Monday, September 28, 2015

Querying a Small Press

By Karen Jones Gowen

As a writer, one often feels there’s a special formula to unlocking acceptance from a submissions editor. I used to think so back when I was trying to place my first books. Now, as Managing Editor for WiDo Publishing, I can see how simple it is really, no magic involved. In this post, I’ll break it down to four basic steps.

1 . Have a polished manuscript ready for submitting

What I often see on writer and query blogs is this idea of the query letter’s vital importance, each word and paragraph a make or break deal. It’s true a well-written query can help get your manuscript read, but then the work must stand on its own. I’ve heard Allie, WiDo’s submission editor say more than once, “The query was written better than the manuscript.”

2. The right tone

What catches an editor’s eye in a query? Passion, personality, voice, and a reason to open your manuscript. A carefully crafted query matching every rule and guideline but with no life will not speak as well for what’s to come as will one exuding enthusiasm and strong voice.

Write like you’re communicating with your best friend, the one who loves your writing and can’t wait to read whatever you come out with next. This describes what the submissions editor will become if your manuscript is right for this publisher. Still, maintain professionalism and respect.

A few turn offs are mass market queries, too much familiarity, the “quirky” email to get attention, praising one’s own work “the best book you’ll see this year”, or other oddities such as emails hinting at an unstable personality.

3. Do your research and stay informed about the industry

Researching publishers, being part of informative groups like IWSG and writer groups on Facebook, blogging and communicating with others in the publishing industry can help a writer land a publishing contract. Or, if you choose instead to self-publish, you will be doing it from an informed position, having looked closely at the many options available for writers today.

Despite the abundance of information available online to writers, some are still oblivious to how the industry works. Following are a few examples taken, sadly, from real submissions:

  • Promoting the book as a film, even naming actors to star in the roles. Suitable material for a blog post, not a query letter.
  • A missive to the troubled world as spoken by a Supreme Being with subsequent rules of behavior. The Bible and other books revered by world religions already have this covered. And if God were to speak to us again, pretty sure it wouldn’t be by submitting His manuscript to a small press.
  • And there’s the sweet ones from youngsters saying “I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’m sending you my book.” It’s harder to dismiss these hopeful letters with the typical formula rejection. Allie will give these young writers a few words of encouragement when she replies to them.

4. Storming the castle

After many rejections, writers can feel like publishing companies are the enemy and their editors the army blocking entrance to the castle. In fact, editors want to open the castle gate and usher in the right person. Publishers don’t exist without writers and manuscripts but it needs to be a good fit.

Once the manuscript is polished and ready to submit, research places to send it, write the query but don’t agonize over it, and follow the publisher’s guidelines when submitting. Do these simple things and you have every chance of getting an editor’s attention.


Karen Jones Gowen is the manager editor at WiDo Publishing, and you can find her at her BLOG and WEBSITE.

33 comments:

Liza said...

Great information here. Thanks!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diane and Karen - essential points here ... do what the publisher asks - but give them something that is natural and expresses your passion: don't over-egg the process. Great post .. cheers Hilary

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you, Karen. I hope people take your advice to heart.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That God wouldn't be submitting to a small press made me laugh!
Great tips, Karen.

Christine Rains said...

Excellent tips! I like the advice of typing up the query like you're writing to your best friend because the passion sometimes tends to get lost when you know it's going to a stranger.

randi lee said...

Excellent advice! I'll be spreading this post across all of my social media channels!

Pat Hatt said...

Great tips indeed. Have to keep trying and get that attention of one

Stephen Tremp said...

Karen, excellent tips. I'll Bookmark this as I'll be going through this process again next year with a new series.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Thank you, IWSG, for this opportunity to get more information out about submitting your book to a small press. I'm not sure why so many writers still think their only options are going the agent route or self - publishing. With smart research and a good manuscript, it's quite possible to get a traditional publisher without an agent.

Many small publishers like WiDo are eager to see good submissions and to sign new authors.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I know writers who have spent weeks and weeks trying to perfect their query letter. I think they use it as a delaying technique because of the fear of sending their book out. Thanks for sharing some of the amusing and misguided type of queries.

Hart Johnson said...

Man, staying informed about this industry is so hard when it seems to change weekly. Thanks for the tips though! I have been thinking more about small publishers.

Chrys Fey said...

I queried a small press with Hurricane Crimes and I'm so happy that I did. I'm still with them and have future projects in mind for them. :)

Karen Walker said...

Great advice, Karen. This process is intimidating and overwhelming and you've broken it down to make it less so. Thanks.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Excellent post, Karen. We forget that those reading our query letters are real people wanting to welcome us into the fold. They're not just some faceless being. Thanks for your wise advice.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Oooh, great post. I don't think of publishing companies as the bad guy. They have to pick what will be best for profit, and I understand that. One thing you can't do is assume the market will stay the same.

The letters from the young people wanting their books published tugs at my heart. :)

Teresa

Ann Bennett said...

You do have to put your business cap on. I see the advantage of an agent. When I sold a house, I used a real estate agent. It is hard to step back from something so close to your heart. These are good points. Thanks for the link to Gowen's blog.

Robert Bennett said...

Always great info. I've seen more than a few people who like to pronounce themselves as "the greatest writer since sliced bread" with the "best book you'll read this year" and I always just giggle to myself like "Yea, not worth my time." because 99 out of 100 times it always seems to be subpar somehow.

Anne R. Allen said...

Solid common sense-advice that sadly, many aspiring authors don't hear enough. Thanks, Karen. Sharing!

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks so much, Karen! Great post and wonderful to see you featured here today.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Susan, Once the query is checked for spelling and grammar errors, and all cliched phrases removed, as long as it has the basic information requested by the submissions site, there's no need to continually work on it. In fact, that would be a mistake as all the life and personality may then be edited out!

Robert, Exactly, let someone else praise your work to the skies!

Chrys, I am so thrilled that you're happy with your small press. Those are words I love to hear.

Anne, Thank you! And thanks for sharing. Every bit of information that goes out can help writers and publishers find each other!

Ann, I'm definitely not against agents. WiDo has worked with several. Unlike a real estate agent who will readily take on a client, literary agents are much more discriminating. This is where many writers become discouraged and try submitting on their own to a publisher who accepts unagented submissions.

Birgit said...

This is excellent advice for people who are starting out and some of the info just made me laugh(which movie stars will be great for their characters)

dolorah said...

Thanks Karen. Very helpful hints. I can see those queries from children tugging at the heart, but at least Allie leaves them with a lesson, and possibly a means to get published when they are ready.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for the tips, Karen!

Michelle Wallace said...

Great advice! Thanks Karen.

Sherry Ellis said...

Excellent tips! It certainly is important to have a well-polished manuscript before anything else.

Robyn Campbell said...

Haha, I liked the unstable personality comment. All of this is so true. Thanks, Karen. Bodacious tips from a bodacious lady.

Fundy Blue said...

Thank you Karen and Diane! This was full of helpful and encouraging information!

Toinette Thomas said...

Pretty basic, but invaluable. Thanks for sharing.

KAT Writer said...

Very helpful advice. I love to hear that it is not a mystery from someone who knows. Write a good manuscript and someone will notice. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

You hit my "teacher bone." There is so much on this subject and it is so important I devoted a whole chapter in The Frugal Editor (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditor) to interviewing agents for their pet query letter peeves. Turns out they have lots of them and they aren't things your English teacher ever taught you!

Pat Garcia said...

Thank you for the great tips.
Shalom,
Pat

Sharon Marie Himsl said...

Very encouraging....thanks so much for the tips. Sharon

Victoria Marie Lees said...

I'm finishing up the polishing stage on my memoir about attending college with five children in tow. These are great tips and I've shared them generously. Thanks, Karen.