After years of working on proposals for the aerospace industry and grant proposals as a consultant I came away with one huge lesson learned. Follow submission instructions and guidelines as if they are the words in the Bible. And the first rule to follow before even that, read the instructions, not once, but over and over and over again throughout your entire submission process. That way you can be sure that you are crossing all the T's and dotting all the I's. If you don't you will be sure to lose and definitely annoy the agent or publisher you are sending your material to.
It is that simple.
Unfortunately many people don't read and follow submission instructions and guidelines. Are they lazy, are they stupid, or do they just think their work is so far superior to anyone else's that the rules don't apply to them? Probably all of the above.
A week or so ago my publisher received an unsolicited manuscript from a would-be author. It appeared in the publisher's PO box in its entirety accompanied by a handwritten letter. The author had not submitted a query or synopsis first, showing that he/she had obviously not read any submission instructions. After waiting in line to get the mail from her PO box, the publisher had to get right back in line and wait to send the manuscript back on her own dime. The author didn't even think to provide a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Not a good way to start a long publishing relationship.
When I heard this story I'm afraid I reacted poorly. I suggested that the publisher just shred the manuscript and send off a postcard to the author that she had done so. But I'm not as nice as the publisher. If the author had bothered to go to the press website, he/she would have learned to send an electronic submission of the following: A cover letter, a short bio, and a 300 to 500 synopsis of the book.
After an initial query, authors must wait for further instructions. If the query and other material are deemed interesting enough for a request for more material, the publisher will respond and provide an address for sending a printed manuscript (not a PO box number) or request an electronic submission. Had this been done, the publisher would not have had to wait in line twice during the Christmas season.
Here's an actual quote from the press guidelines: "Do not send unsolicited chapters/manuscripts/large stuffed envelopes or manuscript boxes by mail or requiring a signature (express mail). This results in our having to wait in line at the post office to retrieve your materials from behind the counter and does not put us in a favorable mood to review your work."
The last thing an author wants is a publisher with a tight schedule and little free time in a bad mood about you and your work.
Really, it is so easy. It's stuff we all learned early on in grade school. Read the directions and follow them to the letter. It makes everyone happy in the end.
Here's a note on this subject from Janice Phelps Williams, founder, publisher of Lucky Press, LLC:
"Sometimes publishers will give a yes or no answer. Sometimes they will want to enter into a dialogue with you. Always send your best work; proofread (and ask others to proofread) your work; and be sure you have a one-page synopsis. The lack of a good synopsis and a professional bio can really make a difference in a busy publisher's willingness to learn more about your work. If you are unsure what constitutes a good synopsis and bio, visit the websites of any NYT-bestselling or other award-winning author and see how they present themselves and their work. If there is anything you should not rush on, it is the synopsis. By reading the backs of many bestselling books, you will have an idea of what is needed. Every word must count, must be the very best choice."
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