Let me preface this by saying, "Sorry." This is a rant. It's a bit angry and snarky. But it's a rant I hope proves helpful for new writers. And Let me also preface it with: It's not directed at everyone. Having said that...
I've been the Editor in Chief at Grand Mal Press going on six years now. During that time both myself and the business owner (and sometimes outside editors as well) have had the pleasure of reading submissions. No, I'm not saying that sarcastically, I genuinely enjoy discovering new authors. But I can’t tell you how many people flat out do NOT follow our submission guidelines and how that is the FIRST thing I look for when it comes to weeding out the chaff.
And this phenomenon only seems to be getting worse by the year.
Now, before you say a missing query letter or unformatted manuscript should not be the sole reason a book is rejected, rest assured I always take a peek at the book as well. But I can usually tell from the query letter itself, or lack of a query letter, that the book AND the author are not something we want to represent.
We want professionals. And someone who cannot take a couple minutes to read our guidelines and adhere to them is generally not a professional.
The guidelines on the GMP website (http://www.grandmalpress.com/submissions.php) are very cut and dried. They’re simple. Send us a Word Doc, single-spaced, in 12 pt TNR font. That’s about as simple as it gets. I will even overlook double-spaced manuscripts most times because I realize many publishers do want it double-spaced. We choose to use single spacing because both the owner and I read a lot of submissions on our tablets and phones and it’s easier to get more reading done on a small screen that way. Otherwise we spend more time swiping than reading.
See, there’s a reason!
We also ask for a brief query letter. Now a query should be a page to two pages tops. We specifically ask that it be ONE page. We also ask writers not to send us long synopses as we will ask for them if we like the first couple chapters of the book.
We get a lot of submissions. We don’t have time to read long letters. We need to know that you can get to the point and interest us right away. It speaks directly to your professionalism and writing talent. See, there’s a reason!
Okay, seems simple, right? Send us the manuscript in standard format. Send a short letter telling us who you are and why we might like your book. In all, that process should take you no more than an hour to whip up. Single spacing your document is a one-time universal change found under the paragraph option in most word processing programs.
But man oh man...the stuff we get!
Where to begin?
Let’s start with the writers who send us manuscripts when we aren’t even open for submissions (which is clearly posted at the top of the submissions page). What are you doing? We’re not open! We’re not going to look at it! On top of which your 15-page query letter full of poor grammar and typos about how your book is going to change the world is an automatic flag for me to block you for life. I don’t have time to read 15 pages! Let alone 3! You come across as a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. You scare me. Your book might change the world...but not with us. You didn’t follow the guidelines.
Now right here you might be saying, "But I saw your guideines on another site and they didn't mention you were closed." To which I reply: ALWAYS CHECK THE PUBLISHER SITE! I shouldn't even have to say that. It should be common sense.
And let’s backtrack for a sec and talk about that “my book will change the world” mentality. I see it a lot in query letters. “I assure you readers have not read anything like this before.” “My novel is the first of its kind.” “This book will change the way people live!”
First off, no, your book is not going to change the world. And I don’t need it to. What I need it to do is be entertaining. That’s how and why a book sells in the genre fiction world. It’s entertaining. That’s it. Sure, it might make you think, and that’s great, but it just needs to be a fun read. When I see query letters talking about how a book will change the world, I roll my eyes. And every time--every time!--the novel is terrible. Enthusiasm is great, don’t get me wrong, but when was the last time you got a job by telling the interviewer you were going to revolutionize not just their company but the entire industry?
Your query letter is not where you tell me how you’re going to change the world. It’s where you show me you can be entertaining, or at least intriguing...and above all, professional. I’m not saying it has to make me cry or laugh out loud (though it doesn’t hurt), but it does have to be professional.
Next up are the writers who don’t send all parts of the submission requirements. All we get is a manuscript with a one sentence email along the lines of: “Here’s my novel. Hit me up if you want to publish it.”
NO! NO ! NO! I’m not going to just dig into your novel and read through it to find out what it’s about. There’s a reason we want a query letter! Do you think my time and energy is all for you? Look, I don’t know if you’re dejected, if you’ve gotten so many rejections that you’re giving up, or if you’re just an entitled asshat, but this is not the way you get me interested in working with you. If you are feeling dejected and this is your new MO, then I get it, I’ve been there too, hell I’m still there most days, but you need to pick your head up and trudge forward professionally like every successful writer has done before you. Pay your dues, and keep trying. If you are just an entitled asshat, then enjoy the many more rejection letters you will no doubt receive. The only time it’s acceptable to not send the required information is if you’ve been invited to submit and we told you to just send us the book. Otherwise, bad move.
Conversely there are the writers who send us way more than we ask for, up to and including terrible covers they've designed themselves. Covers so laughably bad I want to frame them and hang them on my wall. We didn't ask for a cover, let alone one that looks like it was created by a drunk frog, so why are you sending it? Just the sheer fact that you thought that cover was good tells me your novel is crap.
We also get a lot of preformtatted PDFs, as if the author is trying to tell us, "See, the book is print ready! You don't even have to do any work! So where's my contract?" It's on my dartboard, hanging next to your cover.
Then there are the liars. These are my favorites. We get plenty of them. It’s as if they think we won’t do the research. A recent one was sent to us by the author’s Representative and my Spidey-sense kicked in immediately. Representative? What’s that? Is it an agent? No, because we’ve worked with agents before. I know what an agented query looks like. And I can look up an agent’s name and find their website. So I did a quick bit of research only to discover said representative does not really exist. Ooookay. Well that’s a red flag. So I assume this representative is either the author himself or a friend of the author. The few tidbits I found online convinced me the author has created several fake employees (editors, agents, typists, etc) that are just the author using fake names. Either way, I don’t want to work with a liar.
There are also the ones who lie about their success. The awards, the “bestseller” status, the dozens and dozens of novels they’ve released to critical acclaim. Look, I can get on Amazon and fact check this. You realize that, right? When all I find are a couple of self-published books with no stars, I tend to think you're full of shit.
This is something we do, writers. We fact check. Very often if I’m interested in an author I will look at their reviews on Amazon, or do a simple google search for them to make sure they’re not the head of the KKK. When I find that you not only lied about your body of work but about the praise you’ve received....I reject you. I do NOT want to work with crazy people.
And please stop telling me you’re a Five-Star Amazon Bestseller. A seven year old can get a five-star review and be an Amazon Bestseller these days. It’s meaningless. Tell me about real awards and real publishing credits and I’ll be interested.
If, somehow, we receive a submission that does follow the rules, the next reason we are likely to reject it is because the story is not what we’re looking for or, unfortunately, the book is not that good. It’s tough to hear, we realize. Being told your masterpiece is boring is a tough pill to swallow. But listen, writers, it’s also a necessary pill. Because it will make you a better writer. Listen to what we’re saying. If the language is stilted, go back and fix it. If the story is boring, liven it up. What kills me, and what will make me not want to work with you in the future, is when we reject your book for its glaring errors or piss-poor pacing, and we see it self-published on Amazon a week later. I remember your names and your book titles. And your unwillingness to hone your craft means you are not someone we want to work with.
(By the way, I’m not attacking self-pubbers. There are manY who know what they’re doing. Many who are successful at it. I’m attacking the ones who self publish after not taking all their rejection comments to heart.)
And Lastly, there are those writers who send us stuff we’re not looking for. It says clearly on the submissions guidelines page we are NOT looking for Erotica. And yet they send us Erotica. These people...I used to respond. I don’t anymore.
So, as I near the end of my rant, I want to explain that I’m writing this as a means to help you, new writers. Read the submission guidelines for the publishers you are submitting to. If you follow the directions--which are there for a reason--and your book is good, you will get published. Maybe with us, maybe with someone else. And I guarantee you will be happier with an imprint that produces a good looking book than with a self-published one that reeks of desperation.
And in case you’re wondering what an enticing query letter looks like, I’ve asked author Craig Saunders if I could throw up the one he sent us for his novel, Spiggot. Mr. Saunders writes horror and fantasy with a humorous slant. When we got this submission, it made us want to read his book. And when we read his book, we said, “We need to publish this now!” And we did.*
QUERY FOR SPIGGOT BY CRAIG SAUNDERS:
Dear Mr Ryan Thomas,
I wonder if you would read my novel, Spiggot, a comedy/detective novel at 83,000 words (think hardcore Dirk Gently).
Spiggot, a successful detective yet degenerate person, lives and works the streets of Norfolk. He is the consummate misanthrope, walking a fine line between loveable anti-hero and despicable bigot with very large shoes. His one redeeming feature is his beautiful partner, the seductively named Francesca Trout. She keeps her one good eye on the job, and her slightly gammy, less attractive left eye on her partner.
Spiggot is catapulted into his worst nightmare when on a stakeout to catch criminal mastermind The Egyptian Lady from Stoke and her henchman/woman, the Amazonian (a towering sadistic hermaphrodite) his soul is sent by means of an ancient artefact into a mad axe murderer’s body, who is held captive in a maximum security residential hospital for the criminally insane.
His only hope of redemption is to rely on his partner to help catch the Egyptian Lady. The trouble is he’s in a nutcase’s body, Trout didn’t like him in the first place, he’s got an insane copper after him and he’s afraid of pirates…we can only hope this doesn’t all end on a boat…
‘He’s just given the plot away!’
‘Plot? There’s a plot?’
Oh, and it’s written by the Egyptian Lady herself, and her nurse. Say hello, then, if you’re going to interrupt.
The slightly more masculine one is the nurse. Easy to get them confused sometimes.
As I was saying, it’s a commentary on the state of the Britain today, a satire on the cult of celebrity and nothing at all like a police procedural novel. Despite that, I’m hoping people will realise it’s really just a puerile attempt to get some more toilet humour in the lexicon of British literature and not take it to heart.
Anyway, say goodbye to the nice lady/man/person of non-specified gender, Egyptian Lady, and stop poking the nurse with that pencil.
My first novel has recently been accepted for publication, and I have had several short stories published. I have included my publication history and bio below. I also have a facebook profile and a blog and website to publicise my work, and am active on several forums where I also promote my work.
Should you encounter any difficulties reaching the Egyptian Lady it’s because she’s safely under lock and key. I, on the other hand, can be contacted at any time.
* Mr. Saunders' contract with GMP expired and he has rereleased the book himself. Which I ony mention for you fact checkers out there. More importantly, you should read it. It's brilliant!