Failure to follow simple instructions can result in authors and their books being dismissed. If authors want others to read and appreciate their books, first they need to follow submission guidelines set by publishers, agents, and reviewers.
At some point, almost everyone has had to apply for a job. Being able to do a job requires being able to follow directions, and the same rule applies to authors—to get attention for your book, follow directions—whether you’re submitting your book to agents, publishers, book reviewers, or for media coverage.
At one point in my career, I was responsible for hiring people. If I put an ad in the newspaper that said, “Submit a resume and cover letter with three references, no phone calls,” I would invariably get people calling to ask about the job. Because they did not follow directions, I would get their names and then discard their resumes. Often, I would get resumes without cover letters or references. I would discard those as well. Then of the people who followed directions, I would eliminate people who didn’t take the time to proofread their work. Following directions are basic if you want to get a job. I was not being harsh in how I eliminated people. I only had one job to offer and fifty applicants; if people couldn’t follow directions in their applications, I knew they wouldn’t be able to follow more complicated directions on the job.
Recently, more and more authors have also decided not to follow directions. At Reader Views, we clearly have on our website the instructions for submitting a book for review. On our home page is a link to the submission directions page. It’s at the top of the page and very clearly says, “Submit a Book.” Nevertheless, I get emails from authors asking how to submit a book. It takes more time for these authors to write me an email than to read the submission guidelines. And it takes longer to find my email address on the website than to find the submission guidelines.
My friends who are literary agents or publishers experience the same thing. People send them manuscripts when they request only query letters. Publishers who specialize in romance novels get mystery novels. A friend of mine who is president of a publishing association in the Midwest for Midwest authors gets emails from authors in California asking for help promoting their books. Another reviewer I know was sent a children’s book he did not request for review and was not queried to review. When he emailed the author to explain he did not review children’s books, he was sent back a form email saying, “I love your review. Please post it at Amazon.” Sometimes, you have to wonder that some of these authors even know how to write when they clearly can’t read.
But I’m not here just to complain. My point is that following directions is extremely important to get your book the attention it deserves—whether by publishers, literary agents, reviewers, newspaper reporters, or television producers.
Yes, it’s easy to compose one email or letter and send it out to everyone. And it’s then equally easy for those who receive it to see it is a form letter, and to realize you didn’t bother to read their submission guidelines or look at their website or research which types of books they review or represent. What is “easy” can be more work and more disappointment in the long run if you don’t get any results from your form letter.
All publishers, agents, and book reviewers have specifications for how they want to receive books. A few basics across the board for making submissions are to include your email address, your phone number, your book title, your mailing address, and your book’s category (fiction, non-fiction, biography, romance, fantasy etc.) when you send in your book. Beyond that, publishers and reviewers vary in what they require.
Some publishers want only query letters, some agents only want the first three chapters and not the entire manuscript, and some book reviewers only want published books, not manuscripts. Because these guidelines differ by company and individual, I can’t give you specifics on how to submit your book or manuscript. You need to read the instructions which are usually easily found on the company’s website. Only if the instructions are not perfectly clear do you email the publisher or reviewer for clarification. And never disregard the instructions, thinking if the agent wants only three chapters, those three chapters aren’t representative enough of your book so you’ll send the entire manuscript. Trust me, the agent probably won’t even read the three chapters if she gets the entire manuscript.
Chances are if you submit your work and don’t follow instructions, you will never hear from the publisher or reviewer—not because they are rude but because they have so many submissions and so many people who don’t follow instructions that they simply cannot respond to everyone and still get their real work done of finding worthy books to review or publish.
If you do get a negative response, such as a request for more information because you did not follow instructions, or simply that the person is not interested in your book, be polite, thank the person for his or her time, do what you can to resolve the problem, or simply move on, having learned from the experience what not to do in the future. Be sure not to repeat your mistake.
The same goes with anyone with whom you work in the publishing world. A bookstore owner I know recently told me about an author who yelled at him because the store was not selling more of her books. This same author would come into the store and move her books from their shelf to where she thought they belonged in the store—she did not own the store, so by doing so, she was not playing by the bookstore’s rules. When her second book was published, guess what happened? The bookstore refused to carry the book.
Good manners in the publishing world consists of being polite, but also following directions. Woody Allen once said that half of success is just showing up. In the book world, half of success is just following basic guidelines. By being an author who follows directions, you’ve already beat out half your competition.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.