I don't want to scare anyone with the "big bad publisher" hype, but it is important to go into your search for a publisher or agent with realistic expectations. Each year, even small agencies and presses receive THOUSANDS of submissions from both new and established authors. It is a very tough field to enter, but if you move forward knowing what you are up against, not only will you be better prepared, but it may help to soften the blow of a few dozen rejections that are bound to come your way. But, finding a publisher or agent is not impossible, it just takes a lot of hard work, dedication and patience.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
There are a lot of resources out there that can assist you in narrowing down the pool of publishers and literary agencies you'd like to consider. One of my favorite ways to start is referencing a current copy of The Writer's Market (available at book stores and libraries). It really is a very concise index of publishers, agencies and magazines and, best of all, it has information about who to contact, what they accept, how to submit and some even offer bits of advice on how to make your submission stand out. I use The Writer's Market as a quick guide to easily narrow down publishers that print books for my target audience and in my genre that accept unsolicited manuscripts. It helps me generate an initial list from which I can narrow my options. There are also tons of online sources that you can use (even just typing "publishers of _______ books" into a search engine will generate results that you can look into). And there are websites dedicates to helping authors that offer lists of publishers & their websites for easy access (like www.everywritersresource.com). No matter how you choose to start, getting your list of publishers or agents is just the beginning.
DO YOUR RESEARCH:
I know how exciting it is to finally reach the point where you are ready to publish your book and you want to get it in front of as many people as possible because you never know who might be interested. But it is SO IMPORTANT to familiarize yourself with what a publisher or agent's guidelines are: what kind of books/genres are being accepted, whether or not submissions are open or closed, whether or not unsolicited manuscripts are accepted and how to submit your manuscript for consideration. It may seem like a tedious task, but truly look into each potential publisher or agent to make sure that not only are they a possible match for you, but that you have what they want and they are open to reviewing it. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and theirs. I cannot stress enough to BE CONSIDERATE of the submission guidelines and requirements. They are there for a reason. There are no "what ifs" on this one. If you ignore the guidelines, you are stating loud and clear that you don't care or are too lazy to read the requirements, and that will not do you any favors. You may have an amazing book, but if you send it to someone who doesn't work with that genre, they will not publish it. If you send a copy of your manuscript to someone who only wants a query letter and synopsis to start, they will toss it in the trash. It is also beneficial to familiarize yourself with other books they have published or represented so that you can offer comparisons for your book and why you felt they would be a good match for you. It not only helps to sell the idea of your book, but shows that you have done your homework. So, again, do yourself a favor and take the time to thoroughly research your list of publishers/agents. It will pay off.
WHAT TO SEND:
Now that you have a list publishers and/or agents that you feel would be a good match for your book, it is time to get your submission materials together. Each publisher and agent has unique guidelines that they would like you to follow when submitting your work to them. Some prefer emailed submissions (usually agent more than publishers), some prefer only a query while others would also like an outline or synopsis, sample chapters or even the full ms. Often they will specify the margins, font and spacing for your manuscript, how many pages a synopsis should be and other details pertaining to the presentation of the materials you send. It is important to familiarize yourself with each publisher's guidelines and follow them to a T. Do not send more or less than what they are asking for and be sure to format it to their standards. This is your one chance to make a good impression, so make sure you put your best foot forward. Don't rush when putting your materials together. Take your time, have friends and family proof read your query and synopsis. Check and double-check that you have addressed all the requirements and that you are happy with your submission materials. (I will spend time in a future blog going over query letters and synopsis, as these are areas that many authors struggle with when preparing their submissions). Most importantly, include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you ever hope to hear back from them (especially if you want your materials returned to you).
When sending your submission, be polite, be courteous and be professional. Don't try to be "fancy" with your submission. Don't spray your cover letter with perfumes or fragrances, don't use elaborate stationary or send gifts. These often smack of inexperience and don't leave a good impression on editors and agents. Present them the materials they have requested in a clean format. Let the work speak for itself. In the end you want your book to leave an impression, not the hot-pink stationary spritzed in cologne.
DON'T GIVE UP:
You've sent out a dozen or so submissions and have received a dozen rejections and a few never even responded. Don't be discouraged! There are hundreds of publishers and agents out there and one of them is bound to connect with your book. You just have to keep sending submissions with the same determination you had when you started. Searching for the right publisher or agent is a very long and emotional process, but the important thing is to never lose sight of your goal.