This post is part 2 in a series of posts about submitting an unagented book proposal directly to a publisher. Start reading here!
This part is about making sure the basics of your submission are right. Some of it may seem like common sense and too obvious even to mention, but it’s worth reading through as a checklist even if that’s the case. Sending any kind of application is a tense business and it’s easy to overlook something ‘too obvious to even mention’ because you are so preoccupied – ironically – with trying to get everything just right.
Getting the basics right
Make sure you’re approaching the right publisher. If you have a novel, don’t send it to a non-fiction publisher. Go to their website and get a sense of whether your title would fit that publisher’s list. If you’re not sure, save that publisher for when you’re desperate, and pick the really good matches for your first round.
Find the publisher’s submissions guidelines. Most publishers have some instructions on their website for sending them submissions, usually in the ‘Contact us’ section. Try and abide by them even if you would like to do otherwise, for example if they ask you not to send an entire manuscript or to wait a certain length of time before enquiring after your submission.
The people who read submissions inevitably get a lot of emails that break the rules they have set out, and when it happens often it gets frustrating. It’s worth getting on their good side by respecting the guidelines. (Examples: Constable & Robinson, Frances Lincoln)
Send individualised submissions. Generic query letters may save time, but I recommend putting in a line or two about why you think your book would be a good fit for this publisher. You’ll essentially be doing some of the publisher’s thinking for them and leading them to the desired conclusion.
Working in publishing can make you quite risk-conscious, so chances are your recipient’s brain will start coming up with reasons not to publish your book half-way through your letter. You can counter those doubts with some reasons for publishing it – the more specific the better. You could point out, for example, that your book is in the same vein as publisher x’s latest big hit.
If you are sending your submission by email, it’s especially important not send one email to multiple recipients by inserting their email addresses into the ‘To’ box. They will all be able to see who else you sent your email to and think that you’re a bit of a schmuck. Especially if your email says something like ‘I believe your company would be the best publisher for my book’. If you must do mass mailings, put the addresses in the ‘Bcc’ box so the recipients aren’t visible to everyone.
Enclose a stamped envelope if you want your materials back. You may think it won’t cost the publisher a lot to send your submission back, but the costs rack up when every other potential author thinks the same. Sometimes authors will say the publisher should write to them to ask for a stamped envelope in the event of a rejection. This may be asking for too much and you risk not getting your materials back.
Run your email and all files through a spell checker. You would be surprised how many people don’t bother. It only takes a minute and can significantly improve your credibility as a professional writer.
Eliminate odours. Too many letters arrive with strong odours wafting off of them. The most common one is the smell of an old house, closely followed by cigarette smoke and occasionally perfume. It’s fine to live in an old house, but consider printing your material on fresh paper (perhaps at a library) if you think you might be in the risk group – so you’re a heavy smoker or live with pets or in an old wooden house or a house with mould. Check the paper for mildew spots too. Definitely don’t spritz perfume on it. Letters that make your windpipe constrict are very off-putting and can cause your audience to just glance at your letter very quickly before getting rid of it.
Next part: Presentation advice