Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pushing the Envelope

by Lu Ann Staheli

So many want-to-be writers have the same roadblock stopping them from success—they don’t send enough submissions.

For some, the fear of rejection stops them from actually sending their work out to editors. For others, they are so busy worrying about the arbitrary rules set down by publishers—no multiple submissions, agented submissions only, wait 6-10 months for a response, etc.—that they either wait months at a time for a rejection that is sure to come or they fail to send their submission to a house or publication that might be waiting for just what they have written.

All too often, today’s publishers do not even respond to submissions, SASE or not. The author who follows the rules might wait for a long time, never having the nerve to send the same submission to another house, always in hopes that the one place they’ve sent it will come through in the very end. I hate to break your bubble, but that scenario isn’t likely to happen.

So, if you want to increase your chances of publication, you have to break the cycle of follow-the-rules, then sit and wait. Here are a few tips to help you get around those roadblocks and into the fast lane toward publication, even if it means more rejection.

First, let me assure you, a fast rejection is not a bad thing. The quicker you find out who doesn’t want your manuscript, the better chance you have to find the right house or publication for your work. A quick rejection will help you cull the list of potential markets for all of your work, saving you the trouble of submitting again and again to an editor or house who isn’t a good match for your style.

Next, remember that multiple queries and multiple submissions are two separate things. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t send several queries out for a single project at the same time. The likelihood of more than one publisher wanting to grab it up is slim, and even if they did, what a great place to find yourself. That is how bidding wars that drive up an author’s advance and the final contract percentage happen with books. I know one writer who had two houses buy the same non-fiction book from the same query. The author took the same information and wrote one book from a humorous slant while the second was for the more serious sportsman. Two advance checks and royalties for the same work, all because he sent multiple queries for a project he believed in.

As for those editors who say they only accept submissions from an agent, this may not be entirely true. Some editors will accept queries from anyone, agent or not. Others will accept queries and submissions from people they have met (interpret this to include spoken-in-front-of) at a writer’s workshop or conference. If you’ve attended a conference, or if you belong to SCBWI, it doesn’t hurt to add a label on the outside of your submission envelope stating this.

Even a rejection of a particular manuscript or idea does not mean the editor has rejected you altogether. Pay attention to any notes or comments you might receive that encourages you to submit something else to the same editor. I use a self-addressed postcard with check-off options in my submissions. Many times editors will choose the option that states: “Although this manuscript does not meet my current needs, please feel free to query me on another project.” I always take advantage of that invitation, and so should you.

Editors can’t buy your work if they don’t know you’re out there, so, if you’re sitting around waiting for that response from a single editor, wait no more. Get busy and send your query out to additional places who buy the same kind of pieces. Every time a rejection comes back, send the query out to another house. Keep track of where and when you are sending, then be ready to smile when the request for a completed manuscript a contract offer comes through.


Shanna Blythe said...

Lu Ann,

Thanks for the comments. It is crazy about how specific some publishers are about not wanting a multiple submission.

I used to wonder if there was some great database out there that automatically recorded your submission and sent an e-mail to the editor receiving it, "Alert! Alert! You have a manuscript that is at other publishing houses at the moment. Do not read this. Throw it away."

Because otherwise how the heck would they even know? It is so frustrating to try to follow the rules and submit once or twice a year.

So thanks for the advice!

Celise said...

What I would like to know is...what if you send your work to an editor, they like it, want to buy it, but you have no agent. Are you expected to get one if an offer is made?

I wouldn't mind submitting to both editors and agents, but I've heard time and again, that I should get an agent first.

Can you give me your opinion on this?

Lisa said...

This was a GREAT article. And perfect timing (for me)!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Thanks for your question. If an editor is open to submissions that are not represented by an agent, then you don't need an agent, at least not right away. I would suggest looking for both at the same time, always keeping a record of who you've submitted each project to because an agent might ask about previous submissions to editors for a given book. You can always do what children's author Mette Harrison did. When she was offered a book contract, she contacted an agent who was willing to represent her, leaving someone else to work out her contract details. An agent can sometimes get more money for you, but it also takes some of your profits to pay them. You have to weigh your options, but at this stage, the biggest goal should be to get something accepted for publication and that may mean you represent yourself for awhile. You are your own biggest fan and you will love your work so much that you will keep trying to get it published, even after an agent might move onto to another project or someone else as a writer. Good luck, and keep submitting!

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

I laughed right out loud about your automatic database idea! You're right. There is no way they can know you submitted elsewhere unless you tell them. If you're lucky enough to have an editor request the entire manuscript, you can always send a notice of withdrawal to any other publishers you might have queried. You might want to wait until a contract is offered though to be on the safe side. We never want to burn bridges in the publishing world. You never know who will change houses tomorrow!
Lu Ann

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Good luck and let us know when you get something accepted!
Lu Ann

Heather B. Moore said...

Celise, Brandon Sanderson (prolific fantasy author) found a publisher first. Then he contacted an agent who he'd queried several times and received helpful feedback from . . . of course that agent was happy to represent him. The agent was, in the future, able to get him bigger deals and series contracts. So it's definately been done both ways! At recent RWA conference, one of the agents told me she had authors contact her AFTER securing a publisher--so that the agent could work a stronger/multiple-deal and the author didn't have to deal with all the legalities.