Why I’ll Never Send an Unsolicited Manuscript

Years ago I had a publishing company. When it was new, I eager and optimistic. I had left my day job, I had an investor and new work spaces in our spare bedroom, thanks to a carpenter friend. I owned a new fax machine, and I happily began building our new publishing company.

I acquired our ISBNs from RR Bowker, listing with them and in other publishing trade references. We sent out press releases about our little company and celebrated with a bit of fanfare.

I envisioned days packed with conversations with authors, designing exquisite books, filling bookstore orders, making presentations to the sales staff of the distributor we didn’t have yet, and picking up the mail at our post office box.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Because we were already running direct-mail campaigns, there was usually something rewarding in the mail. One day, there was a large manila envelope.

Excitedly, I pored over our first manuscript submission. I was in awe that an author had found us so quickly and had thought enough of our fledgling company to send his manuscript, cover letter, and outline for our consideration. We really were a publishing company!

This manuscript, while competently written, wasn’t in our specialty, though. I packed it carefully and wrote a thoughtful letter to the author explaining our situation, commenting on his manuscript and mentioning a possible publisher.

Spending quality time on the rejection of our first potential author made me feel good. I had treated him with dignity and encouragement and even included a suggested next move – just as I would want to be treated. I knew then that we wouldn’t be using form letters!

The Pile

It didn’t take long before we were busy with books and billing and selling rights and the big manila envelopes that kept coming. Initially, I was amazed that so many people had found us; however, why did they think that we published books about past life therapy and crop circles?

Soon there wasn’t enough time to read each manuscript, much less compose a heartfelt letter to the author. So we started a pile on the end of the long desk. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if we were going to survive in publishing, I needed to focus on the books we were publishing, not on the ones we weren’t.

The weeks passed, and the pile grew. I tried to walk past without looking at it in order to avoid at least some of the guilt of envisioning authors glued to their mailboxes.

And then I began hating the pile and the people who kept sending the big manila envelopes of past life regression, satanic possession, the triumph of overcoming childhood abuse, the triumph of overcoming divorce. What had I done to deserve this? And how could I make it stop?

Taking Care of The Pile

I realized it would be impossible to devote individual attention to the authors of the unsolicited manuscripts, so we drew up a form ‘submission reply letter.’

Most authors included a stamped, self-addressed manila envelope with their submission in order to get their manuscript back if rejected. So those book authors who had included postage received their manuscripts and our new letter.

Those who didn’t include return postage with their manuscripts? We didn’t have a fancy office with a mailroom or the money to pay for returning so many heavy packages. And so we didn’t. Let’s just say the recycling bin got a little fuller that day.

And I resolved to never send an unsolicited manuscript to anyone. Ever.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, California that has launched many self-publishers. Joel is a book designer, a self-published author, and blogs about publishing and book design. To learn more about self-publishing a book, book and cover design, and the intricacies of the publishing process, please visit Joel’s blog at http://www.theBookDesigner.com today.