I’ve been noticing a bunch of activity in the query pile this week. Coupled with my recent visits to writing conferences, I figured now is as good of a time as any to talk about the business of submitting to an agent or a publisher. No doubt, for some of you this is a topic that has been beaten to death, and I won’t make any promises of anything groundbreaking here. I won’t be offended if you beam yourself away until next week.
Okay, now that the knowitalls are gone, let’s discuss this in a frank and grown-up way. Even if it sounds like I’m being a jerk, I can promise you that I am not. I respect the hell out of people who decide to write.
(1) Find the guidelines of the agent/publisher you are querying. Follow them. A mental checklist to follow would be to confirm that the person you are querying has an interest in the type of book you’ve written, that your book is within (or very very close) to the word count, confirm that the person is accepting submissions, and prepare your submission to spec. If the agent asks for 25 pages and a synopsis in an email, email that. If they ask only for a query letter be mailed to their office, do that.
Like I said, our query pile has grown a little more than usual this week. I’m assuming something got mentioned on a website somewhere. Some of the queries are going through the legitimate channel, following the guidelines from the Tyrus Books website. Still other queries are coming through an email address associated with F+W Crime. It should be noted that (1) F+W Crime doesn’t actually publish books under that name, and (2) it CLEARLY states on the F+W Crime site that “We are NOT currently accepting submissions of any sort.”
So, why are people submitting there? I don’t know. What am I supposed to do with those queries? Do I owe those people a response? A redirect? I don’t know. Part of me wants to be helpful and say, “Well, actually…” But then part of me is also working on forecasting for 2012, publicity efforts for new books, reading the books that we’ve already got in house, etc.
Tangentially, an idea for a novel is never enough for anybody to accept. The proof is in the pudding. Every now and then I’ll have somebody tell me at great length about a book they are going to write. As somebody who has written a few novels of his own, and knows how much the story can change from the excited discussion stage to “the end” stage, I can do little more than encourage an author to quit talking about the book and to write it. Don’t query something you haven’t written.
(2) I want you to be confident in your book. For me, that means you’ve taken your time to polish and edit that manuscript into the best it can possibly be. One of my favorite authors, a guy I’ve had the pleasure of publishing for ten years, is John Galligan. By the time I see a book from him, he’s already gone through five, six, maybe ten drafts. He doesn’t show it to me until all of the nagging doubts are in quiet in his head.
Sometimes some people make Publisher Bear sad when they mistake confidence with arrogance. If your query letter says, “My book is a guaranteed bestseller!” or “I’ve got a legit connection to Oprah. If you publish this, we’ll count the money together!” my first reaction is to fill up the virtual recycle bin. This industry is so in flux that it’s nearly impossible to predict what tomorrow is going to bring. Couple that with there being no formula for making a best seller (if there was, no book would ever fail), and I start getting worried, super worried that the other another assertion, not yet voiced, will be, “I deserve a million dollar advance!” A conversation better left unhad.
That’s like showing up on a first date—a blind date, no less—with spaghetti stains on your shirt, talking loudly, asking questions just so you can give your answer, etc. etc. And nobody calls that guy back. Ever. So don’t be that guy.
(3) Remember that if your book isn’t a good fit for a publisher or an agent, that isn’t a condemnation of you as a human being. Relative to the amount of queries coming in, the openings for new professional relationships with any given publisher or agent are few and far between. To be effective at what we do, we need to have the time to do multiple things for those people with whom we work. We can’t be the best we can be if we’re stretched too thin.
A’ight, I’m out of here to get back to work, but if YOU have questions about the querying process, put them in the comments section and we’ll keep the dialogue going.
Publisher Bear, out.