Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I won't shoot the mailman...but don't tempt me. (Or how to send in a submission that an editor might actually read...)

Last year, I gave a presentation at the Word Guild's Write! Canada conference entitled "Out of the Slushpile and Into Print." After a few years of slush pile agony I have seen certain patterns emerge among the would-be authors who inundate my poor intern with material. 
Writing a good book or story is pretty damn hard. Most people suck at it, but I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone who is willing to work hard at a piece of writing and then send it boldly forth into the land of potential rejection. Really I do.
Yes, writing is pretty damn HARD. But submitting your writing is pretty damn EASY. 
If you bother to do even a modicum of research, that is. Got an internet connection? Then you're good to go.
Here are a couple of slides from my presentation. Please, keep in mind that I am a children's book editor so some what follows is particular to the children's book industry, but by and large, I think most submissions editors will be with me on about 90% of the stuff I'm going to tell you.

 Here is what our submissions guidelines page looks like at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. It's not glamorous, but I think it's written in clear English. Pretty much anywhere you are planning to submit your ms, be it an agency or a publisher, will have something like this. Though some will just say, "Sorry, we don't accept unsolicited manuscripts." In which case THEY MEAN IT. YES, THAT INCLUDES YOU. SAVE YOURSELF THE TIME AND THE POSTAGE. THEY WON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE THE NEXT HARRY POTTER'S TWILIGHT DOG AT MIDNIGHT. They won't care because they won't even read it. Seriously.
Pretty basic so far. If it's on the list of things we're looking for, by all means, send it along. If it's on our "no longer accepting" list, then please for the love of God, don't bother sending it. 

Now comes the part that tells you HOW to send your little darling along...
Save yourself some money here, folks. There is no earthly reason to send two sheets of paper in a bubble envelope. Your precious poem is not going to shatter in the mail. Fold it, put it in a normal envelope, (include a SASE), stick a stamp on it, and pop it in the post. Easy. Do not FedEx it or courier it. It is a total waste of your money.
Do not drop it off in person. Or request to pick it up in person. I cannot stress that last one enough.
Whenever I see a huge box being dropped off with 300+ pages of unsolicited writing, a little tree fairy somewhere dies. NO ONE wants your full manuscript right away. If I read the summary and the first few chapters and I like them, I'll ask you to send the rest to me electronically and then I'll put it on an ereader. NO WAY am I lugging a cinder block around with me to read at the rink while I'm waiting for my daughter to get off the ice. Save yourself the $15 in postage. And save a tree fairy.
Remember: If it's too much paper for a simple paper clip to handle - IT'S TOO MUCH PAPER.
When we say "Do not submit more than one ms at a time," this does not mean "Do not put more than one ms in an envelope but feel free to send TEN mss in TEN envelopes." Sending us ten envelopes isn't going to befuddle the intern and trick her into thinking that there are ten different Jane Smiths who all live at the same address and who all happened to mail a picture book submission all on the same day. Sure, most of us were stronger in English than in Math at school. But we can count.
Personally, I do not accept unsolicited mss be email. Open an attachment from a stranger? Not on your life. Some editors do, and that's up to them. If in doubt (chorus, please...) Check the submission guidelines.

So, have you read the submission guidelines above? (NO? Then scroll up with the little scrolly button now and do it!)
OK then - let's try a little quiz. How many problems do you see with this cover letter? (Mind you, at least this person bothered to write a cover letter. So half a point there...)
--> This is not an actual cover letter but it is pretty darn close to a lot of the stuff I see. Technically, I'm not really making this up.

 A word, at this point, about simultaneous submissions. A simultaneous submission is one that you have sent to me and to the publisher down the road and to the publisher across the way etc. We don't like that. We don't want to read your work, like it, present it to our editorial team, hash it out, and then find out that you've gone and sold it to someone else. What a waste of our time!

And a note about your niece's class. She may be your target audience, but you are a special person to her. You could probably read 200 words from an instruction manual on how to make coffee and she'd be thrilled. Her class will just be thrilled that you came to visit and brought a book you wrote for them. While testing out your story is a useful exercise for you as a writer since it might help you to polish it when you see what catches their attention best and which parts can't compete with the gunk at the bottoms of their shoes, the critique of a 7-yr-old isn't going to be quite the same as that of an editor. And no editor is going to be impressed that a 7-yr-old liked your story. Sorry.
One guy included a whirly butterfly that spun up and hit me in the face when I opened the envelope as I walked down a flight of stairs. Damn near killed me. Let your work speak for itself, OK?
I could go on and on. And I have, actually. Here and elsewhere. The thing is, every submissions editor is looking for that diamond in the rough. We LOVE them. I have found a few and there is special rush that comes with the discovery of a new talent. We WANT you to succeed. And our submission guidelines make it easy as pie to get in the front door.
So give your baby the best start in life -- try not to tick off the editor the minute the mail arrives. 

1 comment:

  1. extremely good information and very professional, thank you so much