Dem Rules

There are rules to writing a novel, novella, or short story. I’m sure you’ve heard that you can break the rules, and that is true… as soon as you learn to follow those rules.

One of the biggest set of rules I see broken on a regular basis are the ones for submitting your book to a publisher.

Let’s talk about how that’s done, and what you should never think about doing.

The very first thing you should do is research the publisher you're submitting to. See if they accept the genre you're submitting. Find out who is in charge of submissions. Don't decide "ah, here's the publisher's email. I never go small. We're starting at the top." And you're more than likely making a poor impression that will result in no contract offer. The CEO of any company rarely deals with the personnel interviews, and that is what your submission is.

The Cover Letter:

You never start out with “Yo, you gonna like this book. It done be the best book yo ever gonna read.” Why? Because about three seconds after I see that, my eyebrows will rise into my hairline. I’ll glance at the rest of the cover letter, which could be the most fabulous introduction to a book that I’ve ever read but I won’t really read most of it. All I’m doing at this point is getting to the little button that says, “Thanks but no thanks.” Your submission is done. You’re pretty much done with this publisher, so move on and learn. If you’re very lucky, the publisher might tell you why they declined to offer a contract, but getting a notice that won’t happen in a generic form letter is more than likely what will arrive in your inbox. If the publisher bothers to send a notice. Some will delete your submission and forget you exist, without telling you a thing.

Partial or full manuscript submission?

That is the question. For many years, it was the norm to send the first three chapters along with a detailed synopsis to the publisher you were querying. That was also when we were sending manuscripts through the post office. Now, many publishers prefer the full manuscript to a query. So, if you ignore their submissions guidelines and send a query anyway, because that’s what you’ve been told by experts A, B, and C, you are about to make another faux pas.The only expert on a publisher's submissions policies is the person handling those submissions.

Again, if you’re lucky, you’ll receive a generic thanks but no thanks response from the publisher.

Is your book submission ready?

This one is a biggie. If you’ve made it through the cover letter and the publisher is actually reading your submission, it’s always good to have it proofread by a trusted beta reader or critique group before you submit. Personally, I go with the three strikes rule—in other words, if I see three major errors (misused homophones, numerous run on sentences, poor spelling and grammar), I will be declining to offer a contract. Why? Because you didn’t care enough about your work to make sure it was ready for submission.

Finally… Don’t pester the publisher about why they didn’t offer you a contract. The person you’re addressing is busy. They have a job and it’s not dedicated to responding to your questions. Think of a submission that was declined by a publisher as a job interview that didn’t go well. That prospective employer has moved on, as has the publisher. More than likely, they can’t give you a definitive reason why they declined your book, just that they didn’t feel it would be successful.

Remembering that submitting a book is the same as going on a job interview will take you far in the publishing industry.