Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Open Letter to Publishers on the Subject of Their Websites

Let me begin by saying I’m not calling anyone out in particular.  This is not a rant nor a targeted exposé, simply an honest, open FYI from one person in the writing industry to others.

As an aspiring author who’s been doing research into agents and publishers, I’ve read scores of publishing websites over the last several months.  One thing I've noticed a lot is the lack of clear information about what publishers accept for submissions.

I’d like to bring a few points about this to the attention of publishers in the hopes of making the nerve-wracking process a little easier on both authors and publishers and saving everyone some time all around.

Submissions pages

If you want writers submitting to you, particularly if you want to be pulling in the kinds of books you are looking to publish, you need to give them more specifics about what you are or not seeking in an author's work.

If you prefer not to publish books with overt Christian messages, please say so on the website.
If you prefer books that would receive a PG-13 rating instead of a PG rating, state that.
If you want to publish YA and not MG fiction, but all you say on your website is that you ‘like unique, fun fantasy’ then you’re going to have authors sending you manuscripts you can’t use.  This wastes the time of the author and your acquisitions editor.

Consider.  It takes between five and ten minutes to open a pitching email and read a proposal.  Then it takes between five and twenty minutes to reply to the author either rejecting them right away or asking for their manuscript.  Then, once you’ve read the manuscript and realized it’s not what you’re looking for, it’s taken you between two and six months, if you’re operating at industry standard.

Whereas if you had just put a line on your website that said ‘we prefer books closer to the PG-13 or R range than a PG range’, or had said ‘we prefer to publish only romance books or books where the primary plot is mystery, no matter what other elements your story contains’, the author can read that and immediately know that you’re not a good fit for their fantasy romance-with-a-hint-of-mystery book.

Depending on how long your Submissions page is, it will take the average author between three and ten minutes to read it.  Another five or so to re-read the list of submission criteria.  Another five to triple check it when deciding whether to submit to you or not.

Thirteen to twenty minutes overall that the author spends, which equals the publisher not needing to spend any time at all on a book that won’t fit them, thus leaving their time open for those who do fit enough of the criteria to give your company or agency a shot.

If you make sure that what you're looking for is crystal clear on your website, preferably with a concise list of 'yes, we want this kind of thing' and 'no, we don't want this kind of thing', you're not only making it easy on authors and yourselves, you're impressing anyone who reads the site with your professionalism and clear communication.  They'll remember that, and, even if they can't submit to you themselves, they're more likely to recommend you to others.

FAQ pages

‘Well, if we were to list every jot and tittle of what we are or are not looking for, the submissions page would be too long.  That’s why we tell people to look at our past catalogue.’

That’s a valid point and all very well and good… except for two things.

a) Taking the last point first, if you don’t have much of a back catalogue yet, authors can't go to that to judge.  Also, if you expect authors to actually read some of your back catalogue to see how much of it is like theirs, you're asking most authors to put too much time into trying out for your press when they can find another that has similar criteria but laid out concisely enough between submissions and FAQ pages that they don't have to spend ten+ hours reading enough of your back catalogue to try to figure out if their fiction fits your press.

b) And this is the more relevant point, this is what FAQ pages are for.  For the details, the questions and answers too long or numerous to make it onto the submissions pages.

Recently, I emailed a girl who is beginning her own publishing company to ask her several questions about what specifically she was looking to publish.  She replied with a lengthy, informative email, and then added that she was probably going to put the answers up into an FAQ page on the website for others with the same questions.

THAT is professional.  That is the easy, smart, sensible way to handle inquiries regarding particulars about your goals. 

No, you probably won’t have the time or space to list every single inquiry and answer on your FAQ page.  But the more common inquires and/or inquiries from one person that it seems like others might also have should be listed on a FAQ page.

If the author still isn’t sure if their book is a good fit for you after having read the submissions page, they can go to the FAQ and sort through the information there.

It isn’t a foolproof plan to eliminate anything you won’t be interested in.  That is why you have acquisitions editors.  But this can save authors and publishers/acquisitions editors a lot of time and trouble.

"But", you ask, "what if we don’t have the time or manpower to write detailed submissions or FAQ pages or keep them updated?"

Then, with all due courtesy, what are you doing in the publishing world?  Please step aside and make way for the professionals who will make the time to smooth the process out as much as is sensibly and reasonably possible.

Have a good day... and may your publishing companies thrive.