Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Slush

If slush is a journey, most people are packing way too much luggage.

I can't tell you how often I have to throw away 5-10 sheets of the submission before coming to the manuscript. Here are some things that you really don't need to include:

1. An author photo.
Why do I care what you look like? Everyone knows that there are some very pretty, friendly-looking people who haven't a talented bone in their bodies but who will keep submitting manuscripts, appearing on reality shows, saying things in public, and otherwise making themselves a flagrant aggravation. They give new meaning to the term "attractive nuisance."

2. All the little flourishes.
The letterhead with the plume-and-inkwell motif (god, if I never see another one of those, it'll be too soon); the stickers; the colored envelopes; the random enclosures that I'm sure you thought were a kind gesture or had something to do with your manuscript. (I don't take candied walnuts from strangers. Or fruit. Or puppets.)
Want to make your submission look professional? Make it look plain. Professionals, remember, are people who have sent out many, many copies of many, many manuscripts and who have realized that when you're dealing in that kind of bulk, all the extras are a waste of time and money.
I try to look past the foofaraw, but trust me--some editors are judging you.

3. An author bio
The only thing I want to know about you at the outset is your publishing history, if you have one.
I do not care if you teach preschool or have seven grandchildren or get along great with the kids across the street. Being good with children does not make you a talented storyteller. I only want to know if you're a good writer, and your manuscript is going to tell me that. Besides, some of the very best writers for children have hated children. They respected children, but they didn't want to spend any time around them.

4. Market analysis
I've seen these included several times, and I still can't imagine what's included in them. Because I've never read one. Never. What in god's name makes you think you know more about the market than the people at publishing companies, who spend an extraordinary amount of time charting the market?

5. Publicity plans
This might or might not go over well with a publicist; I've never asked one. But your submission is being read by editors, who are happy to let publicists do their job and really don't care whether you think your cousin's hairdresser's niece can give your manuscript to Oprah.

6. Overview and synopsis
I don't know how anyone manages to have both. And are editors asking for chapter-by-chapter summaries? I only backtrack to a synopsis if the writing's really good and I'm wondering if the author knows where the story is going.

7. Competitive research
It always lightens my day to open a fantasy submission that has a page of competitive research that includes, in its entirety, Half Magic, Harry Potter, and Eragon. If you think that's your competition, I think I'm going to double over laughing so fast I bonk my head on my desk.
Competitive research is something you should do for your information, but don't send it to me. I'm better at research than just about every author I know, and being fully informed about a project I take to acquisitions is part of my job--and not a part that I'm going to trust to you. If I like your project, I'll do the research.

The moral of today's blog:
Why check baggage that no one is going to claim?
Cover letter and manuscript. And SASE, if requested. That's it. Really.


Unknown said...

Thanks so much and I'm so pleased to hear an intelligent view on the synopsis. I raised this at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators agents' party in London a few months ago and the agents all said that synopses were vital. But I'd heard on the radio that day two profs of creative writing (both of them published novelists) who reckoned they were a complete and utter waste of time.

Personally I think they're just a hurdle some editors and agents want writers to jump and have nothing much to do with the assessment of the book itself. So I'm very glad to hear your view.

fusenumber8 said...

#2 sounds straight out of "Arrested Development". Particularly the time Tobias was sending around his headshot with decorative soaps and highly annoying glitter.

Anonymous said...

An author bio, market analysis, publicity plans, overview and synopsis, competitive research -- I can pull at least a half-dozen books of off my shelf of writing books that tell in great detail how to write these and give all the gory consequences of NOT including them. Granted, most of these are used in nonfiction book proposals, but even the books on writing fiction are shouting at authors to include all these details to show that you're a "serious" writer. "Publishers can only afford to pour promotion money into a few books! Your book will never sell if you don't sell it yourself! Include a promotion plan so the editor knows you're serious! Blah blah blah..."

So that's why you're getting all that stuff in the submissions.

I wonder if it would help to put in the submission guidelines words to the effect of, "Do NOT include anything in your submission other than [list items wanted]." But that supposes that most writers who submit actually read the guidelines.

Anonymous said...

You really haven't been doing this editor thing very long, have you? Because you're blogs are written by someone who has not yet accepted the realities of the job.

Anonymous said...

Some smaller publishers do require exactly what Editorial Anonymous doesn't want to see in a cover letter. They will specifically ask for a competitive analysis, publicity plans, and a bio. And a writer needs to follow those directions. However, it's just plain lazy (and foolish) to send the same cover to every publisher, particularly the large ones who don't want to see all of this. I heard one editor from a large publisher say her perfect cover letter was "Here's my manuscript."

Anonymous said...

Editorial Anonymous, what do you think of small publishers and agents who request a market analysis, publicity plans, and so on with submissions? I once had a (reputable) agent ask for this and it seems a bit outrageous to me--basically, the agent saying, "How hard are you going to work to earn ME money?" What's your opinion?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I really can't comment. I don't know why some people are asking for these things. Perhaps they're thinking of the post-acquisitions stage. If someone knows for sure, I'd love to hear.

Anonymous said...

Why the cover letter? I mean, you get a manuscript, you know it's a submission, right?

Editorial Anonymous said...

It's a good place to write notes. And doodle.

Sean McManus said...

It's good that you're as principled as you are. Many acquisitions editors I suspect will be happy to have someone help them build a case for publication, and it will help to draw their attention to show that there is market potential for the proposal.

That said, the children's market isn't as black and white as, say, non-fiction where you can often write a meaningful market overview and where authors can often know more about the opportunities than the acquisitions editors do.

As someone else said, all the writing books suggest including this stuff to show you're serious about being a professional (ie, profitable) author, as opposed to just looking for an outlet for whatever random stuff's in your head.

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