Sunday, January 23, 2011

Almost Doesn't Count for Submissions

For successful publishing, the details matter. The devil is in the details and almost isn't close enough when it comes to submissions. Why? Some publishing industry experts have estimated there are over six million proposals, pitches and manuscripts circulating in the offices of literary agents and publishers. When you pack up your book idea and first it off to a publisher, you want to have the details right and almost doesn't count.

Yesterday I received a perfect example of how not to submit your material and I'm going to use that submission as my example for this entry about The Writing Life. I've hidden the name of the author but I'm going to give you some details so let's get started.

First, the author spelled my name correctly. I've seen a variety of misspellings for my last name and even Ms. Terry Whalin (even though you can Google my name and in seconds find my photo and learn that I am not a Ms anything). This author also had my old role correct: I was the fiction acquisitions editor for Howard Publishing. The operative word is "was" (past tense). The publishing community is in constant motion. Anyone in the industry frequently changes positions. The author who is submitting their material has the responsibility to keep up with these changes. Why? You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Plus the editor or agent will evaluate your material in seconds--and determine if they want to read more or toss it into the rejection stack. This submission was headed for instant rejection. Why?

The second line of the address says, "Howard Publishing/ Fiction Editor." Four years ago, my role as the Fiction Acquisitions Editor with Howard ended. Five years ago (follow this link) Howard Publishing was purchased by Simon and Schuster and became Howard Books. With a glance, I knew this author was using an old Christian Writer's Market Guide for my address to submit their material.

Last week I interviewed Christian Marketing expert Sally E. Stuart. I recorded our interview and asked questions from the various participants. You can hear this full interview if you follow the link. Just put "no question" and on the confirmation page you will be able to download the free special report and hear our 70-minute conversation. One of the key points for purchasing the Market Guide each year, according to Sally, is that almost every entry has some significant change from year to year. Editors change publishers, the contact information changes, the needs of the publisher change and many more elements switch with each edition.

As you can see from the graphic, this author spent $2.58 on postage with this submission. I made these observations from only the outside of the envelope. Let's open it and you will see even more that has gone wrong with this submission.

The cover letter on letterhead begins, "To Whom It May Concern," Anyone do a double take here? I did. The outside package is addressed to me yet the cover letter does not include my name. In some cases editors have assistants to open their packages but from my publishing experience, most editors and agents open their own submissions. The lack of personalization is one more strike against this would-be author.

In the first paragraph the author introduces himself. In the second paragraph he writes, "I have recently published my first fiction book called ______. In our circles, we have already marketed 2,200 of them. I am looking for a major publisher with interest in publishing _____." OK, I left out the name of the book but that sentence is an exact quotation from his cover letter.

When you use the term "marketed 2,200 of them" does that mean you gave them away or sold them? It's unclear and raises question marks.

The third paragraph says, "I have enclosed a copy of my book for your review. There is also a website for the book. It is _________.com." I looked at the enclosure and instantly recognized the work of Xulon Press. In it's current form, the book is 139 pages in length--a problem to anyone knowledgeable about fiction acquisition. The typical novel is about 350 to 400 pages in length. This submission is close to the length of a novella--not a novel plus the lines on the page include generous space. With proper layout, I suspect it would be even shorter.

Let's return to that third paragraph of the cover letter. The fact any book has a website is a plus but what happens at this website? Is it getting any traffic or attention? Is it a vehicle to sell books or promote the book? There are millions of websites online. It's not enough that an author builds a website for a book. It is a good first step but does anyone know this website is online? There is no evidence in this letter.

I went to the book website. It contains a link to a You Tube video (over four minutes) where the author gave the invocation at a state legislature. Interesting then I checked the number of views--not millions--125 views. As an editor or agent, it did not draw me to the project or bolster his case for his novel. The book site includes a page to order the book (good). I clicked it and landed on a page which declared, "Site suspended. This site has stepped out for a bit." (not good--can't sell his book from his website).

The cover letter includes a fourth paragraph, "If there is any interest in _____, I can be contacted by email at: _______. Thank you for taking a look. Sincerely," then the signature of the author. The email address or mailing address is the only means to contact this author. It does not include a phone number nor does the author's website include a phone number. Also email is the only way to issue a rejection letter.

While the author didn't say anything about a simultaneous submission, I suspect he sent numerous copies of this submission at the same time. If you are going to simultaneously submit, you need to explicitly say so in your cover letter. From my years in publishing, I suspect this author will receive few responses to his submission and have many questions about why his postage, books and efforts yielded so little results.

After posting this entry, I will be printing this entry and mailing it to the author in hopes to help his future submissions. Also I hope each reader of this entry will begin to understand the details of any submission count--and need to be 100% correct.

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4 Comment:

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Sarah Allen Left a note...

Thanks for this. Specific examples are invaluable sources for us wannabe writers to learn the ropes of the publishing industry. I wish both you and this writer the best of luck.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Embrace Left a note...

Thank you for this valuable insight. It is encouraging to hear the "little" details you are looking for.
I am currently scouring Sally's 2011 edition for places to send my work. This post came at a perfect time!
Thank you Terry!

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Lynn Left a note...

Great post, Terry. Just one more example of why the old adage is true: You only have one chance to make a first impression.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Unknown Left a note...

Excellent column - and great advice - it is so hard to keep up, but it is essential - even using a Writer's Market guide on line you are still at the mercy of the gods - I always check out the publisher's website for updates or the agents - and still don't bat 100 every time, but probably better than I would with old listings. Use the market guides as a starting point, but don't stop there.
Billie A Williams


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