First, I’m sure you’ve heard some of these before:
It’s not what you know (or how well you write), it’s WHO you know.
Make your manuscript perfect BEFORE you send it off to a publisher or agent.
Use proper grammar, spelling, punctuation ALL THE TIME.
Sometimes, it IS who you know as opposed to what or how well. Sometimes, you could get bumped up in the queue of submissions because you know someone or someone has recommended you. That happens, sure. Not a lot, but it does happen.
A small press publisher is going to look at several things when he receives a manuscript: style, story, and sales. But he’s also going to look at the mechanics, because he’s not going to want to spend a lot of time “fixing” simple mistakes. I’m not talking about typos – there’s a difference. A typo is something like spelling “typo” as “tyop,” one time. A typo is NOT repeatedly using its for it’s, or constantly leaving a space between the end of a sentence and the ending punctuation of that sentence. Like this . Or putting punctuation outside the ending quotation mark.
That’s bad. Very bad. That means you haven’t mastered the basics, and you need to go back to the kindergarten of writing. Immediately.
Too many writers, I think, or aspiring authors, go over and over their manuscripts and tweak the story. They ignore any mechanical errors. Or worse, they don’t see the problem – back to kindergarten! THIS is what’s meant by “make it as perfect as possible.”
Style, of course, is HOW you write. What’s your voice? Be consistent. Use words and set scenes that fit whatever genre you’re writing in for that particular submission. Use language pertaining to the time period in which your story’s set. There’s no one “right” voice or style for everyone. What’s right for your story is YOU.
So you’ve written a manuscript, you’ve found your voice, you’ve been consistent, and you’ve made all those corrections. You submitted to a small press. Now what?
Just because the word “small” is attached to a publisher, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to hear anything in a few days. Or a few weeks, or even a few months. Many small press publishers are doing ALL THE THINGS for their businesses, all the time. Many work closely with their authors, true, but that’s after the contract is signed and the book is in production.
Now, for myself, for RHP, I usually don’t do the full edits, but I do final ones. Remember when you went over your manuscript, in detail, word for word, line by line? That’s what I do. Remember how long it took? Multiply that by one or two or three, every single month. RHP has an editor; we have a cover designer; we have distribution; we have promotion and marketing. And I oversee and/or do and/or am heavily involved in all of that.
As an example, I submitted my first book, REDUCED, to Harper Voyager on October first. 2012. Just over a year ago. THEY have scads of people to read manuscripts, etc., etc. and it’s been over a YEAR. So, I’m just sayin’, cut the small publishers some slack, okay?
Here’s what my day looks like, six days a week (sometimes seven!):
6:00 a.m. Check email and news. Answer approximately six emails and messages from RHP authors. Social media promo and marketing. Check sales stats. Answer three more emails and messages. Receive 2-4 submissions. Check on shipments. Make to-do list. Drink lots of coffee.
8:00 a.m. Make phone calls. Pay bills. Do paperwork. Drink more coffee. Maybe run errands. Hopefully, before I do that last, I have time to shower and dress!
9:00 a.m. Work on my own marketing, platform, blog posts, schedule, events, etc., etc.
10:00 a.m. Open the bookstore. This is when I do bookstore stuff, but even that overlaps into publishing. I shelve, I ship, I do the accounting, I take care of customers and answer the phone. And email. And messages. I schedule events and authors. And yes, I do marketing and promo for the bookstore.
3:00 p.m. (ish – some days a bit sooner, some later) This is when I get to edit and format and look at submissions. Maybe. Sometimes, I’m still dealing with everything else (see 6:00 a.m.). And too, I do have a family. And a house. And things like cooking and laundry, just like everyone else.
7:00 p.m. Dinner. Because the store is open until 7:00 and we have a weird schedule. Most days, we’re all here for dinner, but not all. And yes, sometimes I fudge and we grab takeout or just eat leftovers. Or popcorn. Always an option.
7:30 p.m. Finish up most things. Not all. Most. And I always swear that I’ll be done by 8:00 and can relax and maybe talk to my husband before he falls asleep. Note: it is currently 10:04 p.m.
So now you know. I work about nine hours a day just on the publishing end of things and about five hours a day at the bookstore. That’s six days a week, at least, and in case you’re math-challenged like me, it comes to 84 hours a week. And yes, I had to use the calculator for that!
I don’t think I’m slow, or stupid, and I’m willing to bet that most small press publishers do the same things and work the same hours. Okay, maybe they don’t own a bookstore, but many have “day jobs.”
Yes, you wrote a book. And you think it’s good – that’s great! Now, make sure of it, send it off, and have some patience. The writing is hard – I know, I wrote three books myself – and so is the self-editing. And it’s really, really hard to wait. But that’s just part of the process. And it’s okay to ask for an update, just not every day or week.