Have you written the next ‘Great American’ novel, a best-selling picture book, the perfect magazine article, or even a catchy phrase perfect for a greeting card that will let your ex down easy? You have, but do not know what to do with the finished product? Who do you show it to, your hairdresser, the UPS man, or how about your dentist? Unless one of these is also an agent or publisher, or at the least, works a second job as an editor, what help can they be? Who is going to help you on your way to success? Who is going to publish it? First, you are going to help yourself to success, and the publisher will then follow. At least that is the way we all hope it works! In truth, finding a publisher for our work is often a very long road.
Walk into any bookstore, grocery, or discount store, and you will see shelves of books and magazines. These same stores and every street corner will have newspapers for sale also. Don’t overlook the newest outlet for writers, the Internet, and advertising billboards, greeting cards, and even the back of the cereal box gracing your breakfast table. Every one of these and many others must have someone write the words that are on them. How can you be one of those people, and make some money at the same time? After you have your finished product, you need a market, and you need to know how to approach them.
Books and online sites on the subject of specific markets are available. These are incredibly helpful. They often list the genre the publisher is looking to acquire, the word count of the average submissions they accept, extras accepted, such as illustrations or photographs, pay rates, even whom to contact. Remember though that people change jobs, so to make sure you are submitting to the right person, you may wish to call and ask who in the submissions department, or which editor exactly, to address a submission to. Most publishers will send writer’s specific guidelines for submissions for just a SASE, or self addressed stamped envelope.
Magazines off the shelf are an excellent way to know if what you have written will fit a market. Look through a magazine and compare your work. Is the length similar to something in the issue; are the topics comparable, but not ones they have recently covered? Magazines usually list whomever is on their editorial board, addresses, even telephone numbers to double check accuracy. The publishing world is such a huge market, that if you know someone, who knows someone else, it is more than acceptable to pick someone’s brain for information. Does a particular editor have certain likes or dislikes? Has someone just moved from one publishing house to another, opening new possibilities at either the new or old house?
With the advent of the Internet, and email lists and online newsgroups specifically for writers now available, do not overlook these as excellent ways to discover new markets, guidelines, likes and dislikes. Most groups offer an individual of today information that only a few years ago would have taken months and even years to gather vie typical snail mail. Group members that have been published are usually more than willing to offer ‘newbies’ tips and information. Maybe you live across country from a conference, and was unable to attend, but a list member was not only there, but took notes and is willing to share. Each of these is a possible opening to a new or new to you market.
Once you have a market, what do you do? Be a professional in every way possible. After assuring yourself of the publisher’s guidelines, follow them, or at the least, use them as their name suggests, as a guideline, to help you prepare your manuscript for submission. If a publisher does not accept simultaneous submissions, make sure you do not send your manuscript to anyone other than them, or if this is unacceptable to you, only choose publishers that do not mind simultaneous submissions. If you opt for this second choice, make sure, in your cover letter, to let each publisher know that this is a simultaneous submission. Wait a reasonable time, this varies greatly depending on the time they specified in their guidelines, before approaching them if they have not responded. Most houses do not mind if you enclose a SASE postcard for them to send you, so you know they have at least received your manuscript. Check your works for typos as this is still one of the biggest ways to turn-off a publisher. Send ‘clean’ copies of your work, minus peanut butter fingerprint gracias of your two-year-old, and never send your only copy. Do not fold, staple, or tape your manuscript; number pages if necessary. Enclose a cover letter, including a short bio, previous published works, why you picked them to send to, any special information on why you feel this would fit a specific market, etc., but leave out that your third grader loved it, or your neighbor thinks it is a best seller. Good luck!