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  • “If You Can Get a Job, You Can Get Published”: One Editor’s Advice to Manuscript Submissions
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“If You Can Get a Job, You Can Get Published”: One Editor’s Advice to Manuscript Submissions
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2012
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2012

Regardless of economic climate, anyone who has gone out, applied for a job, and got hired should be able to see the correlation here.

When I first started trying to get my work published, I was intimidated by the many different guidelines various places required. From subject matter to word count and everything in between, publishers are very particular with their requirements.

Now I can understand why.

Publishing companies come in varying sizes from one-(wo)man operations to monster corporations employing thousands of people worldwide. For the beginning writer, or even the established author venturing out into another area, if you are considering approaching a new (or new-to-you) publisher, I have three pieces of advice to help you get a contract, and I feel confident that I speak for a majority of editors and publishers.

It doesn't matter if you are submitting a short story, a novel, or an article, the following tips apply.

1) Write an entertaining/informative/interesting/must-have piece of work.
I'm not going to add to this because you should only be submitting work if you have taken the time to learn your craft and have done your homework on where to submit. 

2) Follow ALL of the submission guidelines.
These guidelines are not optional. Someone, most likely the person making the decisions, has taken a lot of time to map out exactly what they want and how they want it.  Ignore these rules at your peril. Not only will you get a rejection slip, you also risk getting on the publisher's S-List.

Yes, we do have our S-Lists.

Despite what anyone says, writers have all the information they need right in front of them:

  • Publisher websites contain the books they publish and display their likes and interests. Does your work fit in?
  • The submission guidelines tell you exactly how to present your best work. Can you follow instructions?
  • The contact information tells you how and whom you should direct your query/submission. Once again, can you follow instructions?

It doesn't get much clearer than that. If there are no clear guidelines, find a contact and ASK. You can save yourself a lot of embarrassment and a possible spot on the S-List if you ASK first rather than DO first. Perhaps a venue is not accepting and does not want submissions, and this is why there are no guidelines visible. You will not look good if you take it upon yourself and send your submission and whatever else you assume them to want to the first contact you find with that company.

The smart, savvy, PUBLISHED authors can do all of the above.

Can you?

3) Be professional and businesslike in your approach.
Madonna and Michael Jackson both have a certain public image that reflects their creative style, but Madonna is also a very successful businesswoman whereas Michael Jackson...well...You must approach getting published with business savvy.

Publishing is not just a business, it’s an industry. Publishing is an entire ecosystem that touches everything from creation to publication. Regardless of the size of publishing house you approach, writing may be your hobby, but it is not a hobby for a publisher—or agent or editor who relies on making a profit from their work.

Do not come across all “creative” when trying to attract an agent, editor, or publisher. These days 99% of your contact with an editor/agent/publisher may be via email, but that doesn't mean you should write to us in "email speak" or write in all lowercase/all uppercase because this is your signature "style." We are not impressed. What we need to know is that the person we are dealing with is capable and competent in making a business decision. When making important decisions, would you rather deal with someone who is professional or with someone who acts like a surly teenage cashier at McDonalds?

Treat your submissions like you would treat your résumé. You are introducing yourself and your best work to a company or their representative in order for them to hire you, or in this case, to offer you a contract. Don’t say you are submitting a piece you had "lying around," or that "no one else seems interested in it so I thought I'd approach you." While this may be true, keep it to yourself! These are actual quotes from submissions and queries I’ve received in the past. I kid you not. I couldn’t reject them fast enough!

Think about it. Would you go to a job interview and tell the interviewer: "I was just lying around, looking for a job," or "No one else seems to want to hire me so I thought I'd approach you."

No, you wouldn't. Don't treat your submissions in the same way. It is your calling card.

Conversely, don’t come across as pompous. No one wants to deal with a diva. If this is the author persona you wish to project, save it for your social networks and book tours. But when seeking acceptance from a publisher/editor/agent, you want to attract people to you and your work, not turn them off.

In the end, and regardless of where you submit your work, first impressions are important. Once—if—you establish a working relationship, things may become a lot less formal, but until that happens, be professional in all your communications with a prospective publisher of your work. After all, they may be your next source of income.


©2010 Zetta Brown. All rights reserved. Follow my new blog Zetta’s Desk where I talk about writing and publishing from an editor’s point of view

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  • Kim Green

    Thanks so much for this, Zetta! I'm just launching into the process of selecting and querying agents for my YA novel. It's exciting and a bit daunting. One question: how important is it to have an "in"—as in, a referral from a friend or colleague, or an introduction of some kind? Thank you!



  • Mickie Sherwood

    Good advice, Zetta. You're never too old to live and learn. Finding the right places for your work is all about doing your homework. Then, you must put your best foot forward and introduce your work with pride.

  • Regina Y. Swint

    That's cool, Patricia.  I'm attending a writer's conference in May, just so I can soak up some info from agents and editors, to see if I'm on the right track.  Although I plan to publish my own books, I think it's a good idea just to have some idea of what others are/are not publishing, and why/how they make those decisions.  I don't know if I'll have anything to actually pitch by May, but whatever their reactions, I'm going to follow your lead and keep it cool.  And professional, of course.  :)

  • Patricia Florio

    I remember pitching an idea of a bought I thought I'd write as my MFA project to editors and publishers that were hired by our school (Wilkes) to give feedback.  At the time, I was writing an experience with depression, and I pitched it all wrong.  One editor said, "Do you want us to feel sorry for you?  There a thousands of books on depression."  I said nothing.  But that was enough to let me know that I was on the wrong track with my project.   The book I ultimately wrote, "My Two Mothers" has been published by an independent publisher this past August.  So it was a very interesting keeping my cool and listening to professional suggestions. 

  • Heather Marsten

    Good post, and you are right, it is common sense advice.  Being polite and professional is vital.

  • Zetta Brown

    Thanks, Regina. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to act seriously, and that means being professional and businesslike even when you're tempted not to.

    Save your hissy fits for your entourage.

  • Regina Y. Swint

    I agree with the other readers here, Zetta.  Excellent advice and tips. 

    Sometimes, writers forget that pitching a book or book idea is just like interviewing or trying to get an interview for a job, and they allow their presentations to look and sound a bit sloppy our unenthusiastic.  And it's even worse when we present our finish products (books) to potential readers/customers in a sloppy manner.  That's a quick, fast and in-a-hurry way to lose me and my interest.  It's business first.

  • Zetta Brown

    @sara - Thanks! Sometimes people make things harder than they really are, but if you take time to boil it down it makes sense.

    @Julija - You ain't kidding. Reading some of the queries we get, I'm often picking my jaw off the floor.

    @Patricia - I hope you find it useful. :)

  • Julija Sukys

    'Don’t say you are submitting a piece you had "lying around," or that "no one else seems interested in it so I thought I'd approach you."'

    I'm speechless.

  • Sakki selznick Publishing

    Loved this, Zetta. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to lay it out so clearly.


  • Patricia Florio

    I printed this article and I will give it a read and comment later. 

  • Zetta Brown

    Thanks, Maureen! It's info gleaned from eight years of being a publisher. :)

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    Excellent pointers, Zetta.