The Why of Submissions Guidelines…

Originally I was going to blog this week on our decision to publish short story collections. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the post office (ok, it happened at the post office). Amongst all the mail we receive there was a package containing a full length manuscript. When I got home I immediately checked our website, and sure enough my memory was not failing me. The website clearly states:

We only accept electronic submissions and queries.

I guess the fact that our Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Harvey also blogged about our submission guidelines this week suggests that this has become a bit of an issue for us. So I would like to discuss some of the reasons for our policies in the hope of clarifying the process. I would like to do this by responding to some questions and comments we’ve received over the past month.

Why do you require queries first? Why can’t I just send you my manuscript? As I discuss in my blog here, there are some things we will not publish. An initial query allows us to determine if we would be interested in your work and to respond back to you as quickly as possible.

How do you process queries? The first step in the process is that Elizabeth reads the query letter to determine how to handle the query. Queries for our short story and poetry collections are forwarded directly to the editor in charge of the collection, while Elizabeth does the initial review of all queries for full length manuscripts.

Is this why you require a query letter even for short stories and poems? Yes. If the query fails to mention which collection it is for, or worse fails to even mention whether it is for a short story or full length manuscript, we have no way of knowing what to do with the query without a lot of extra work on our part. Given the number of queries we received each day, we unfortunately have no choice but to reject the queries which do not include a query letter.

Why do you only accept electronic submissions? First, we keep a copy of every query and submission which is sent to us. It is easier for us to archive submissions which are sent electronically. Second, Elizabeth and I will often read your submissions on our electronic book readers (I have a Kindle and Elizabeth has a Nook), so it is easier for us to review your book if it is sent electronically.

Why must submissions be in Rich Text (rtf) Format? This is done to make review of your work easier for our editors. Requiring one format allows us to review your work without having to use multiple software packages. RTF can be saved and read by most word processing programs, so this should not be an issue.

Why do you require a synopsis? Why can’t I just send you the first three chapters? First, given the number of queries we receive each day, reading the first three chapters of every submission would just be too time consuming and would result in us taking a long time to respond to your query. Second, while the first three chapters will tell us whether you can write using correct grammar and spelling, truth be told it usually will not tell us much else. Most likely we will not be able to determine the full flavor of your plot, including any interesting plots twists that might really make your manuscript stand out, from the first three chapters. Most agents require a synopsis, so if you are serious about submitting your work for publication you should write one.

How can I make my query stand out? It seems we get a lot of queries where the author tries to do something in an attempt to stand out. One query was written like a business letter from the main character of the novel soliciting us to hire them to slay vampires. The problem is that I have no vampires that need slaying right now, and often these types of queries fail to include the information necessary for us to process the query. I sat down this morning to review our queries from the past month, and over 70% of the queries failed to follow the submission guidelines. So if you really want to stand out, in fact the best advice might be to include what we ask for in the query.

We receive 5-10 queries a day. Given the fact that we published our first short story collection less than six months ago, I expect this number to increase over time as we become better known. By adhering to the query guidelines you help us to process the queries we receive as quickly as possible, which leaves us more time for other things – like publishing books.



Filed under For Authors

6 responses to “The Why of Submissions Guidelines…

  1. When I was reading submissions — the place I was read for received more than 500 per month — I was AMAZED by the number of authors who couldn’t follow really simple instructions. It was hard not to think, “If you didn’t care enough to read all six sentences of the guidelines, do you even really know what we publish?” Most of the time, they clearly did not.

    I do have to say, the poor submissions made finding those gems in the rough all of the more satisfying! 🙂

  2. Agreed, Runner. Though I will usually at least try and give them a fair shot. If the submission violates every guideline we have chances are I will probably pass on it but the ones that might miss one or two I try and at least look at. Sometimes they’re worth it.

    However, when you’re the guy that sends a printed manuscript when we explicitly say “digital submissions only” I think that stretches the line of credulity…

  3. Yeah, I always let the actual content speak for itself, and there were definitely times I found gems in submissions that surprised me.

    I actually think the Fake Business Letter style query — saw a few of those in my day, too! — can be a great hook for catching an editor’s attention IF you also cover all of the bases that need to be covered in a query. Being cute and creative can work if you do it right… but you have to do it right or you hurt yourself more than you help!

  4. I usually read the submission guidelines 7 or 8 times before querying just to make sure I have everything right. Why would anyone spend all that time and effort writing a book only to blow it by neglecting to follow instructions?

    • Lynn Johnston

      Dear SuperHappyJen,
      I agree with your theory. I too try to be careful about following guidelines. My stumbling block seems to be with receiving rejection letters without truly knowing what their issues were.

      • Hi Lynn – We used to include the reason for rejecting a manuscript in our rejection letters. Then a less-than-funny thing started to happen – authors would write back to us arguing with us and using less-than-charitable descriptions of us in their replies. You only need to receive a few emails like that before you ask yourself “Why am I bothering to try and help when the result is usually a nasty email in return for the effort?” So now we use a form letter for rejections. Authors are welcome to inquire why a manuscript was rejected, and if I have information I can forward (sometimes our editors just say “Not for me” with no other explanation) I will often forward it.

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