What to consider when your rejection list is longer than your arm…
Oh, the anything-but-glorious slush pile where unsolicited manuscripts go, when finding an agent to represent you is no longer an option (or one you were never fond of in the first place). Traditionally speaking, this is the metaphysical stack of electronic manuscripts publishing houses go to in the hopes of finding that ‘something special’ overlooked by the myriad of agents out there.
Now, there are plenty of “Do’s and Don’ts” lists and advice circulating the industry telling authors what they need to do to get noticed, and yet, you’d be surprised at just how many authors still get confused by the process. I think it’s time to show you exactly what the specialists mean. Here’s what I learned recently in an interview with DAOwen Publications.
Note: The following are actual excerpts from the introductions and final salutations of query letters submitted for consideration:
- Follow the Submission Guidelines
“P.S. I know that you did not request for the short list of characters, but I wanted you to see that the story doesn’t end with the first book, that it goes much further and with every step there is a new someone who makes this story blossom.”
“[My book] is published as an ebook only on Amazon. It doesn’t have an ISBN and is not available for print anywhere. […] I just wasn’t aware ebook publication factored into traditional publishing […]”
Hint: Find the guidelines, follow them exactly. One of the easiest and fastest ways to get rejected is by ignoring the submission instructions—and they’re not the same for all publishers.
- Know Who You’re Talking To
“Dear Agent, Thank you for taking into consideration my query […]”
“Dear Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications, I am forwarding a manuscript to you which is the full story of a book I wrote in 2006.”
“Hello, my legal name is Xxxxx Xxxx, the novel I wish to send you is over 170k words long […]”
“Dear Editor, I am very pleased to be emailing you with this query for my 88,700 word novel […]”
Hint: If the guidelines don’t specifically tell you who to send your query letter to, then it’s time to do some research to show this publisher that you’re serious. Go to one or more of the following pages on the website in question: About, Staff, Contact Us (or something similar). Read over the profiles of the people working at that publishing house and determine who best to send your query letter to—sometimes you get lucky and find a title right by a name, e.g. Jane Doe, Submissions Editor.
- Don’t Get Personal
“I am not sure if this is relevant but I am a Buddhist, so I believe that luck give chances to everyone.”
“I am a self-employed homebody who shunned the academic world in order to care for my two children and fulfil a lifelong dream of becoming an author.”
“These are the only real setbacks I am experiencing at this time. So, if being paid means working extra hard, the reality is that it won’t happen that quickly due to the lack of available tools that I can use, and the fact that I have to “borrow” toilet paper from public restrooms in order to stay in my home for more than a few days with any level of comfort…”
Hint: You are writing a business letter, not explaining why you can or cannot do something. The only time it’s relevant to talk about yourself in a personal way is if it has direct bearing on the content of your book— i.e., if your book is about a runaway teen who gets pregnant, revealing that you’re basing your book on real-life experiences brings authenticity to your work, even if you write fiction.
- Don’t Make Demands (or Requests)
“Please let me know how you feel about this and how it might be improved, or who else may be interested in this type of story if you are not. Thank you.”
“I am only looking to sell the print rights to [my story] and will only agree to a contract that includes a reasonable advance.”
“170,000 words is the perfect length for an epic space opera standalone that crosses the genre barrier, wanting the reader to ‘stay with it for as long as the story can stretch’—if you’re in love with a book the last thing you want is to end too soon; that was my logic for not being satisfied with a novel of average length.”
Hint: Unless you are already a successful author (either traditionally or self-published), you should not be asking for or demanding anything of the prospective publisher. First time authors generally get royalty advances from large traditional publishing houses, and only if that publisher is absolutely certain they have a book that will sell to the masses. Be humble, be professional, and be aware of industry standards.
- Edit, Edit, Edit…
“I am native Italian and that’s why you’ll find my English a little odd—in the novel the fact the main character is Italian hopefully justifies the ‘accent’ of the writing style.”
“[…] I thought I would just make a quick point about the piece, as the repeated use of pronoun in the opening was actually a concerted stylistic choice which perhaps I didn’t really explain.”
“My fantasy novel consists of three parts, the first of which is now completed in the first book of the trilogy. I really hope for your positive reply as I am pretty sure that my generation would love to read this.”
Hint: If you don’t see something amiss in almost every example provided in this article (grammar, sentence structure, improper or irregular word usage, etc.), then you should consider hiring an editor to review not only your manuscript, but your query letter and synopsis too. Realize that you can have someone professionally proofread or copy edit your manuscript multiple times, but if what you really need is a substantive/content edit or a stylistic/line edit, then a dozen or more proofreaders will not help.
The owner and chief editor at DAOwen Publications, Mr. Douglas Owen, took time from his busy schedule to speak with me for one important reason: his belief that the term ‘Slush Pile’ reflects writing that no one wants when in fact, for small publishers especially, it should be more accurately termed the ‘Possibility Goldmine’. Owen’s advice is to carefully consider the above points before putting together your query package. If you give a publisher absolutely no reason to reject your submission, you will leave your manuscript to speak for itself.