When writers are ready to submit work, look for an agent, or query a publisher, they usually hear a LOT about the various things they should be doing to up their chances for success. What if we turned that on its head and looked at what will almost certainly derail your efforts?
Here are the top four things that will insure you DON’T get published:
1) Don’t Follow Submission Guidelines
I get it. Your work is a one-in-a-million project that, really, speaks for itself. Taking the time to look at and follow submission requirements for an agent/editor/publisher (just about every single one has them easily found on their websites) isn’t necessary when you produce work of this quality, right? After all, we’ve heard stories about people who’ve skirted those guidelines and somehow still secured the deal.
Those rare cases do happen. But what about the thousands and thousands of writers who never make it past the first hurdle simply because they ignore clear, and usually easy-to-follow, guidelines? While you might be that one in a million who doesn’t need to respect the rules, the overwhelming odds are, you aren’t.
Why? Because the publishing industry isn’t just looking for wonderful writing (though that sure helps!). They’re also looking for teachable, humble, team players with whom to partner in the process of bringing great writing to the world. If you aren’t able, or, worse, willing to follow simple requirements, that doesn’t speak well about you as a person, no matter how good your words.
2) Always Send More Than is Requested
Okay, so you double-spaced your manuscript and used the correct font and size. But, surely, YOUR story, article, or how-to is so riveting that anyone would want to see the whole thing, not just the asked-for number of pages. Right? So don’t just send the stated sample size … send the whole darn 400 pages, all accompanying notes, and ideas for the cover.
Or maybe … don’t.
Why? It’s not unusual for an editor, agent, or publisher to receive over a thousand submissions per year. That’s an average of over four per working day. And, believe it or not, none of these publishing professionals have one task to complete each day. Aside from plowing through submissions, they have a whole job’s worth of work to do. So they just don’t have time to spend a day or two reading your 120,000 words, no matter how good. It’s just not possible. Send exactly what they ask for (don’t leave anything out, either). If someone is interested, don’t worry, they’ll ask to see the whole manuscript.
3) Don’t Pay Attention to Deadlines or Dates
You’ve just finished your manuscript, and it is so good. It needs to be out in the atmosphere STAT!
A quick Google search reveals that the open submission dates for your ideal publisher is a month past, but who can wait a few more months until they open submissions again?
Or maybe it’s mid-November and you’re sure that any editor or publisher will push aside the chaos surrounding launches occurring in time for Christmas (as well as all the usual year-end work) and take a look at your project.
Or maybe you’ve done your research and know the perfect agent for you. Sure, she’s getting ready to head out for a round of writing conferences, teaching events, and speaking engagements, but you’re sure she’ll stop packing and delay her trip the moment she sees what you’re offering.
So ignore deadlines and dates. Submit whenever you’re ready to.
Or … don’t.
Why? The first scenario is a no-brainer. If a submission window is closed, respect it. It demonstrates that you aren’t too bothered about following directions or adhering to guidelines if you don’t. As I mentioned above, that’s never going to go in your favor.
The second two scenarios just require a little common sense. There are cycles in publishing, but they differ widely according to the job title and the agency or publishing house. Find out the cycles of whomever you’re hoping to win over and respect them.
Most publishing houses have a chaotic year end. I’d stay away from sending things in November and December for the most part. Editors and agents have similar cycles, but they also often teach, speak, and attend writer’s conferences. Don’t send anything immediately before an event they’re attending, or your manuscript may find its way into a pile of clothes that didn’t make the cut. Leave at least a month before they head out, especially if you’re hoping to meet them at an event or conference to discuss the project in question.
4) Follow up Immediately, and Frequently, Asking for Updates
You’re excited. And eager to get some feedback (and maybe a contract or two). It’s understandable considering how long you labored to get your manuscript ready for the big, wide world. Surely others are as in-a-hurry as you are to get your baby into print.
So why shouldn’t you shoot that lucky editor/agent/publisher an email the day after you’ve sent in your query or submission? They’re probably waiting for you to check in.
Except … they aren’t.
Publishing is notoriously slow. Like suspended-animation slow. And there are many more steps to the process than you might expect. Though the first stop might be the agent/editor/publisher’s desk, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Each decision made to move your project to the next step is complicated and often involves many different people and a lot of research. And that takes time.
Why? Because there are many components to a successful book launch. The state of the author’s platform is one. The current market is another. Competing titles, publisher’s schedules, and the quality of writing are still others. Each one of these components must be considered when figuring out the viability and timing of a project. Even if the recipient reads the query or proposal the moment it arrives, all that research and consideration takes time. Time that doesn’t go faster by you checking in frequently.
Most magazine and book publishers, and even some agents and editors, will state on their websites what you can expect in terms of timelines and whether a response should even be expected if the answer is “no.” If no such guidelines are available, wait a month or so after submitting before sending a very short, very respectful email asking if the agent/editor/publisher needs anything further from you. Be assured, if they are interested, you will be contacted. Promise.
So, follow these four steps to assure yourself of failure. Or, alternatively, avoid them at all costs to up your chances for publishing success.
The choice, my friends, is yours!