Friday, January 30, 2009

Submission No-Noes

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I just spent a chunk of time working through unsolicited submissions ("the slush pile"). Doing so many in a short time really reinforces the difficulties of this task. For every diamond in the rough, you have to dig through tons of coal.

Every author hears the same advice over and over. Why do people ignore it?

~ Submit your work ONLY to publishers where it would fit. Research publishers, find out who publishes what, and read what they put out so you know if your work fits. Tailor your submission to each publisher.


Okay, I know the answer to my rhetorical question above. I'm preaching to the choir - knowledgable aspiring authors do follow this advice already. If you are reading this blog, you are probably "the choir" because you actually are looking for information about writing and publishing, you are trying to be professional about being an author.

The rest of the "aspiring authors" - who constitute the bulk of the slush pile - don't know a damn thing about the publishing industry or the skill of writing. They don't belong to writer organizations, haven't tried to learn about about writing and submitting, and have never acquired the basic information on submitting and getting published.

Some of this week's submission horrors:

1. The paper submissions. Never send paper to a publisher whose guidelines very clearly state "electronic submission only, no paper". And vice versa. Your paper submission will be dropped in the trash can. If you included an SASE, you may get a form letter instructing you to read the submissions guidelines.

2. A higher level of "wrong" in paper: the paper submission with the writer's letter asking that the submission be returned - but no SASE included. Sorry, no publisher pays to mail your mistake back to you - especially for the ones from another country.

3. The emailed submission with a whole string of editor addresses in the "To" field. Was the sender so uncaring or lazy that they couldn't send individual emails? Or did the submitter believe any of us would think "Oh, I must read this right away, before someone else beats me to it?" Nope - what we all thought was "Unprofessional. Uninformed. Either stupid or manipulative. Don't waste my time." (By the way, I know some of those other editors in the To box - they don't take electronic submissions. Now we really think poorly of this submitter.)

4. The poetry. I used to wonder why these people targeted us, when we do not publish poetry. Then I heard from editors from many houses that they all get poetry, which their house does not publish. There is a very limited market for poetry and limited publishers who do it, so I guess aspiring poets get desperate and waste their time and money sending to every publisher in existence.

5. The artwork. Err, no, a publisher does not want your depiction of what you want on your cover accompanying your submission. Nor clip art accompanying that poetry we don't want either. Nor photos of you or your family and pets.

6. The submission in another language. Don't bother sending a cover letter in bad English - no, a publisher is not going to pay someone to translate your submission they never requested and aren't going to accept. Publishers deal directly with agents and publishers in other countries to acquire English-language rights to books that they already know they want. Submit your neophyte work to a publisher in that publisher's language.

No, I didn't make any of this up, these were actual submissions this month. And this is before I even read the manuscripts!

So how did you handle your very first submission? Do you feel you knew what you were doing? (And if you haven't submitted that finished story yet, get up your courage and DO IT. Just do it right.)


Erastes said...

My first submission was pretty embarrasing. I had no "CV" at all and rambled on about all sorts of stuff that the publisher wasn't going to be interested in. When it was rejected by Harper Collins and they said that it "clearly well-written and of the era" I quoted that in future submissions to other publishers. Oh the shame....

Amy Ruttan said...

LOL, my first submission was here. I guess I followed the guidelines correctly and the Call for Submission right because it was pretty quick that I heard from Shannon.

I can't tell you how many times I downloaded JJ's Submission Guidelines. LOL.

Anny Cook said...

My first submission was also to EC. If anything, my cover letter probably erred on the side of too little. I simply couldn't think of anything that would demonstrate my writing skills. So, shaking in my boots, I pressed "send" and much to my shocked amazement, someone actually wanted my work! Thank you!

Craven said...

I loved how you ended, "Just do it".

You nailed it. People reading your blog have a true interest in doing things right and getting better. For my first queries, I did read and comply with submission guidelines. I look back now at the quality of those first query letters and wished I could get a do-over.

A couple of agents asked for more material, and few gave me feedback with their rejection (for which I was eternally grateful). It helped me understand what about my story wasn't right, and once I had there perspective, I could see it too.

Rena Marks said...

On a positive note - think of how much time you save by not having to delve into each manuscript! You open an envelope, read a rhyme, identify it as poetry, and file it in the metal bin labeled "Trash."
Think that the thousands of submissions you receive (as opposed to electronic) keep our economy up by employing postal workers.
Think of how grateful you are when you find that diamond, that you can appreciate it so much more after sloshing through the coal.
Well, okay, so it's a reach, least you have some amazing authors who can't help but write the contents of their imaginations, even when they have more important things to do, like...sigh, the math homework I SHOULD be doing instead of babbling on.

ECPI Editors said...

Get that homework done,Rena!

It is indeed the joy of the occasional diamond that keeps editors digging. There is so much pleasure in unexpectedly reading a great submission from slush, and then in looking forward to working with the writer to polish it.

Hmm, I should do an article on "self-rejection", Craven. Because that's what it is when a writer doesn't, for whatever reason, submit their work. Yes, rejection is painful, and more than 95% of unsolicited manuscripts get rejected (and many publishers, especially NY, won't even take them). But your rejection rate is 100% - and self-imposed - if you never send the thing in.


Anonymous said...

My first submission (so far my only submission) was to a magazine. I followed their guidelines to the letter but still felt very sure I was doing something wrong. It has been pounded in me so much to read guidelines and do everything right that I am so nervous about screwing up.

Got a form rejection, but I can blame that on the magazine closing (sad for the magazine and its writers, but easier on my ego).

Anonymous said...

Years ago I worked at a small company that published ONLY the laws of Kentucky and Ohio.

One day a lady called and asked if we published poetry. I told her absolutely not.

Long silence.

"Then do you mind if I read some of it to you?" she asked.

Lisette Kristensen said...


Thank you for that quote!

But your rejection rate is 100% - and self-imposed - if you never send the thing in.

At our recent RWA meeting we discussed rejections and I was totally baffled how many writers are stuck in the "polish zone."

During that conversation I kept trying to remember the Wayne Gretzky quote about shooting pucks or something, but you quote says it best!!

Anonymous said...

My first submission was to Harlequin. I'd finally got up the nerve to mail it off and somehow managed to get a request for a full, which was rejected several months later. Two years have passed and I'm amazed at how much I didn't know back then and all the things I don't know now. Perversely, I prize that rejection letter because the whole experience taught me things about myself and my writing I didn't know.

Anonymous said...

My first book was written in 1987. Everyone who read it told me 'you need to get this published.' Oh, right. As if that was the easiest thing in the world to do! I did everything wrong - absolutely abysmal query letters (I shudder to remember) although I did know to send a correctly-sized and postaged SASE. Of course, no one wanted it, and then one by one, publishers stopped doing Regencies.

BUT -- it was a great teaching experience for one who wanted to learn. I must have done something right because two other books were published in the mid-90s.

And then, almost 20 years later, along came Cerridwen with the Cotillion line, and someone told me about them. I'd never heard of the company, but did some research and figured out how to do an electronic submission -- and guess what?

They published my book! It's even in print. Title: Bertie's Golden Treasure.

Thank you Cerridwen and Cotillion! It pays to pay attention!

Hetty St. James