I’m going to start right off with a bang:

Things To Do When Querying a Publisher

Pay attention to dates. If a publisher is NOT accepting submissions, your ms might go directly into the “no” file.

Follow directions. If those directions say to send as an attachment, do so. If the directions say “NO HEADERS,” go with that. If you can’t read directions, your ms is going into that “no” file.

Likewise, if the submissions page says the publisher only accepts mss of 70K words or more, don’t send your novella or anything else that has fewer words. I don’t mean five fewer, or even 500. Don’t send a ms that is 50K, or it goes into the same file as the ones above.

Don’t send ONLY the ms. How is the publisher supposed to know what the book is about? Read the whole thing? You’re kidding, right? Most small presses have one or two or maybe a couple more people read submissions; besides that, they’re doing a lot of other things as well. There is simply NO TIME for something like this.

Don’t keep emailing and asking about your ms. Sure, you can check with the publisher if a month or so has passed, but once is enough. Many small presses simply don’t respond if the ms isn’t right for them—like literary agents. Sure, it’s not very polite, and authors complain all the time, and I even agree with them. Unless I’m the one who’s supposed to respond. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

Know your terminology. Don’t tell a publisher you want them to “represent” your work; publishers aren’t agents, we publish. Period.

Don’t send a fancy cover letter. Don’t tell me you’ve “perused” my website and have “aspirations.” Nothing screams 1) ESL or 2) I compulsively use dictionary.com quite like trying to sound intelligent. And failing. Especially when words such as these are used incorrectly. I’m looking for a book in which I don’t have to make corrections within every single sentence.

Don’t tell me you’re submitting on someone’s “behave.” Error aside—and not typos, I can tell the difference—if you have an agent who’s not performing up to your standards, it could be due to your book—it might stink. Or your judgment is off base. Or, of course, you’re getting screwed, in which case just find another agent.

NOTE: not everyone who “says” he’s an agent actually is one. Ditto for a “publicist.”

I have, ahem, over 100 submissions sitting in my file. At least half of those will be rejected automatically because of some of these things—or all of these things. Sometimes, though, rejections have to do with timing. If I receive ten children’s books, I’m obviously not going to accept all ten. Your book might be really good, but there might be two that are better . . .

NOTE: do not continue to resubmit if you haven’t received a response. There’s a reason. It might be the time element (mine), or the timing, or you think you didn’t follow directions the first time, or you’re wondering if I actually received it. I probably did. Email doesn’t get lost very often.

There you have it. Follow directions, make sure your ms is “clean,” and tell a good story. And be patient. With large publishers, it can take years before a book is released. Cut small press a little slack on the response time, and don’t be afraid to follow-up. Once. 🙂


2 comments on “RHP—Querying

  1. Patience is a virtue, and I struggled a lot with trying to be virtuous when I was submitting. I really enjoyed all of your points there. Well written!


  2. Janet Cannon says:

    You make me smile, Robin! If the whole world would follow directions, it would be a much more pleasant place, wouldn’t it? Yet, we’re forced to deal with people who think they are exceptions to the rules. The good thing is, if you ARE a rule reader and follower, that makes some things easier. *Some* things. 😉


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