Some people may think editors are too quick in their judgments about manuscripts and query letters. At times do they make the wrong decision? Absolutely. No editor is perfect in their batting record. For me, the snap judgments about manuscripts and query letters spring from my long experience of reading such pitches. Also it’s a matter of survival and time management. I do not have hours to pour over a single email or mailed query letter. Nor do I have hours to leisurely sit and read manuscript submissions. When you step into the editor role, you quickly learn how to handle the flood of material from authors—or you drown. Some editors are drowning and you never hear from them—even those editors with the best intentions.
Recently I was talking with a literary agent about an editorial director at a publishing house. I mentioned how I’ve been friends with this editorial director for many years yet I never receive a response to my emails—well, almost never. The agent told me, “Oh, she’s like that. I have to email her, then email her again, then leave voice mail and urgent voice mail. Eventually I hear something but it takes multiple times.” I don’t know for sure but it looks like this editorial director is drowning in this response area.
I’ve got a theory about contacting people: the higher the position, the more likely you are to receive a response. The response may be a single sentence via email but you do hear from the person and I appreciate it.
I’ve been trying to process query letters and submissions for my role with Howard Books. The volume of submissions has substantially increased in recent months. Last week, one poor author submitted her query right before I checked my publishing email. I was efficiently logging my submissions and sending form rejection letters. This author received her rejection within 15 minutes of sending her query letter. It must have been a new record for her. She wrote asking if Howard Books was considering any submissions and assumed she had received an automated response. I wrote a second time reassuring her that I had carefully read her submission and giving her several reasons why it didn’t work with a personal response (not a form letter). This author thanked me for my diligence in processing the submissions.
Just check out this statement from Noah Lukeman of the Lukeman Agency, “The more practical, hands-on experience someone has with them, though, the more you might trust his judgment—particularly if this person is an active publishing professional who evaluates query letters for a living. As a literary agent for the last 10 years, I have received, on average, about 10,000 queries a year. That makes almost 100,000 queries received over the last 10 years.” Now that is a lot of letters to process.
The great irony is if you don’t craft a great query letter, then you can’t get the editor to read anything additional. It’s why it’s important to learn how to pitch your project. I recently found this well-crafted book excerpt about query writing from Noah Lukeman. It’s solid advice for anyone with a book idea—whether you are writing a novel or nonfiction.
When you receive any response from an editor, celebrate—even if it’s a rejection. At least this editor took the time to read your query and respond. This editor is trying to faithfully handle submissions and that is something to celebrate. I’ve prepared a few standard paragraphs that I will at times add as a p.s. to my form rejection. You should see the responses of appreciation from these authors. It’s like handing a cup of water to someone who has walked miles in the desert.