Free Advice and Tips Whatnot for Writers

From a Book Editor

Free Writing Tip

Should I Submit my book manuscript to a publisher via certified mail?

You've seen in the how-to-get-happily-published manuals (and there are many) that you should send a knock-'em-dead cover letter with your manuscript. That's true. But one thing that is also appearing in these same writing manuals is that you should send your work via certified mail so that someone there at the publisher has to sign for it. This is really handy, the manuals say, if you are sending something unsolicited. Why? Because that signature shows that you sent the publisher your manuscript so they can't claim they never received it and that the "great idea" they had, which just happens to be very similar to yours, was not just a remarkable coincidence.

Don't do it. I have to assume that either some lawyer (who does not understand the publishing business) or a "newbie" editor (who is so thrilled to be a real live book editor that they just love signing for these things) came up with this idea.

Don't get me wrong, I love getting things in the mail as much as the next editor, I am all for protecting a writer's rights, and I don't dislike lawyers, especially those who truly understand publishing and aren't just doing a favor for some writer friend of theirs. But speaking as a professional, certified mail really irks me. One, are you saying that I'm not capable, or my publishing company isn't capable, to handle basic mail? If so, then why are you sending it to me? Two, unless you are absolutely sure that the person you addressed it to is going to be there on the day and at the moment it arrives, you better not demand a signature. Three, people can get a little uneasy when they are handed certified mail-there's just something about it that feels like it is much more legally binding than signing for, say, a UPS shipment. (Other than the President and certain members of congress, no one ever gets bad news or legal documents delivered by UPS.)

Let me give you a personal example. Four months after I left my former publisher, I had to drive all the way up there (a two-hour round trip) to claim a letter for them as a personal favor. I had no clue who it was from, whether it was important or whether it was some legal document. It was just addressed to me at that address.

It turns out it was a query letter from an author who did some poor research and shouldn't have even sent the manuscript to that particular publisher. But because it was addressed to me personally, and not to the publisher, I had to go pick it up or they wouldn't deliver it.

Also, there were several times when I was still at that company that I had to drive over to the post office to pick up something because I was at lunch when they'd tried to deliver it. Believe me, I wasn't in the best of moods to read anything the author had sent in.

Keep in mind that your main goal is to be a professional writer or at least appear that way. True, sending something certified, with a cover letter and a SASE, shows that you at least take yourself seriously enough to read about how to do these things. You also want to start things off on the right foot. Making them uneasy about just what they're signing for or making them drive to the post office-however long it takes-is not the way to start things off. In a publishing market where 70,000 new titles were printed last year, you need every advantage you can get, even if it's a subtle one.

If you're worried about copyright, then there are plenty of other courses of action to take.

But that tip is for another time.


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