(photo from the National Library of Wales. Perhaps neaten up your manuscript a bit more than this man has before submitting it to anyone.)
Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Submitting A Book to a Publisher
1. Do they publish the kind of book that you’ve written?
Pro Tip: Not all publishers publish the same kind of books! So if you’re writing a book of literary criticism, please be sure not to submit it to a press that publishes only poetry, or children’s books, or romance, or popular fiction. It will not work out. And double-check to make sure that the imprint that you’re submitting the book to publishes the kind of book you’ve written. We do have a sister company that publishes prose science fiction, but if you try to submit prose science fiction to us, we don’t send it over to them — we tend to think that if you were trying to submit to them, probably you would’ve sent them the manuscript directly.
2. Do you like other books that they publish?
Pro Tip: If you hate all the books you’ve read by that publisher, probably they are not the publisher for you. Ideally, you want to have your book published with a publisher whose books make you say, ‘that’s the kind of book I want to make.’
3. Do they publish books in the same format as the book that you’re submitting?
Pro Tip: This is not the kind of question that applies all the time! But it’s something to think about if you’re doing a graphic novel, an art book, a children’s book, a cookbook, a coffee table book, or any other kind of book that requires a specific format. Paper-over-board covers, a specific trim size, full color, glitter, stickers — these are all things that could totally reasonably be absolutely necessary to making your book work. Before you submit your book to a publisher, it’s a good idea to check and see if your expectations match up with their publishing program.
4. Have you read their submission guidelines?
Pro Tip: The publisher that you are submitting to may not accept submissions; they may want submissions in a specific format; they may have a specific kind of book they are actively looking for. You should know these things when you submit your book to them. Even if you’re going to break their rules, you need to know what they are.
5. Do you know the name of at least one person who works at the publisher that you’re submitting to?
Pro Tip: If you haven’t done enough research about the publisher you’re submitting to to know the name of at least one person there, you haven’t done enough research. Also, this research is easy — just google ‘Harper Collins Greenwillow Editor’ and you’ll come up with names of people who work there (and information about them and what they’re interested in publishing — super-helpful!). The same goes for any other publisher.
6. Do you know what kind of book your book is?
Pro Tip: The editors who will be reading your book on submission will want to know what your book is about. Are they reading a children’s picture book about construction? An adult nonfiction book about the lives of women in Renaissance France? A graphic novel mystery? It is important to understand what kind of book your book is and explain that clearly in a submission letter so that no one spends the first fifty pages of reading unsure if they’ve got mystery, fantasy, fiction, non-fiction, YA, or adult on their hands.
7. Do you know what your book is about?
Pro Tip: ‘It’s very complicated; I don’t know if I can explain it,’ is not a good answer.
8. Did you look over your manuscript over before submitting it?
Pro Tip: No one’s going to care if you spell one word wrong every fifty pages or so (unless it’s that one word that changes the whole meaning of the text, but that doesn’t typically happen, so don’t worry). But if you’re spelling every other word wrong, the editor reading your book may get a headache and have to give up before getting through the first ten pages of your manuscript. Try using spellcheck, and then carefully read everything over again.
9. Do I like these people enough to want to deal with them for the next three years?
Pro Tip: If you’ve done your homework about the publisher you’re submitting your manuscript to and your first response to how they answer interview questions, how they behave on Twitter and Facebook is, ‘they’re crazy; I don’t want to be within ten feet of them’ perhaps they are not the right place for you. ‘I’m totally creeped out by these people’ is another telling response. Publishing a book takes a while; signing a contract with a publisher means that they’ll be around in your life for the next several years.
10. Do I love this book enough that I really want to work on it for the next three years?
Pro Tip: Actually think about this question. Don’t submit the manuscript if your answer is no.