The process of
submitting a manuscript seems to baffle many
beginning writers. It's also a bit frightening,
somewhat similar to the feeling of handing your
baby through a barbed wire fence to a smiling
Nazi prison guard who promises "Don't worry,
I'll take good care of it."
You can avoid a
lot of the mistakes that beginning writers often
make and give your manuscript the best chance to
actually make it onto a real acquisitions
editor's desk if you follow these simple steps to
submit your manuscript:
1. Decide on your market
2. Compile any marketing information
that you can
3. Research a potential publisher
4. Get the publisher's submission criteria
5. Get a name to address your letter to
6. Follow the
publisher's submission criteria
7. Try to be patient after you have submitted
8. See number seven
Submission: Step Three
Decide on a Publisher
"How do I find a publisher for my book?" is one
of the questions I get the most and finding a publisher
can be a daunting task for the novice writer. There are,
literally, hundreds and hundreds of publishers to choose
from. Add to that the fact that each publisher has its
own unique way of accepting manuscripts and it can be
This tip focuses on finding a publisher, not signing
with one. You will, of course (ahem), give yourself a
much better chance to actually sign a contract if your
book has been edited, its plot and characters as sharp as
That aside, don't let yourself become a deer caught in
the headlights. Although it seems daunting, finding the
right publisher for your book is really just a matter of
research and being methodical about your approach. I tend
to think that is what is most daunting to authors; the
artistic and creative mind sometimes gets "brain
freeze" when it comes to a more scientific,
methodical approach to a project.
Would you believe that religious publishers regularly
receive material better suited for Playboy, while Playboy
regularly receives manuscripts better suited for Sunday
School? It's true. It's all a result of the author not
researching the publisher they are sending to.
The place to start is the LMP. Most public libraries have
a copy of the Literary Marketplace, also known as the
"LMP." The LMP is the source for finding
publishers. The Literary Marketplace lists all major
publishers and small presses. In addition to publishers,
the LMP also has listings for literary agents, editors,
book printers, graphic artists, and so on. (My own
listing, in case you're wondering, is in the works and
should be in their online version soon.)
The best approach is to first find the publishers that
publish your genre of book. For example, you have written
a sure-fire bestseller suspense novel. Go to the listings
by subject near the back of the book. There you will find
an extensive list of publishers that publish suspense.
Don't let the size of the list daunt you. It just goes to
show you're up against a lot of competition but by doing
the research, you'll be placing yourself ahead of all
those competitors. (Are you starting to get the feeling
this is business not art? You should. Writing is art,
publishing is business.)
You may want to make a photocopy of the list of
publishers that publish your subject matter. You can
cross them off as you narrow the list.
The second step is to go to the general listing section
and just start working your way down your list. In other
words, start at A and work down to Z. If this seems
entirely too scientific and methodical, start at Z and
work your way backward or maybe at M then N then L then O
then K and so on.
However you do it, you will start narrowing down your
list using your own set of criteria. Perhaps you want to
give each publisher a ranking of 1 to 10. Cross out
publishers that don't appeal to you or that won't take
your manuscript. For example, cross out those that will
not take unagented books if you don't have an agent or
those publishers that will not accept first-time authors.
Once in the general section, you may also find that
although they are listed as suspense publishers, they may
not be currently accepting new suspense novels, choosing
instead to work with their current stable of authors.
You will also start to get hints of the publishers'
"personalities." For example, personally, I
would never submit my book to publishers that never
accept unagented manuscripts. That tells me that they are
either so busy they will be hard to work with, they're
snobbish, or they just don't have the staff to do their
own reading. Not someone I would not want to do business
One note here is that if you can't find a publisher in
the general listing, it may because they are in the small
press section. Don't disregard these out of hand. Small
presses may be a very good place for you to start if you
have never been published. Typically, they will be more
willing to take a risk on an undiscovered talent. But
beware, small presses also have their own drawbacks.
Because they are small, they will not have the marketing
abilities or staff that the larger houses have. On the
other hand, they will be more friendly and easier to work
with and you will typically have more control over the
final outcome of your book. I should point out, though,
that the Internet is giving small presses a big shot in
the arm. They are able to put their books on Amazon.com
just like the big houses and they can build their own Web
sites to promote their books.
The key, though, is to find a publisher that you are
comfortable with. Listen to that still, small voice
inside when you deal with them. Is there something about
them on the phone that gives you a twinge of worry? Does
it sound too good to be true? Make sure you're
comfortable because you are establishing a relationship.
Hopefully, a long relationship.
At any rate, once you have narrowed your list, it is time
to approach them for their submission guidelines.
But that's the next tip.
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