Remember that you are presenting your work with the expectation that a publisher will purchase it and agree to spend at least five figures producing and marketing the finished product. Because of the amount of money to be invested, you will reasonably expect the publisher to do a professional job producing and selling your work. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the publisher expects to receive from you a professionally prepared submission that contains the elements needed to evaluate both you, as a writer, and your work, as a product with sales potential. Even small presses and university presses will want to be correctly approached.
When you approach a publisher with your manuscript, you have assumed a sales role. You may not have any experience in sales, and you might even wonder why an appropriate presentation is even necessary, no less essential. After all, you have what a publisher wants, right? It’s the raw material that will be used to create a saleable product. You may even think, The acquisitions editor will either like it or not and The only thing that matters is the book’s content. In the end, it will come down to something close to that, but your initial sales efforts are expended to get your manuscript read.
Once read, your book will either make the cut or it won’t; it will be published based on its quality (and often your qualifications to write it). Toward that end, you must:
- Adhere to the publisher’s writer’s guidelines for submission. More isn’t better, and less is wasted effort.
- Print your cover letter on great-looking, professionally produced letterhead. No handwritten letters on notebook paper with holes. No legal pads. No illegible or cutsie fonts.
- Learn about how to create a cover letter that gives your book its best chance to be read. This is your sales letter. No begging, no whining. No sidebars about your personal problems unless they’re relevant to the book’s topic. No rave reviews from relatives and neighbors. Do not give the acquisitions editor a lecture about copyright infringement or theft.
- Prepare three synopses: a brief, one-paragraph blurb (like catalog copy); page-length copy (similar to back cover copy); and a three-page treatment. Use the one that best meets the publisher’s writer’s guidelines requirements.
- Prepare a literary bio and describe all of your writing experiences. For nonfiction authors in professional fields, two bios should be written. One should be similar to the one that appears in your book’s “About the Author” page, while the other should be a longer read, much like a curriculum vita.
- Deliver a professionally produced manuscript. Your work must be technically correct (grammar, spelling, voice) and formatted according to the publisher’s writer’s guidelines. Understand that some publishers will want to see only a few sample chapters. Again, more is not better, and less is wasted effort.
Professionalism should be your goal in every detail of your package. Spell names correctly when addressing, include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) for the publisher’s reply and a postage-paid return mailer if you want rejected materials returned. Be patient for a reply. Wash your hands before handling anything if you smoke. Do not harass the acquisitions editor or the editorial staff with repeated phone calls (although I know authors who have been published, including one of my own company’s authors, from doing just that). Expect delays during holidays and during times of national book events (end of May, beginning of June).
If you feel like you don’t know enough about publishing, you could be correct, and you might consider dedicating yourself to learning more.
Betsy Lampe has 20 years of experience in the book publishing industry. She is president and editorial director of Rainbow Books, Inc., a 30year-old, family-owned, independent publisher of self-help/how-to nonfiction and a very small line of mystery fiction (characte-driven medical murder mysteries and cozies). Rainbow publishes approximately 20 titles per year. It is a house member ofAAP, PAS (founding members) and FPA (founding members), and its books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor and many, many other specialty distributors. Betsy also works as association executive of the Florida Publishers Association, Inc. She can be reached at BetsyLampe@aol.com.