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Friday, June 27, 2014

Pitching to a Publishing Company -- Guest Post

Have you dusted off that novel you've been working on during naptime yet? If not, you should. Today, I've got Kristen Duvall  from Fey Publishing talking about the largest obstacle to getting publishing...getting off a good pitch.

When people think about the publishing industry, they often think of the big guys. You know who I'm talking about – HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, etc.

But there are smaller presses out there too, and many of them doing pretty well. Small presses are a nice middle-ground between the big houses, who are notoriously hard to get signed with, and self-publishing, which while I support, may not be everyone's cup of tea. Some writers want the editorial help that comes with working with a publishing house. They also want someone else to handle cover design, formatting and the hundreds of other little things that go into publishing a book. Not to mention that some writers like having the publishing credit, and the ability to say they were picked up by a publishing house, no matter how small.

I'll be honest, I don't make much doing this – but I love it. I acquired Fey Publishing with a few books in the catalog already, but I've also put out several books on my own now too.  And I've learned a lot about the publishing industry along the way which helps me as a writer. (Yes, I do both. No, I never have any time for myself, why do you ask?)

One of the biggest lessons I've learned though, is an important one - How to grab an editor's attention.

Sure, I may be small, but I see a lot of submissions. I've read query letter after query letter, learned what turned me (and my staff readers) off right away and what intrigued me enough to pull a manuscript from the pile for a closer look.

Yes, the first step is writing a great novel. But in order to get noticed in a pile filled with hundreds of great manuscripts, you need to make yourself stand out. Since I am a small press, I'm unable to publish a ton of books at a time, so I have to be extra picky, and I have to turn down good novels all the time simply because I don't have the time to publish all of them.

So what worked? How did a writer manage to capture my attention?

1)  They were confident and ambitious. For example, when Charlotte Pickering submitted her manuscript, she included plans for the book that included a short film/trailer, songs performed by a local band that referenced the book, and meetings with important figures in her area. Before I even read her manuscript, I knew this woman believed in her book. And guess what? It made me believe in it too. I pulled up her manuscript right away, and just like I thought it would be, Messiah of the Slums is a success. And a large part of that success is because the author isn't afraid to put herself out there. Many public figures have ignored her e-mails and calls, but other key political and religious figures have given her glowing reviews.

That's also how Mallory Evans-Coyne caught my attention as well. Paisley Sage and the Hole in the Sky comes out in October, and already, Mallory is thinking big and getting her name out there. Both of these ladies set their goals high, but are willing to work for it and take chances. Their ambition packaged with a great novel is ultimately what made me sign them. It's also what will lead them to great, and well earned success.

2) Pay attention to the editor's interests. Oftentimes you'll see specific details about what they're looking for, or sometimes they share their interests via social media (look at #mswl on Twitter). Knowing that an editor is looking for a specific theme, tailor your query letter to reflect that theme. For instance, KL Mabbs read that I was looking for LGBT characters and strong women. He submitted his YA fantasy novel, Spellsword, and made sure to draw my attention to the fact that his main characters fit both those criteria.  He nailed two of my biggest wants right away, meaning his novel went to the top of the pile.

Unfortunately, I have to reject more submissions than I accept. Believe me, this is something I hate to do. And because I receive a lot of submissions, I can't read through all of them and expect to get any work done. Most of the time, I at least try to read through the first three chapters of a manuscript that piques my interest. But there are ways to lose me in the query letter and never even make it that stage.

So what doesn't work for me?

1) Over-confidence. Yes, confidence is great – but don't be an asshat about it. I once had someone submit their first novel to me (the first one they'd ever written, mind you) with a letter stating they had more talent than all the indie writers in the world combined. I'm not kidding. From the sound of the letter, this person wasn't going to take criticism well at all. They went on and on about how talented and perfect they were as a writer.  While I leave much of the creative control to the author, there are times when critical feedback and editing are necessary evils. This one – well – just based on the query letter, it sounded like more trouble than it was worth. Especially for an idea that didn't sound that original or unique to begin with. So it was a no.

2) Starting out a query letter by saying “I know your guidelines say you're not accepting {genre I don't accept}, but I believe my novel is different than the rest.”  For example, I clearly state “no children's books” and I get children's books on a regular basis. And oftentimes, the writer knows I'm not accepting that genre and includes a note right there in the query letter – usually in the first line.  I'm sorry, but guidelines are there for a reason. Ignoring them and firing me off a query letter anyway is a waste of your time as well as my time. And I wouldn't be doing you any favors by accepting your work either because I know NOTHING about that genre.

3) Not reading the guidelines at all.  Even if the genre is what I'm looking for, I still have simple directions on how to submit. Don't find my personal e-mail address and submit the novel there. There's a good chance it'll got lost if you do that. Don't e-mail the company e-mail address if it says to submit via Submittable. Again, likely to get lost.

I know most of this is probably common sense for most people, but sadly, things like these happen all too frequently. No one wants to go through all the trouble of writing an excellent book, submitting it somewhere and then never getting it read. Of course, there's no guarantee that even if it was read that it would be published, but following the simple guidelines might help increase the odds, if only a bit. 




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