trying to wade through piles of manuscripts while juggling phone calls and
walk-ins from hopeful authors sometimes lose sight of a crucial task: managing
the submitted materials. What we’ve learned about that in the past four years
is summarized here. I hope it will help other new publishers and give more
experienced publishers something to think about.
This means communicating your
mission statement to the public and letting writers know what you want to see
(entire manuscripts? just proposals? full marketing plans?). Be specific about
what you need to advance your publishing house, and you’ll be more apt to get
Your Web site should have a page
dedicated to submission guidelines. Use the Internet to review guidelines from
publishing companies like yours and/or publishing companies you admire if you
Whether you are a one-person
publishing house or have a staff of 30, you need procedures for processing
submitted manuscripts. Here’s our routine:
When a manuscript arrives, the
office manager enters basic information (title, author, brief description, and
date) in our log and passes the ms. on to our managing editor with a blank
review form like the one below.
Action to take:
Letter of Interest
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>The managing editor does an initial review to answer
· Does the manuscript match our
mission statement? If not, our rejection letter A goes out (that letter is
described below, along with our rejection letters B and C).
· Is the ms. well written and free
of typos? If not, rejection letter A goes out.
· Did the author read and follow our
submission guidelines? If not, rejection letter A goes out.
· Is there a niche or hook for this
· Does the author show that there is
a market for this book?
· Is the author willing and able to
promote the book?
· Do we have someone in-house who
would be a good first reader?
· Do we need to find an outside
reader to judge the market for this book?
After recording reactions to the
manuscript on the review sheet, the managing editor either adds it to her own
pile of mss. to be read or assigns it to the best first reader, noting the
reader’s name in the log (this is essential; nothing is worse than not being able
to find a manuscript). She also pencils in a deadline for the reader’s report,
usually in two or three weeks (and usually not met because production and
promotion activities for our existing titles take precedence).
Every week, she reviews the log
and nudges readers along when that’s necessary.
If the first reader is not
enthralled and the managing editor has no strong feeling about the manuscript
one way or the other, rejection letter B is sent.
If the first reader likes the
manuscript, the managing editor finds a second reader.
If two or more readers like the
manuscript, a meeting is held to discuss marketing, possible formats, the
author’s credentials and a basic financial statement that the publisher has
drawn up. In the end, the question my managing editor usually asks me (yes, I’m
the softy who wants to make everyone’s dream come true) is, “If you don’t
publish this manuscript this year, what do you lose?” Keep that handy question
in the back of your mind when your heart and head don’t agree. If the
financial, marketing, or editing merits are borderline, we send Rejection
Letter C, along with advice from both editorial and marketing perspectives.
When we can, we recommend publishers better suited to the manuscript than we
Creating Rejection Letters
One thing is for sure: you will
send out more rejection letters than contracts. Over the past four years, we
have narrowed our collection of rejection letters down to three flavors.
The easiest one to write and send
is our rejection letter A, the one that goes to authors who didn’t do their
job. It opens with, “Thank you for submitting your manuscript [Title] for our
consideration. We were unhappy to see so many typos and grammatical errors [or,
“Unfortunately, we do not publish books in the XYZ genre”]. Please refer to the
Submission Guidelines on our website at <span
where you will see . . . ” and it closes—as all our rejection letters
do—with “Thank you for thinking of Keene Publishing. I am returning your
manuscript herewith. We wish you all the best with your writing career.”
We use rejection letter B when a
manuscript lacks a market, has an amorphous target audience, seems
unremarkable, or is in a very risky market that we do not wish to enter. It
begins with “Thank you for submitting your manuscript [Title] for our
consideration. I have read the manuscript and shared it with my colleagues.
Although your story concept is good, the manuscript failed to shine above the
others we have received . . . ” or “Thank you for submitting your manuscript
[Title] for our consideration. I have read the manuscript and shared it with my
colleagues. While your story concept is good, your manuscript may not stand up
to the competition. The market for children’s books today is extremely
competitive . . . ” This letter includes at least one sentence that provides
positive feedback. Sometimes we also provide suggestions about how the
manuscript could be improved.
Letter C goes to authors who are
skillful but who sent manuscripts lacking a major ingredient. It uses the same
first sentence as rejection letter B but is much more specific. Since we send
it to roughly 20 percent of the authors who submit material to us, letter C
involves a major investment of time for our small publishing house. We try to
let these authors down easy, give them hope that they deserve, educate them on
all their options, and caution them against vanity publishers that might take
their rights along with their money. Most authors who get this letter thank us
for saving them time and grief.
Creating Policies for
Multititle Submissions and House Authors
We publish only six titles a year,
and we like to give the slots to six different authors. As you sign
authors—and on your site’s submission-guidelines page—clearly state
your policy on publishing multiple books by the same author in the same
calendar year. You would be amazed at how prolific an energetic author can be!
Success Starts with
As we like to remind ourselves,
manuscripts are the seeds of a publishing program, and if submitted manuscripts
are selected and nurtured properly, they can lay the foundation for a
publisher’s success for years to come.
Diane Tinney founded Keene
Publishing, home of Moo Press children’s books, in 2003. The company has an
active backlist of eleven titles, with seven more titles in the works for 2006.
Its managing editor, Melissa Browne, created the process and the form described
in this article.