their time with questions that indicate they haven’t read the information provided.
- Don’t send your full manuscript unless the publisher specifically asks for it. Most agents and publishers ask only for a sample – sometimes in the body of the email. In these circumstances, sending your full manuscript indicates that you can’t read, follow or don’t respect instructions, and that will count against your book’s selection.
Making your submission stand out
Make sure you:
- Write in your best English, express yourself clearly and check your spelling and grammar. Poor writing and lack of concern for conventions gives a poor impression. The publisher assumes that if the email is a mess, your book is likely to be a mess as well.
- Include an introductory sentence that will catch the publisher’s attention. Google ‘How to write a Query letter’ for lots of ideas of how to do this.
- Include book title, your full author name as you wish it to appear on the book, word count and specific genre—don’t just say ‘fiction’, for instance; the publisher wants to know exactly where it fits.
- Include why you’re submitting to this particular publisher. Tell them what is it about your book that makes it fit with the kind of books they publish.
- Make sure your back cover copy (description) is short, evocative and attention grabbing Google ‘How to write an effective book description’ (or similar) for ideas of how to make your description catch readers’ interest. A poorly written description, especially if it includes copy errors, is reason alone to reject a book even if the theme or story sound interesting.
- Include a brief bio that only mentions what’s relevant to your writing or your book. Your life story and general work experience is not relevant unless they have contributed to book content or provided some inspiration.
- Keep it to less than one A4 typewritten page.
- If any sample is required, be it in the body of the email or as an attachment, make sure that it is formatted in a plain serif font of 12 or 13 points with 1.5 or 2 x line spacing. For fiction make sure that each paragraph is indented on the first line and has no gap before or after the paragraph.
- Do not include a cover image! This is really important. Unless you have somehow come up with an excellent cover design, it suggests to the publisher that you don’t respect their ability to commission a good cover for your book.
After the submission email
- Most publishers will reply fairly quickly to say that they have received your submission, but they probably won’t actually look at the content of the email for several weeks or even months for the larger publishers—especially if you were requested to attach a sample. Any quick response will most likely be a rejection based on an unprofessional or uninspiring query letter, or simply because you didn’t follow the publisher’s guidelines.
- Remember that selective publishers are more likely to reject your book than accept it. Hybrid publishers, like AIAP, if they see potential in your work, may offer you the option to pay for editorial assistance to improve your book. AIAP only does this with some books; most are rejected outright.
- Don’t expect an explanation of why your book has been rejected, and it’s very bad form (unprofessional) to ask for one or to whine or complain about your results. Publishers don’t have time to give feedback. If you want professional feedback you need to pay for it.
- If you are asked to send the full manuscript:
- Do not send a pdf unless requested to, a Word document formatted in a plain serif font (like Times New Roman) of 12 or 13 points with 1.5 or 2 x line spacing is the usual.
- Make sure your manuscript does not use any fancy fonts – not for any reason. It just makes more work for the publisher as they’ll have to reformat it to make it readable. Most likely they’ll reject it because it’s less time consuming, and again it indicates that you haven’t done your homework.
- Do not password protect your file or request them to sign a non-disclosure form – to suggest that they may share it with someone else indicates a lack of respect for their professional ethics.
- Don’t expect them to read the full manuscript. Most manuscripts are not read to the end because it’s usually clear by the end of the third chapter whether or not a book is ready for publication. The only books our editors get to the end of are ones that we’re most likely going to accept for publication.
- Submission viewing is not high priority for publishers and agents, so expect a wait of between 6 weeks and three months.
- Do not send follow-up emails of any kind. Especially do not ask them when they will be finished looking at it. It will not speed up the process, just marks you as a pushy timewaster.
- After their response:
- Don’t ask why they rejected your book, or whine or complain or try to convince them to change their mind.
- Don’t send a revision unless they ask for it.
- A thank you for their time and consideration leaves a publisher with a good impression of you that will only help you should you wish to submit another book in the future.
- If you’re offered a publishing deal, the publisher needs to know fairly quickly whether or not you plan to follow through on their offer. Offers may not stand for more than a few weeks. Before responding, think carefully about what publication with this company means for you and whether or not you want to accept the offer. Changing your mind later is not good for you or the company. If you have any questions, first look for the answers on their website or in any written material they sent you; and if you can’t find your answers, ask all your questions in one email. Don’t send a question each day in different emails. People appreciate you being considerate of their time.
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