Previous entries in the series:
Part 1: Overview
Part 2: My Tools
Part 3: Publishers Database
Part 4: Describe My Manuscript
Part 5: Make My Marketing List
Part 6: Submit!
I have always loved logic puzzles. You know, the kind that start out, “Alfred, Benjamin, Christopher, and Devonte all live on Main Street. They have an elephant, a fish, a greyhound, and a horse as pets. They are an ice cream maker, a juggler…” Then they give you some clues, like, “The person who has a pet giraffe is not the juggler.” And you chart everything out and try to figure out which person goes with which pet and job and so on.
Submitting manuscripts is a lot like a logic puzzle. There are a lot of ways to figure it out, and each step affects the next step. My process is rather intuitive and amorphous, which is no help to you! So, in the spirit of being practical, here are the basic rules I try to follow. Remember, this is AFTER I have created a marketing list for each manuscript, come up with words and phrases to describe my manuscript, and identified specific editors and comparable titles (when possible).
- I make submissions monthly. You might choose to do yours every other Friday, every Wednesday afternoon…whatever works for you.
- I try to keep each manuscript out to 2-3 editors at a time, unless I specifically wrote it with a particular editor in mind or I am submitting to an editor who only considers exclusive submissions (a rarity). I mention in my cover letter that the manuscript it out with one or two other editors.
- I do not submit a manuscript to an editor who already has a manuscript of mine that she hasn’t replied to yet.
- Once an editor replies, I generally wait a month before sending something new. I don’t want an editor to—consciously or not—delay replying to me because she knows something else will hit her inbox IMMEDIATELY.
- I do not send a manuscript to another editor at the same imprint or publishing house if one editor there has already rejected it. Some of the Big Five publishers have numerous imprints working independently, and it’s okay to submit to different imprints in that case. For example, MacMillan owns Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Henry Holt and Company. I would possibly submit a book to one after the other rejected it, IF I felt the book matched both publishers.
- I do not send a revised manuscript to an editor who sent me personal feedback UNLESS the editor indicated a willingness to see a revision.
So, each month, usually near the end of the month as I’m realizing, “Oh, crap, I haven’t made my submissions this month,” I sit down to send out manuscripts.
Here’s where I consult my submissions plan database (excerpt below):
In my chart, yellow=possible market; pink=has the ms currently; blue=already rejected the ms. I go through my listing of manuscripts and identify:
1) which manuscripts are not out with three editors
2) which of the editors I regularly submit to don’t have anything from me right now
Then I begin the dance of matching manuscripts to editors. Maybe I have two in mind to send Cowboys to, but then further down the list, I realize one of those two is just PERFECT for Houseboat. So I send Cowboys to the other and Houseboat to the second one.
Maybe a reply I get to one manuscript will affect other manuscripts. For instance, I recently got a rejection where the editor told me she really liked a manuscript but had a preschool-themed picture book coming out soon so wasn’t in the market for that. Well, I had that editor down as a possible market (yellow box) for a different preschool-themed picture book, too. So, I had to get rid of that other yellow box so I wouldn’t submit that particular ms to her in the future.
It takes a lot of listing, shuffling, and crossing people out, but eventually I have my list of what I’m going to send where that month.
There are tons of good resources for actual query/cover letter writing, including the e-book Lisa Bullard and I wrote, How to Query. Here’s a good article by Jo Hart on the topic, too. And a search on Google will bring up plenty more resources.
Really, writing the query or cover letter is the easy part, once you do it a few times. Hopefully, this series has helped you do all the preliminary steps you need to so that you’re submitting to the right editor with an accurate and compelling description of your wonderful manuscript! Good luck!
Thank you so much for this series Laura. Your practical tips are always extremely helpful to me. Thank you for demystifying the publishing process!
Sharing the specifics of your approach, including visuals, is incredibly helpful! You’ve moved me from a simple, quasi-effective notation chart to a system that effectively works as a tracking method and a marketing tool. Thank you, Laura!
You took action! Best compliment ever. So glad you found the series useful:)