[From my first post on this topic: I often speak with people who tell me they have written a novel which is quietly gathering dust in their attics. For various reasons, they were not able to find a publisher. In this publishing age, people can self-publish quite easily and relatively cheaply. Still, some would-be novelists would like to find “a real publisher.” If you are one of those people, gentle reader, I have some difficult truths about how that happens. Read on at your own risk.
As someone who will have her first published mystery out in November from Five Star Publishing, I am in a good position to list some of the hard truths I discovered on my way to publication. This will be my debut novel, although I self-published a creative non-fiction book four years ago.
I have discovered four hard and fast truths since I began looking for a publisher in December, 2012.] Once you have researched agents or publishers, you need to consider the second difficult truth.
Follow their directions.
Many publishers have a blog or a help page on their websites that explain how they would like authors to write a query email. You can use their samples to put yours together. They don’t want you to waste their time, so you need to follow their lead. You can also find examples of how to write query emails –and how not to write them—in any edition of The Writer’s Market. (Your local library may carry this book for free.)
Once you have your query email letter-perfect, you next check the agents’ or publishers’ websites. They know exactly what they want. If they ask for a single-spaced, one-page summary of your plot, don’t send them a three-to-five page summary. If they want the first page of your manuscript, don’t send them more. And, if they want a chapter, don’t add to it so they can bask in the glory of your “voice.” Send them only what they want.
If they are afraid of viruses from attachments and want you to copy-and-paste what you send, do it their way. Some publishers are fine with attachments, and some want copy-and-paste. Occasionally, you will find a publisher or agent who wants you to send your information via the U.S. Post Office. If they want no email queries, do not send them yours. Usually you may add a prepaid, self-addressed, postcard they can send back to say they received your information.
An added thought: Some publishers prefer their own “house formatting” for your manuscript. If you are querying a smaller press and sending your entire manuscript, they may want it formatted a certain way. This is extremely important. They will have information about that formatting on their website, or they may give you an address to email for the formatting guide. The acquisitions agent for my current publisher told me that she moved my manuscript to the top of her reading pile because I was one of the few authors who got the formatting right. (I knew I was right all those years when I told my high school and college students that simply following directions will help.)
All of this sounds quite simple, and perhaps I am belaboring the point about following directions. But if you are querying sixty agents or publishers and they all want something different, it takes a huge amount of time on your part. You can avoid having your manuscript go in the trash by doing exactly what they want you to do.
Even though your manuscript is your baby, and you have loved it, fondled it, and nourished it for days, months, or years, you will not see the light of publishing day if you don’t follow this second piece of advice for getting on a publisher’s list. Yes, it is a difficult truth about finding a publisher, but in this publishing world, would-be authors have absolutely no power. The scale is weighted toward the other side.
Next up is Rule Three: Be resolute and take rejection in stride.