- Finish the Book: While this may sound silly, you would be surprised how many people attempt to submit an unfinished manuscript. An unfinished manuscript is not actually a submission, but a proposal (bonus tip - do not use the word proposal in your query letters. It may lead to an unnecessary rejection.). Proposals are generally reserved for well-known authors and/or authors that are already under contract with a publishing house and have a proven track record. They are the proposal of an idea, not the submission of a completed work. As an unknown author, a publisher is highly unlikely to take a gamble, not having seen your work. In most cases, publishers (and agents) are only interested in a completed product.
- Who Do You Write For: Publishers will want to know who your book is written for - the intended age range or specific gender. What is the book about? In your query letter, define who your audience is. This includes what genre/category your book falls under. Publishers want to see that you understand the market, as well as your audience.
- Market Research: The worst thing you can do is what is called a cold-call - just sending your work out to everyone, unsolicited. This is a waste of time for both you and the publisher. Make sure that you are submitting your query letters and/or samples (bonus tip two - read submission guidelines and do not send a sample or full manuscript unless it is requested in the guidelines) to publishers and/or agents who deal with your genre. Make sure that your letter and samples/full manuscript is professionally formatted. Use a common font, such as Times New Roman or Courier, in an easy to read size, such as 10-12 point. Leave clear, one-inch margins on both sides and number your pages.
- Learn Patience: Perhaps the most important tip that we can give you is to learn patience. Publishers are extremely busy and most companies receive dozens if not hundreds, of queries per day. It takes some time to sort through the queries and weed out which samples or complete works they would like to follow up with. Publishers are generally pretty open about this, and will list a timeline in their submission guidelines. For example, in our European Geeks submission guidelines, we state that if you do not hear from us within three months, to assume that we are not interested. Make sure to read the submission guidelines carefully for timelines. Some publishers will suggest you follow up after X amount of time, others will tell you to consider it a rejection.
Once you've finished your manuscript (and hopefully at least one round of editing!), you may decide it's time to begin the submission process. This can be a daunting, scary time for some authors - even the 'big' ones. Your work is your baby and it can be hard to send it out there, into the cruel world, to face possible rejections. At European Geeks, we believe in supporting authors - ours or otherwise - and to help ease the pain of the submission process, we've compiled a list of tips for those who are about to brave the submission world.
Regardless of how ground breaking your novel may be - there is more to what a publisher considers than just your manuscript. You may be the next J.K. Rowling, but if you're missing one of these items on the checklist, it's likely that you won't get picked up for traditional publishing. While writing is an art, publishing is a business and has to be treated as such. Entering into a contract with an author is no different than signing a deal with a fortune 500 company - it has to be profitable or everyone involved loses.
So what exactly is this checklist that publishers consider before signing a contract with an author?
Publishing is a business, just like any other, and for that business to be successful, it depends on the validity of the partner. Publishers want to find authors who are great business people. Your work is your product, so learn to push, sell, and promote it and yourself. These are the first steps you can take in securing your first publishing contract.
As an author myself, I know how terrifying the query process can be. I suppose in some ways, it's the same as awaiting college acceptance letters or eagerly expecting a phone call after a job interview. It's nerve-racking, exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Now that I am lucky enough to have expanded my reach into the publishing industry, I spend a lot of time perusing manuscripts. I personally hand-select each manuscript that is accepted by European Geeks - so let me just assure you that I spend a large amount of time reviewing queries and manuscripts.
Because I was an author first, I opened EG with the intent of being author friendly. I want to pull back the velvet curtain and expose the wizard - to shine some light on the darker corners of the publishing process, so that my fellow authors understand the industry better - perhaps giving them a heads up on what we publishers look for. If I can help just a handful of authors with the opening of European Geeks, I'll be happy, regardless of whether they are EG authors or not. I have and will continue to maintain an open door policy at EG - whether I'm answering questions for my own authors or others.
With that said, here are some tips to help you stand out when submitting to smaller publishers.
Take Time With Your Query Letter
Do not rush through your query letter!!! I cannot stress this enough. It does not have to be exceptionally personalized... you don't need to creep around on my blog or Twitter account to create a query. If you happen to follow and feel there is something worth mentioning, that's fine... but there is no need to go crazy with the personal research. What is most important is that your query letter contain all of the important information - your name, background & basic resume, synopsis, and genre information for your book. Pay close attention to the publisher's requirements. If they ask for X amount of chapters to be pasted into the body of the email, include EXACTLY that amount: no more, no less - and make sure not to include it as an attachment, unless requested. Most publishers won't open an unrequested attachment which ends your query before they've even read your submission. The most important thing to remember is spelling, grammar, and tone. If your letter is misspelled or poorly written, you can bet I won't be reading your included work.
Send Your Best Work
While this may sound like a no-brainer, you would be surprised at how much this piece of advice is ignored. While writing the last page of your manuscript is a momentous experience - in no way does that mean it is time to hit the send button! Small and Indie publishers usually operate with a smaller staff, which is why their royalty rates are the most competitive. However, this generally means that they won't take on a piece that will need heavy editing or story development. Once you have finished writing, put it away for a week to a month. Give your brain a break from it. Then pull it back out and go through your first round of edits. Then, give it to someone you trust - whether it is a friend or family member who is critical and excels in English or a freelance editor or fellow author - to do another round. Of course, one more round yourself will help catch any major errors that were missed in the first two rounds.
Because EG is run on such a small staff (allowing us to offer 50% royalties on print and 55% on ebooks) we won't take on a project that chock full of errors. We do understand that there will be some mistakes - but if I have to spend too much time with a red pen, chances are I won't be taking on your piece.
Set up a Professional Author Website with Accommodating Social Media Accounts
Once I have read your letter, I will check out any links you include in your query. If you don't include anything, my next step is most likely to Google you. It is important to show an online presence in today's literary world, as this is where most of your readers are. With websites such as Wix or Square Space out there now, there is no excuse when it comes to an author website. You can build a professional, eye-catching site in a matter of minutes. If your site is poorly designed, written, or maintained... well, you know the drill.
Keep an eye out for more tips from the founder of European Geeks Publishing, Elisha Neubauer. You can reach Elisha through email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, on any of our social media accounts, or by leaving a comment below. Happy writing!