Manuscript Submission, Part 4:
Learn Submission Criteria
So far, we have covered deciding on your market,
compiling marketing information, and deciding on your
publisher. Now what?
If you followed the advice in step three, then you have a
nice list of potential publishers. You have their contact
information, you have an idea of the types of books they
publish, and you have a sense of how large they are.
What you need to do now is to confirm the information
you've found and there are two ways to go about it. The
first is the least intrusive: simply find their website
and use it to obtain confirmation of their address,
submission policies, person to send your material to, and
so forth. However, some companies either don't have a
website or it's impossible to find. In such a case,
you're left with option number two.
Now, brace yourself because what I am about to tell you
flies in the face of what many of you might have read in
various writers' magazines and books. So, before I
continue, let me say a few words about writers'
have no problem with them. Overall, they will give you
some pretty good advice on writing--how to improve it and
so forth--but they are not always correct when it comes
to the submission process. When I first started editing,
I was on the side of the "publishing fence" (or
perhaps more accurately, the "publishing wall")
that involved getting a book ready to be submitted to a
publisher and, hopefully, inside their door. As such, I
told my writers to follow the guidelines offered in the
various writers' resources to the letter. Now, after
having worked at a publishing house and seeing things
from the other side of the fence/wall, I can tell you
that not everything they say is necessarily correct.
In other words, good guidelines but not words to die by.
Having said all that, option number two is to go ahead
and give them a call.
Yes, I know, you've been told you never ever
call a publisher.
Generally, that's true. You do not call them to
pick their brains. You do not call to speak to
the acquisitions editor. And you most certainly do not
call just to chat. What you can call about it to
obtain their criteria for submission.
Keep in mind that the information you've so carefully
researched in the LMP is a year old. The
publishing industry is in constant change. Editors change
houses, smaller publishers change addresses, publishers
change their focus or branch out into new venues. So all
you're doing is looking for confirmation at this point.
That means a simple call like this:
reached XYZPDQ Publishing, may I help you?"
"Yes, I'm a writer and I am calling to confirm
your mailing address. What I have is 123 Main Street,
Anytown, Anystate, zip. Is that correct?"
"Yes, it is."
"And I understand that you publish adventure
novels, is that still correct?"
"Yes, it is."
"If I send a self-addressed stamped envelope,
would I be able to obtain your guidelines for
"Thank you very much. I will send that out
See how simple that is?
Straightforward, you have just three questions, and
you're done. The whole conversation takes place in under
So why do so many writers' resources tell you to never
call a publisher? Two reasons. One, they're generally
right, because you really don't want to bother a
publisher. That's the surest way to get your manuscript
rejected. But if all you're doing is calling to confirm,
then that's not a bother, that's being professional. (If
you don't have the right address, your carefully crafted
letter of inquiry may go astray and it might be weeks
before you get the undeliverable letter returned to you.)
The other reason is that too many amateur writers get too
excited or nervous when talking to publishers and really
do end up bother publishers. As a result, if you take
their advice to call a publisher and you end up bothering
them and your manuscript is rejected out of hand, then
you will think they give bad advice--which means you
won't buy their next book.
Always, always think of yourself and handle yourself as
a professional, and that includes calling to confirm
information. When you do call, again, present yourself as
a professional by being polite, straightforward, and
Now, one last thing to point out here: this phone call is
still just information gathering. This does not
mean you are preparing to submit your manuscript. Calling
to confirm information is not about getting
their address so you can immediately submit your
materials. That, again, is unprofessional. Instead, you
immediately send out a polite, short letter to ask for
their submission guidelines and include a SASE so they
can send it back to you. Put two stamps on the envelope
for good measure.
Once you receive the information, follow it to the
letter. And that's the next tip in this series.