There are a number of important skills for every writer such as storytelling
ability, consistency of touching the market and writing craft. Each of these
skills take time and practice to develop. As writers, we are in the
Ironically much of the publishing world—particularly in book publishing—is
poor at communication. You send in your submission to an editor or agent and you
hear….wait for it….nothing…for months…maybe ever.
acquisitions editor involved in publishing every day, it's part of my
intention to change this situation. I can't change the industry but I can change
the people and writers that I'm communicating with and touching. Yet I admit it
is hard because of the high volume of material that comes to me every day—agents
representing their authors and authors who are looking to get published. I spend
a great deal of time every day answering my email and on the phone with
Here's something that you can do to help this communication challenge in the
publishing communicate: develop your ability to follow-up yet in a way that
gently prods the editor and agent but does not offend them or turn them off from
your submission. You need to add the skill of proper follow-up to your
communication tools. Why?
According to some publishing experts, there are over a million
unpublished manuscripts, proposals and ideas on the desks of editors and agents.
Yes that is a large overwhelming volume. From reading submissions for many
years, I would expect to discount about 50% of that number because they can
instantly be rejected as inappropriate. If you do your research and send the
editor or agent something that is in the range that they want, you will put your
submission in the category of something that merits their reading or at least
considering. How can you break through and get their attention? It is critical
that you prepare an
excellent book proposal or manuscript. It takes time and energy to prepare a
detailed submission but it is well worth the effort from my years in publishing.
You can learn more at this free teleseminar which is on replay (immediate access to
listen to it).
I know at Morgan James
Publishing, where I work as an
acquisitions editor, we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and
only publish about 150 books. We are considered a medium size New York publisher
and less than 3% of our submissions are contracted.
Even with those high numbers, I spend the bulk of my days on the phone and
email with authors talking with them about their submissions and seeing if that
submission is a good fit for Morgan James. To be honest, some are a great fit
and others are not. The reading and communication process is critical to finding
the right type of authors. Yes, it takes time and effort.
Besides processing the material that comes into the publishing house, I'm
actively looking for new material. About a week ago, I was at the San Francisco Writers
Conference which was a large event with over 400 people. I spent my time at
the conference talking with prospective authors and teaching a couple of
workshops and participating on several panels. Throughout out the event, I
exchanged business cards with a number of authors and my faculty members. This
exchange of information is the first step in the process of forming a
I spent several hours this weekend, writing emails to the people I met and
encouraging them to send a submission (when they are ready of course). My
pro-active follow-up with these writers showed them that I cared and really do
want to see their work. This follow-up step is important and will encourage them
to include me with their submissions. Each of us in the publishing community are
constantly searching for good books to publish and the follow-up work is a key
part of this process.
With the many submissions, I never get completely caught up on processing
them and it's always appropriate to send a little email to see if I received it
or when I will be available to take the next step in the process. A gentle and
non-offensive reminder via email is something that I respect and appreciate from
these pro-active authors.
Besides my role as an acquisitions editor, I'm also spending some of my time to
promote and market my own books like my biography of Billy
Graham and my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. The effort
to promote books takes time—yet is an important responsibility for every author
whether you have a full-time job or not.
For example, this weekend I did an interview about Billy Graham and this
coming week I have two more radio interviews scheduled. I'm also working on
getting more book
reviews and other aspects of publicity. The number of new books that are
being produced is sometimes staggering. My marketing friend, Penny C.
Sansevieri was also speaking at the San Francisco Conference. She said there are 4,500 new
books a day. I asked where she came up with this number and she said several
places including a conversation with Bowker (the company which produces Books In
Print and issues International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). I have several
more follow-up emails to send people who have received review copies of Billy Graham books yet
never added their review to Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble. While it takes time to send those gentle
follow-up reminders, it stirs people to action. I've seen many people never
follow-up and then they wonder why nothing happens.
While email is a great way to follow-up, often one of the most inappropriate
ways is on the phone to an editor or agent. It is different if the editor or agent has set up an
appointment with you or you have a project in process. I'm talking about the
authors who have a book to pitch and are trying to learn the process. Most
recently a young author and his girlfriend who continually called me to see if I
had read their submission. It turns out their submission was half-baked, poorly
written and inappropriate for my publisher. These young authors made a poor
impression and completely wasted time (theirs and mine). I didn't tell them this
information on the phone but they were making a radical bad impression with the
Take a minute and think about what you want to accomplish with your writing.
Do you need to send a gentle reminder to some editor or reviewer or agent? Get it on your
plans for today then get it done. Then watch the difference it will make in your
Labels: agent, authors, editor, email, follow-up, San Francisco Writers Conference, submissions