By Rudy Shur
Excerpted from the book How To Publish Your Nonfiction Book
Over the years, I’ve seen literally hundreds of submission packages. Some of them inspired me to immediately request more information from the author. In other cases, however, I could not send the package to the kill pile quickly enough. Throughout this chapter, I’ve mentioned several submission package don’ts, but these warnings bear repeating as long as authors keep making the same mistakes. If you avoid the following errors, you will, at the very least, avoid raising a red flag. Here are ten errors that commonly occur in submission packages.
Ten Errors that Commonly Occur in Submission Packages
- The author claims that his book is unique . This statement is the kiss of death, because editors don’t want a unique book. They want a book that fits into an existing category and meets the needs of an existing audience. At the very best, this statement implies that the author doesn’t understand the market for his book. At the very worst, it indicates that the book is, indeed, unique—and therefore either has no audience, or has an audience that is difficult to reach.
- The author claims that his book is for everyone — professionals, teachers, students, and general readers. Again, book should be written with a specific audience in mind, be it a trade (general) audience, an educational audience, a professional audience, or a scholarly audience. This is true for a number of reasons. First, educational, professional, and scholarly books all have certain characteristics that are off-putting to the general reader. Professional books, for instance, are written in the jargon of the appropriate profession—a jargon that is unfamiliar to the general reader. Educational books may include review questions and other features that are not usually included in trade books. And scholarly books are often heavily footnoted and referenced. Second, as you learned in chapter 2, different types of books are marketed in different ways, and are placed in different areas of bookstores. That’s why publishing companies demand that every book be designed to suit the needs of a specific audience.
- The author states that the book has already been finished. Few editors want to help an author rework an existing book so that it fits the needs of their particular publishing house. They want to begin guiding the author’s work at an early stage, and set it on the right course. Therefore, even if your book is complete right down to the index, tell the editor that you are in the process of writing a book.
- The author fails to include his address and phone number. Believe it or not, this silly mistake is made all the time. If the editor doesn’t know how to reach you, you can’t expect a timely response—or, for that matter, any response at all!
- The submission package is sent to the wrong type of publishing house. Authors have been known to submit their novels to houses that publish only nonfiction; to send their poetry to houses that publish only cookbooks; to send their cookbooks to houses that specialize in romance novels; to send their ideas for coffee-table art books to houses that print mass-market paperbacks. To avoid wasting your time and theirs, do your homework, and send your submission package to the appropriate editor at the appropriate publishing house.
- The submission package is the size of War and Peace. This returns me to one of my original points: Editors are busy. They simply don’t have time to wade through a stack of paper, no matter how riveting the material may be. By submitting a package that provides the desired information in a concise manner, you will optimize the chance that your package will, at the very least, be read.
- The submission package is triple-wrapped and sealed with packing tape. As my opening vignette showed, editors usually don’t keep power tools in their offices. Unless you are dropping your package out of a helicopter, place it in an easy-to-open envelope.
- Out of fear that the editor will steal the author’s idea, the author only hints at the contents of the book. This may sound incredible, but it does happen. Authors have told me that they have found the cure for a terrible disease, that they have found a foolproof weight loss technique, and that they have discovered an amazing secret about the Kennedys—but that they cannot tell me what it is unless I agree to publish their book. I think you can guess what my response was.
- The author wrongly implies that he has spoken to the editor, and that the editor asked for a copy of his manuscript proposal. Over the years, I have received countless cover letters that began, “Thank you so much for your interest in my project,” or, “Per your request, I am enclosing a manuscript proposal . . .” These opening lines would be perfectly appropriate—if I had ever spoken to the author and actually requested the material. Some authors feel that because editors are so busy, they can be tricked into thinking that they asked for the submission. Don’t fool yourself. We’re busy but we’re not that busy, and, in the absence of any prior contact, an opening statement like this is almost guaranteed to put a negative spin on your proposal.
- The manuscript is filled with spelling errors, grammatical errors, and awkward sentences.Happens all the time. Keep in mind that, in addition to selling your expertise in a particular field, you are selling yourself as a writer. Therefore, it pays to read over your submission several times, to use the spell-check feature of your computer, and to have others read the material over carefully, looking for problems. The material you are about to send is relatively short, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to polish it up. The time you take to make this package the best it can be will definitely pay off.
Rudy Shur is the publisher of Square One Publishers, and the author of the book How To Publish Your Nonfiction Book, part of the “Square One Writers Guide” series. Rudy Shur began his work in publishing as a field representative for Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company and William C. Brown Publishing Company. He later founded Avery Publishing Group, where he was responsible for the acquisition of over 1,000 titles, many of which became bestsellers. Currently, Mr. Shur is the publisher at Square One in Garden City Park, New York. He was interviewed by Absolute Write.