Five tips from a publishing professional
Writing for a living is often glamorized as a life of thoughtfully composing profound prose on your laptop while you sip cappuccinos in an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop or lake house. In reality, it’s more like battling writers’ block in your sweats and wondering how you’re going to make deadline without having a stress-related aneurysm. Not a lot of writers can make a lavish living — that is, most of us have a number of gigs on the go at once and very few of us are paid J.K. Rowling-level advances for our work.
That said, there are benefits to being published outside of the financial compensation (and, let’s be honest, the financial compensation isn’t that great…labour of love, anyone?). Being published validates the value of your work, gives you credibility and authority, and serves as a great way to contribute to the cultural conversation (plus, you can use it as a means of introduction at parties: “Hi, I’m Jessica, I have what some might call a concerning obsession with licorice, I own both going-out sweats and staying-home sweats, and I’m a published author”).
While actually creating a good piece of writing is a feat in and of itself, taking your work from final draft to published is also a difficult endeavour. I worked in the publishing industry for 10 years where I both edited manuscripts and vetted manuscript proposals. After seeing everything from extremely well-prepared to laughably terrible proposals, there are a few tips I can give you if you’re looking to have your work published.
1. Research relevant publishers
Submitting a manuscript or an article, like applying for a job, is much more effective when you are selective about who you contact. Research the publishers or editors whom you are interested in submitting your work to, to ensure that your book fits their publishing program or editorial calendar. This will save you a lot of time and rejection-letter-related heartache – trust me.
2. Follow submission guidelines
Typically, every publisher has its submission guidelines posted on its website, and every publisher is looking for specific information from prospective authors or contributors in order to make a decision on a book proposal or an article. Follow those guidelines! Simply emailing your full manuscript or article to a publisher will likely result in a rejection, or at least an irritated acquisitions editor (and when we're irritated we're far less likely to want to dive into your 400-page collection of poetry about your cat).
3. Explain how your manuscript or article fits with a publishing house's or media outlet’s mandate
Further to the last point, be sure you're explaining to the publishing house or media outlet how your manuscript or article will fit with the kinds of books or pieces they publish. Why should they be excited to include your book in their next catalogue? How does it complement the titles they've already published? Show them how your book or article will benefit their list or content offering.
4. Know your audience
One of the most frustrating claims I would read in manuscript proposals is that the book is written for "all readers." This is simply not possible. Know exactly who you are writing for and who your book's argument or topic is designed to reach. Is it students? Dog lovers? Professionals? Retirees with a love of smooth jazz? Be specific, and speak directly to that audience in your writing and in your proposal.
5. Be patient
Publishing houses or editors get hundreds of manuscript proposals or articles/pitches a week and going through them all is usually one of many tasks that an editor is responsible for. It sometimes takes up to three or four months for a book proposal to be evaluated and discussed among editorial staff, so be patient. If your proposal is well written, original, and engaging, editors will notice it – I promise.
Now all that’s left to do is to put pen to paper – no judgement if it’s in your sweats either.