I love knowing that in some small way, I've helped aid a fledgling manuscript into becoming the shiny finished work presented to the world.
With that being said, being a submissions intern at a small press means sifting through tons of potential manuscripts...
And when I say tons, I really do mean tons.
Due to the volume of submissions, it's a difficult balance between seeing if the work fits our needs and if the state of the manuscript is ready for the next step towards publication. If you've wondered what the difference is between what makes the cut and what doesn't, wonder no more!
From reading submissions, I've noticed a trend of simple, easily avoidable mistakes writers make when submitting that weaken their chances.
1. Lack of polishing: First impressions are everything. In an industry that is extremely subjective, the amount of submissions that come through that haven't had a thorough polishing is alarming. While a few typos and grammatical errors won't give way to insta-rejection, a sample littered with them makes me question the experience level of the writer. Before submitting, always do a quick read through to catch any last minute errors and for those of you sending attachments, don't forget to disable track changes! There's nothing that says I'm not ready for the next level like a manuscript littered with track changes in Microsoft Word.
2. Ignoring submission guidelines: Yes. It seems self explanatory, but the amount of submissions that come incomplete or missing required materials are shooting themselves in the foot. I get it, I really do. The
3. Incorrect audience/genre labeling: When reading through submissions, I trust the writer has done their homework in knowing their target audience and genre their submission is written in. There is nothing more disheartening than reading through a submission with potential and seeing incorrect protagonist ages/themes for MG, YA and NA. Even worse is when I think I'm reading a cozy mystery and instead I get high concept science fiction... You get my point. As a writer, it's your responsibility to have written something that can be defined. If you're having trouble, the AQC forums will save your life. Seriously. Use it.
4. Ignoring agency/press genre requirements: If an agency or small press specifically states that they do not represent or publish a particular genre or type of manuscript, they mean it. No, you won't change their mind. And no, we don't like having to sift through materials we can't use. It's like biting into your favorite chocolate bar and finding out it's melted. It just makes a mess of everything. Always do your homework on who represents work similar to your own.
5. Using incorrect comps: With query letters, many people are on the fence about whether or not to use comparative titles. Personally, I don't mind them. It's nice to get a mini visual of a mash up between two different books. But, if you aren't sure on which titles are appropriate (for example, using comps that do not align with your manuscripts genre/audience), or if the only books you can compare your work to is a major film or widely successful book, I advise excluding it from your query all together. If you compare your manuscript to a finely tuned and extremely polished book, I'm going to be even more critical of your work and more often than not, you're going to fall short. Don't do this to yourself. You owe it to your work to give it your best shot.
Querying is hard. I know it. But if you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:
Take the time to fix the little things.I promise you, in the long run, it will make all the difference for you and your baby manuscript.