The Importance of Follow-up
There are a number of important skills for every writer such as storytelling ability, consistency of touching the market and writing craft. Each of these skills take time and practice to develop. As writers, we are in the communication business.
Ironically much of the publishing world—particularly in book publishing—is poor at communication. You send in your submission to an editor or agent and you hear….wait for it….nothing…for months…maybe ever.
As an acquisitions editor involved in publishing every day, it's part of my intention to change this situation. I can't change the industry but I can change the people and writers that I'm communicating with and touching. Yet I admit it is hard because of the high volume of material that comes to me every day—agents representing their authors and authors who are looking to get published. I spend a great deal of time every day answering my email and on the phone with authors.
Here's something that you can do to help this communication challenge in the publishing communicate: develop your ability to follow-up yet in a way that gently prods the editor and agent but does not offend them or turn them off from your submission. You need to add the skill of proper follow-up to your communication tools. Why?
According to some publishing experts, there are over a million unpublished manuscripts, proposals and ideas on the desks of editors and agents. Yes that is a large overwhelming volume. From reading submissions for many years, I would expect to discount about 50% of that number because they can instantly be rejected as inappropriate. If you do your research and send the editor or agent something that is in the range that they want, you will put your submission in the category of something that merits their reading or at least considering. How can you break through and get their attention? It is critical that you prepare an excellent book proposal or manuscript. It takes time and energy to prepare a detailed submission but it is well worth the effort from my years in publishing. You can learn more at this free teleseminar which is on replay (immediate access to listen to it).
I know at Morgan James Publishing, where I work as an acquisitions editor, we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. We are considered a medium size New York publisher and less than 3% of our submissions are contracted.
Even with those high numbers, I spend the bulk of my days on the phone and email with authors talking with them about their submissions and seeing if that submission is a good fit for Morgan James. To be honest, some are a great fit and others are not. The reading and communication process is critical to finding the right type of authors. Yes, it takes time and effort.
Besides processing the material that comes into the publishing house, I'm actively looking for new material. About a week ago, I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference which was a large event with over 400 people. I spent my time at the conference talking with prospective authors and teaching a couple of workshops and participating on several panels. Throughout out the event, I exchanged business cards with a number of authors and my faculty members. This exchange of information is the first step in the process of forming a relationship.
I spent several hours this weekend, writing emails to the people I met and encouraging them to send a submission (when they are ready of course). My pro-active follow-up with these writers showed them that I cared and really do want to see their work. This follow-up step is important and will encourage them to include me with their submissions. Each of us in the publishing community are constantly searching for good books to publish and the follow-up work is a key part of this process.
With the many submissions, I never get completely caught up on processing them and it's always appropriate to send a little email to see if I received it or when I will be available to take the next step in the process. A gentle and non-offensive reminder via email is something that I respect and appreciate from these pro-active authors.
Besides my role as an acquisitions editor, I'm also spending some of my time to promote and market my own books like my biography of Billy Graham and my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. The effort to promote books takes time—yet is an important responsibility for every author whether you have a full-time job or not.
For example, this weekend I did an interview about Billy Graham and this coming week I have two more radio interviews scheduled. I'm also working on getting more book reviews and other aspects of publicity. The number of new books that are being produced is sometimes staggering. My marketing friend, Penny C. Sansevieri was also speaking at the San Francisco Conference. She said there are 4,500 new books a day. I asked where she came up with this number and she said several places including a conversation with Bowker (the company which produces Books In Print and issues International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). I have several more follow-up emails to send people who have received review copies of Billy Graham books yet never added their review to Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble. While it takes time to send those gentle follow-up reminders, it stirs people to action. I've seen many people never follow-up and then they wonder why nothing happens.
While email is a great way to follow-up, often one of the most inappropriate ways is on the phone to an editor or agent. It is different if the editor or agent has set up an appointment with you or you have a project in process. I'm talking about the authors who have a book to pitch and are trying to learn the process. Most recently a young author and his girlfriend who continually called me to see if I had read their submission. It turns out their submission was half-baked, poorly written and inappropriate for my publisher. These young authors made a poor impression and completely wasted time (theirs and mine). I didn't tell them this information on the phone but they were making a radical bad impression with the phone calls.
Take a minute and think about what you want to accomplish with your writing. Do you need to send a gentle reminder to some editor or reviewer or agent? Get it on your plans for today then get it done. Then watch the difference it will make in your writing life.