Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lesson #1: Am I ready to submit? Not in a sexy way.

Okay, first a little introduction here, to cover my bases. First of all, you follow any advice I dispense at your own peril. I'm gonna share what worked for me, but maybe you need my awesome charisma to pull it off. I don't know. All I'm saying is, I don't want a bunch of lawsuits coming my way because you followed my advice of not singing in elevators to editors and it turns out that the editor used to be a record executive and you could have totally landed a recording contract if you'd just busted it out like you were in the Hollywood round of American Idol.

Other disclaimer: Since it was asked, I cannot read anybody's materials. It's part of this thing I've got going where I'm trying to avoid lawsuits and shit. Also, it would eat up all the time I need to spend playing World of Warcraft meeting my deadlines, which are looming like the spectre of Death, scythe and all. And not funny, Terry Pratchett death. Death like a giant metal bird with red eyes, that breathes fire and when it opens its beak, it emits a cry that is like the sound of brakes screeching in futility on wet pavement as the vehicle fishtails, coming dangerously closer and closer to the guardrail that makes the difference between driving down Mulholland and shooting like a flaming meteor through the night sky over Hollywood.

Wait, where was I?


Okay, today's lesson will be lesson #1, because #1 is a good place to start a list. And this lesson will be called, "Am I ready to submit?"

Several factors will decide if you're even at the point where you need to be worried about the submissions process yet. You are ready to submit when:
  • Your first draft is complete.
  • You have researched publishing houses that accept your genre of work, and have a pretty good idea which house, imprint, and editor you're going to submit to.
  • You have researched the submission guidelines for that house, imprint and editor.

Now, some schools of thought (my grandmother, for example) believe that you can go ahead and get a book like, half-finished and go ahead and submit your first three chapters to a publishing house because, hey, it takes them forever to get back to you, right? Let's just say, hypothetically, that you're a first time writer, and someone (like my grandmother) says, "If you've got three chapters, go ahead and submit them, because it will take them at least a year to get back to you." So, not knowing any better, this first time writer has six chapters of a book they're calling Blood Ties finished, and they send it off to a hypothetical publishing house, we'll just use Tor in this example. And then like, a week later, the hypothetical author gets a request for a full. But she doesn't have a full, she's got six chapters still, because she hasn't been getting a lot of work done because her boss left for Washington D.C. and the office is falling apart around her and he left a stun gun in her desk because he thinks a client is going to go crazy and try to shoot up the office.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Do yourself a favor. The publishing industry moves really slow, most of the time. But if you have luck like mine, you're going to end up submitting a manuscript that is only partially finished to an editor who just discovered the productivity increasing wonder drug Crystal Meth, and then she speeds through her slush pile on a slow Tuesday afternoon and you end up writing a whole book in two weeks while screaming, "I WILL GET THOSE DEPOSITIONS TO THE COURT HOUSE WHEN I DAMNED WELL FEEL LIKE IT, JEFF!" into the phone.

Better to be safe than sorry, finish your first draft completely before submitting.

When it comes to researching publishers and publishing houses, you have a few options. My number one recommendation to all writers is to join Romance Writers Of America. Even if you don't write romance. Why? Because they have the tightest network of working writers who know the ropes. You don't have to join a local chapter and go to meetings if you don't want to. You can join online chapters, too. The dues probably seem pretty steep for something that hasn't officially become a career yet, right? Consider it an investment in your future career.

If you're not a joiner, or you have some mortal dread of romance authors or clubs, you can also motor on down to your local library and request a copy of The Writer's Market. This is an annual publication that lists thousands of publishers from childrens' books to hardcore erotica, and how to submit your work to them. The drawback to this method is that it's an annual publication, and guidelines change during the year depending on what editor gets promoted or fired or pregnant or hit by a bus, so my advice in this area is to look up the information and send a letter or give a call to the publishing house to double check that your information is up-to-date.

Similar to The Writer's Market option is the guerrilla editor stalking option, which some people do because they don't know about the other two options, and this seems like a great way to start. They go to a bookstore or their own bookshelves, find books that are in the genre they want to be published in, copy down the address of the publisher from the inside of the book and call or write for submission guidelines.

Luckily, guerrilla editor stalking can also now be accomplished via Google, so if you're going to go that route, check online for guidelines before you call.

Something you may run into in your search for the right house and editor is the dreaded, "No unagented submissions" clause. This means, "We only deal with agents." This is meant to warn away potential unagented authors from storming the castle gates and creating a slush pile of monumental proportions. I have a controversial opinion when it comes to "no unagented submissions." I, personally, tell people to query, even if they don't have an agent. Why? Because they might go ahead and read it anyway, and the worst that can happen is that they'll just return it unopened. There's this weird fear in the writing community that if you stray one centimeter from the approved guidelines of a publishing house, they're going to mark your name off on this big checklist and send the news of your transgression around to the other big publishing houses so that they can blacklist you and never buy your work. If you query, and they call you on the fact that you're unagented, you can always either lie and say you didn't realize they didn't accept unagented submissions, apologizing profusely all the way, or you could be like, "Yeah, I know. I thought I'd give it a shot anyway." Which ever comes standard in your operating system.

Tomorrow, we'll cover how to make your work ready to be submitted, as per submission guidelines. And I'll try to keep all disturbing death imagery out of it.

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