Thursday, May 15, 2008

My opinion on submissions and The Fear

I was talking to the lovely Betsy Bird last night (that's Ms. Fuse #8 for those who don't know her secret identity) and my lack of blogging came up. More to the point, I was told to blog. HAHAHA! And if you're smart, you know you must do as The Fuse tells you. ;-)

No, but really the reason I haven't been blogging much lately is what I like to call The Fear. It's subconscious, it's hellish, and it will stunt your growth (as a blogger). The Fear is that feeling of angst that one gets when thinking about blogging, a sense of worry that somehow you will end up fired or missing out on some sort of growth opportunity because you said the wrong thing. Sure you can avoid The Fear by posting smartly, but it still lives inside your head. But I don't want to let The Fear control my blogging and frankly, I'm sick of only vent-blogging over in my super-secret blog, so here I am with an actual topic.

I'm a Watch-and-Comment member over at Fangs, Fur and Fey, a dark, urban fantasy community on LiveJournal (which means I can't start a topic -- that is reserved for the published authors -- but I can read and discuss in the comments section). There is a great crowd over there, a mix of authors (published and not), editors, readers, and other sub-groups I am sure I don't even know about. I usually mostly read and don't comment, but the other day, someone posted a topic that sparked my interest enough to comment, and then it came up in conversation with Ms. Fuse last night, so I thought it would be a good first post to help combat The Fear.

The original post is here - and I wanted to speak on my own preferences as an editor, when receiving a manuscript for consideration. Obviously I can only speak for myself and what I've heard and experienced from colleagues both in-house and at other companies (so basically trade publishing houses), but I thought it could be helpful. But there are A LOT of rules out there, not all of which matter, so I'm going some things that I'm going to list the things that I DO NOT recommend doing when sending in a submission.

First things first -- most of the rules floating around out there are probably outdated, rumor, or specific to a particular house (or possibly migrated over from some type of lit mag). I'm a strong believer in breaking the rules when there doesn't seem to be a logical reason to follow them and so I say (and keep reading for some exceptions) THROW OUT THE RULES! The exceptions -- the first page of your manuscript should have your full name, the title of your book and your contact information on it. The rest of your pages should be paginated and have your last name and the book title in the header or footer. 1" margins are always good, and it should be obvious that you should check your grammar and spelling and be sending in the cleanest manuscript possible, but other than that, there's nothing else I can think of as a MUST-HAVE (and of course, other editors should feel free to comment below and add anything I might have missed, or that applies to their house). We don't care how far down on the page your first chapter starts, or whether your chapters are named or just numbered. That stuff is unimportant for the first stage.

Overall, the best advice I can give is to check each publisher's submission guidelines. They will give you all the rules you need to apply to that specific house. Not only will they help you put together the best package to submit for our consideration, but if you DON'T follow those rules, it shows us that you are someone who either doesn't take direction well or who doesn't care, and it helps that house single out the writers who can act professional.

Some things you shouldn't do (read: my griping)

*Your font should match your novel. As I said in the comments on Fangs, Fur, and Fey, I would never decline a project based solely on the font. I hate Courier. I think it's ugly and many editors I've spoken with have agreed. And I've probably fallen in love with some manuscripts that were presented in Courier. But it is just another hurdle for the editor to get past while reading, and if they have trouble reading because of the font, they could mistake that as a lack of interest on their part or a pacing issue.

By all means, if Courier fits your project, use it. And if the font that best matches your novel is unreadable and filled with curly, girly lettering, DON'T use it. Readability and presentation are both important. When in doubt, Times New Roman and Arial are both fairly safe to use. They're presentable and readable without being atrociously ugly.

*For the love of god, please paginate your manuscript. It's not detrimental, but it can be a pain in the neck, and if I accidentally drop your manuscript and have to figure out where each page goes by reading the first and last line on every page, I'm not going to be happy and that's not going to help me love your project.

*Don't be sneaky, sketchy or a liar. Because of my company's policies, the editors here usually only see unagented projects from writers who have attended our conference events or who we've sought out on our own. If you didn't attend one of our events, don't send your manuscript in and say that you heard about our event or saw that we had attended the same conference. That's being sneaky. Also being sneaky -- if we say you request queries and you send the first three chapters, or if we request the first three chapters and you send your full. Sure, that makes you stick out in the slush pile, but it makes you stick as out someone who doesn't listen to our request, and that causes disgruntled feelings.

Also, please don't send your full manuscript and say "you requested to see my full manuscript" if we didn't. If I requested your full manuscript, I am going to remember you and if you are not one of those people, I am going to know. That's being a liar.

*It doesn't matter if you use a rubber band or a binder clip or a paper clip or a staple (though that last is a pain in the neck, frankly). That's not important. But please bind your pages together somehow so that when I take them out of the envelope, they aren't flopping all over the place, and so I don't have to go hunting for a paperclip.

*In general, if I haven't requested material from you, it's not in your best interest to send me something. Unsolicited queries and manuscripts get automatically given to the department assistant and/or intern, who will then send your materials back to you with a form letter stating our company policy. That's a waste of postage and why would you want to do that to yourself? And trust me -- nothing you say is going to change our minds because we're not even really reading the cover letter. We're skimming it to see if it says SCBWI or one of the other conferences we've attended, or to see if it is from someone we actually have met. But if that info isn't included, it goes in the pile.

*Likewise, if I have requested something from you or you attended an event I was at, please be sure to write that on the envelope and/or in the cover letter. Preferably in big letters on the envelope. If I don't know that you are sending your stuff to me for a reason, I won't know to hold onto it and read it.

*Be aware of what I'm looking for and don't send me something that I'm not looking for -- even if you attended a conference event that I attended, if you send me something I have no interest in, you're wasting your time. For example, I am not a fan of sports books, non-fiction, or (most) historical fiction. I usually will say that at conferences. If you send me a sports book, it's getting declined. I have a colleague who is very specific about the types of picture books she does and does not like. So if you're sending to her and she has said "I don't like x, y and z" and your picture book falls into that category, you're wasting her time as well as your own time and money. I know it's tempting to say, "well maybe I could just try..." or "maybe once they read it..." but the odds of that happening are slim to none and are more likely that we'll get frustrated that you're sending us something we aren't interested in. There's a reason we said we weren't interested and we're saying it so you won't be misled or confused about what to send us.

With agents it's different because they know us and we can usually pass agented projects to a colleague who would be more appropriate. But that isn't a reality when it comes to unagented projects, no matter how nice you are or how sweet and/or professional you are in your cover letter.

I'm sure there's more, but that's all from me for now. This is not new info. It's all out there already. But if posting this can help one person from wasting postage or missing an obvious error, then it did its job. Please discuss! I want to hear from other editors in the comments section and if there are questions from writers out there, I want to hear those too. Make me interact with my blog more, so I have more reasons to come back and update more often.

And now, I'm off to see a friend who just moved back from being out of state for a few months (I know -- what was she thinking?). We're going (what else) book shopping! WOO!

Next up - a discussion on mass markets and their reputation. Stay tuned.


Julie said...

Hi TS - great post! I agree about courier - it looks pretty unpleasant on the Sony Reader (I've even changed it in the file a few times because it got on my nerves).

I tagged you for a meme if you're interested! It's here:

Fuse #8 said...

Woah, baby! When you post, you really post! Very humbling stuff. I tip my hat to you.

T.S. said...

I hope it helps even a few people. And maybe even sparks a small comment-discussion.

Colorado Writer said...

The Fear works against pre-published writers, too.

How do you feel about pull and seal envelopes vs. licky ones? Cute stamps? Yes or no. Is it okay to write on the submission with a sharpie or should I try to print a label?

This are things writers can agonize over.

Not me, but some. :)

Keep going. I enjoy your posts.

alvina said...

Very informative post. I agree. If the book is great, we'll overlook "breaking the rules." I don't care what font the book is in, as long as it's legible. And I also agree that different editors will have different preferences, so don't bother agonizing about the little stuff.

T.S. said...

Colorado Writer -- pull and seal are definitely preferable to us assistants who have to send things back, but that's something you shouldn't worry about. If you have a supply of the lick-em kind, they're perfectly fine to use and I don't think any (ethical) editor would intentionally not respond to you just because of something like that (unless it stated so in their submission guidelines).

In terms of addressing the envelope -- either/or. Again, for that type of thing there's no hard and fast rule. I know when I receive the package, I usually just look to see if it says "SCBWI" on it and then I tear it open and toss the jiffy. The envelope itself isn't important. It's the juicy insides that count.

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you for discussing envelopes and such.

Maybe I missed something. Do you or your house take queries from SCBWI members in general, or only from SCBWI members who attended a recent conference with you?

Also, could you discuss what goes on during an acquisition? Time frame, notifying the author about the potential, etc.


T.S. said...

We only accept unagented MS from writers who have attended OUR events at conferences. Or at least that's how everyone I've discussed it with operates.

As far as the acquisitions process -- that might be a whole 'nother post. But the general skeleton of our acquisitions process is that we have to read it, love it, and have it read and loved by other editors, the editorial director/executive editor/editor-in-chief, and then sales, marketing, publicity and the publisher. Then, if everyone loves it, we make an offer. The time frame can depend on whether there are other editors at other houses bidding against us, when our acquisitions meetings are scheduled for, what other projects the other editors/sales/marketing have on their plates at the moment, etc.

Colorado Writer said...

Thanks, T.S.


Barrie said...

Hmmm....perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but....I love Courier. It's round and plump and huggable. :)

So, you find TNR and Arial to at least not be "atrocious." Which font(s) do you love?