By Roseanna White, acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing
Getting an editor’s attention—and keeping it all the way through a proposal—is tough. Pinpointing the “right way” to do this is also tough. But you know what’s pretty easy? Pinpointing the wrong way to do something. ;-) So that’s what we’re going to cover today—those things that will get your proposal sent to the trash bin before an editor even opens it.
Let’s assume you’re doing cold calls, just sending out queries to publishers or agents you see online. Resist the urge to send out a query that sounds like this (and for reference, this is based on actual queries I’ve received, yes. Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh. I did.)
Hello Mrs. Rossana Black of WhiteBlaze Publishing,Do you want to publish the next bestseller? Well, I’m coming to you today with an opportunity to do just that! My fictional novel is destined to be the next Harry Potter and will appeal to everyone from age 9 to 90.The Story of a Truly Great Lady is an epic historical fantasy love story based on a true story that God revealed to me in a dream, in which He told me I must write this book and that it would save souls for Him. I know you want to obey the Lord, so please find attached the complete manuscript of Truly Great Lady as well as three chapters of the third book in the series, though I haven’t written the second yet. TGL is 400,000 words and is completed. I realize this is long, but I’m sure you’ll agree that nothing can be changed without losing the essence of the story God Himself gave me.Please respond promptly, as if you don’t jump on this opportunity, I feel certain another publisher will.Your Servant,Jack Benimble
Ahem. Now, where do I start? Oh yeah—at the salutation.
Avoidable #1 – Get Your Info Right
Please, for the love of macaroni, do not misspell an editor’s name or, even worse, send them a letter made out to someone else! Sounds basic, I know, but it’s happened to me. Several times. Needless to say, I didn’t request anything from those people. If you don’t know the editor’s name, that’s okay—a “Dear Sir or Madam” works fine, as does “To Whom it May Concern” or even “Dear Acquisitions Editor” or “Dear WhiteFire” (in the case of my house). But let’s note that my name is Roseanna, not Rossana. White, not Black. And it’s Fire in my publisher’s name, not Blaze or Rose or House. (Catch that one? White House? Tee hee hee)
Avoidable #2 – Do Not Be Presumptuous
Again this might sound basic, but there are a lot of people who think that to sell their book, they have to make it out to be the best thing ever. Resist the urge—humility goes much farther than pride. Do not liken your book to an all-time bestseller. Do not claim your book will be the next one. And for goodness sake, do not make it sound as if you’re doing the publisher a favor by submitting to them. That won’t gain you any points. And this applies to later parts of the sample query there, too. Don’t try to tell me this is what God wants—it may be, but that’s something we have to decide through prayer, not just because a query tells us so. And one of the biggest presumptions—don’t say your book is perfect as is! It’s not, I can promise you that. We all have to change things, and saying up front you’re unwilling to do so will have an editor hitting that delete button before you can say, “But it’ll make you millions!”
Avoidable #3 – Know Your Target Audience
By telling an editor your book will appeal to everyone, you’re basically telling them you don’t know who you actually intend it for. Narrow it down. This doesn’t mean people outside your target won’t read it and like it, but you’re trying to tell the publisher to whom they should aim their marketing. Men or women? Kids or adults? Baby-boomers of Gen-Xers? When I submit a proposal (this is writer-me talking), I always say it’s aimed at women, the standard readership of 35-50, but that it will also appeal to 20somethings. This tells the publisher that it’s a romance with a traditional readership, but that I bring a younger voice to it, so they can market it to the new generation of adult readers.
Avoidable #4 – Messing Up Your Book Description
I know Stephanie has covered on here how to define your book’s genre. (Oh wait, I think I actually guest-posted something on that, LOL.) Know it, and know it well. Don’t ever, ever call it a “fictional novel.” The redundancy makes us cringe. ;-) Also don’t try to cover every possible genre in your description. I got a query a couple months ago that left me uncertain whether the book was fiction or non-fiction. Not a good thing. Keep it simple, concise, and accurate.
Avoidable #5 – Not Reading the Guidelines
My last point is this—each publisher has very specific submissions guidelines, both in the kind of books they want and how you can send them. Read them. If they say to send a query first, don’t attach anything. If they ask for a proposal, send the correct elements—don’t assume you know better what they want to see than they do. Pay attention to the particular things they’re looking for, and in what format they should be. I, for instance, growl when an attachment is a docx. I have to save them, let my computer reformat them, then hunt down the folder and open them. In the two minutes that process takes, I could have opened up a regular doc file, read the first two pages, and made a decision about whether I wanted to read more or not.
So there you have your 5 simple steps to avoid getting deleted. Now, as for how to get a request . . . that’s another post. ;-) Have questions? I’m happy to answer them here or to dedicate a future post to them!