This series of posts is intended for unagented authors who are thinking of submitting their book directly to a publisher, or have already done so with no success. I read submission emails and letters every day, and have noted down some common annoyances (and delights). They are based on my personal experience and may not apply to all situations, but I hope you’ll find it useful nevertheless.
Reading submission emails is both interesting and fun, and as with so many other interesting and fun tasks, editors usually find that they don’t have time for it on account of having a lot of dull, but urgent, things to do. As a result, reading and replying to submission emails often gets delegated to people who have less urgent things to do: editorial assistants.
Editorial assistants are entry-level employees, but you shouldn’t feel bad about the fate of your book being trusted to them. They’re also bright, compassionate people who read a lot, and best of all, feel a natural affinity to underappreciated geniuses. I should know, I am one!
Editorial assistants are often the first people you need to pitch your title to. If you don’t manage to convince them that it’s good enough to bother their boss, the actual editor, with, they will also be the last ones. It’s not fair, I know! What if you get an editorial assistant who wouldn’t know a good book if it bit them? While that’s unlikely, there’s still a lot you can do to make that incompetent fool think that your book is probably excellent. This series of posts will hopefully help you get past that first hurdle.
In this first post, I will try to get you into the right mindset for sending your submission. Links to the other parts will get added at the end of this post as they are published.
Some general things to consider
It’s nobody’s priority. Take into account that unless the publisher you want to approach has an in-house reader who does nothing except read submissions, the task of sorting through the pile will not be anyone’s priority. Even editorial assistants have their time prevailed upon by several people at any one time, and when they do find a window to reply to submissions, they may be trying to do it as quickly as possible.
Write to a hurried reader. So when you’re writing your submission letter, envision a hurried reader who would like to find out that your book is not any good, so they can move on. Otherwise, if you imagine someone reading it at their leisure, perhaps leaning back in a comfy chair, sipping from a steaming cup of coffee in a quiet, sunlit office, your letter will turn out too long and detailed for the actual reader, who is nothing like the imagined one. The real reader will probably appreciate succinctness and clarity, for example.
Stand out. Another thing to consider is that your letter will not be the only one. This is obvious, but it should have some implications – for example, if there is a box full of brown envelopes, perhaps a blue one will stand out and make someone curious about the contents. Or if an email inbox is full of emails with the subject line ‘Submission’, one that says ‘Adventure story about a crocodile’ might distinguish itself.
Don’t be too polite. Lastly, if you’re inclined to be very polite and unintrusive about approaching your chosen publisher, prepare to be forgotten. For every well-mannered author there will be many others who send an email a day about their proposal, ring in, demand attention and generally make a nuisance of themselves. A nice author’s nice email about whether we are possibly accepting submissions and would it be okay for them to send one may not get much attention in comparison. Be bold and don’t wait for permission.
Wait until you have something to sell. Closely related to the above – assume that the publisher will be interested in your book (as long as it would seem to fit within their publishing programme). Often authors will send speculative queries such as ‘would you be interested in a book about X?’, and almost always the answer is ‘possibly, but it’s hard to say without seeing your material’. My advice is, write about what you want to write about and trust that publishers will be interested in a good book.