Industry Submission Standards

On a writer’s forum I participate in, one woman said, “I wish agents and editors would get together and set an industry standard.” I tried to answer her, and realized it might be something worth blogging.

As an acquisitions editor and author, I’ve been on both sides of this process. As an author the tendency is to want to create a standard query letter, summary, and writing sample (first few pages) that you can just attach as you comb through hundreds of agents and editors and submit to everybody in the world. I know that’s what I wanted. The submission process is so time consuming and slow.

However, once I had some things published I realized the mass-blast method doesn’t work. The publishers are investing their money in these books. So they look for just the right things to interest them. Sure, a great book will appeal to a larger number of people. But writing is so unique that the trick becomes finding just the right person who loves and believes in your work.

All my best connections have been cultivated, not won like a lottery.

So as an acquisitions editor, I realize a mass-blast submission doesn’t work because it fails to give me the exact information I want. Also, it makes me miss pieces I might otherwise have liked in the pile of slush. It is too cumbersome not to have submissions which fit my needs.

As an example, here are our submission guidelines:

We don’t want writing credentials. Our philosophy is to find good work from anybody. So obviously, when somebody sends us a standard query with their writing history on it, we know they haven’t bothered to read the directions. Thus it might not be something we even publish. And with our time so stretched, we can’t invest time in a submission from an author who isn’t willing to invest time in us. The author has just one book to invest time in. We have dozens at any one time.

Believe me, I know it’s a frustrating process. I have well over a hundred rejections (or ignored submissions) for my queries over the years. But if you take my advice, instead of spending your time digging up every publishing company in the known world and scattering your boiler plate query to the four winds, you’ll spend your time looking for people who publish work like yours and have the same kinds of ideas about literature as you do. Once I learned this, I started getting everything I wrote published. Instead of trying to win the lottery, think of your writing as a foster child for whom you want to find just the right home. The people who will love your work are out there. But they need you to come to them.


2 thoughts on “Industry Submission Standards

  1. I don’t mind tailoring a query letter for a specific market. I do mind, however, the plethora of guidelines that deviate from Standard Manuscript Format for the actual manuscript. This one wants two spaces after a period, that one wants one. This one wants a hashtag as a scene break, that one wants three asterisks. Use Courier New for this one, Times New Roman for that one, and Garamond for the other one over there. Double space. One and a half space. Use tabs for paragraphs. No, wait, use the ruler thing. Gah, no, single space the thing with a space between paragraphs. Headers! No headers! Just a page number! Nevermind! Underline, no, italicize. Don’t get me started on plain text.

    I will more than happily format the thing to heck and gone after it’s accepted. But I really do not like being tapped as an unpaid typesetter, especially for picky things that have no bearing on the quality of my prose and everything to do with making me jump through ridiculous hoops to prove I read the guidelines. I swear, for some of my stories I have more different versions to fit guidelines than I do drafts.

    …sorry. Rant over.

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