If it's a big publishing house, such as Random House or HarperCollins, the submission process is simple: agented or solicited submissions are the only way to get looked at. It's the easiest process for any publisher, but it also means that some really great books by unknown and unagented writers are overlooked. Thus, this process is not used by many small independent publishers.
Some publishers opt to use outside services, such as Bowker Manuscript Submissions, to find submissions. While Scarletta Press does have this service, it's not something we rely on by any means. In fact, it's supposed to help us eliminate the slush pile of submissions we wade through every week by only sending us submissions that meet our requirements, but half the time we completely forget about it.
So now you're wondering, how do I get noticed if there are all these rules and services!? Well, small publishers are the best bets for any unpublished author. Why? Because they usually accept unagented and unsolicited manuscripts. Even so, every publisher has rules on their submissions: genres accepted, reading period time frames, certain amount of pages submitted, etc. So how do you get their attention?
- Know the publisher's submission guidelines. You might be submitting to only ten publishers, or you might be submitting to 100. Either way, this is the most important rule. Not knowing their submission guidelines can deter a publisher. For instance, Scarletta only reads during a certain period. We're small. We only have so many people, and so we only read during seasons with less chaos for our already acquired novels.
- Be well-prepared. The manuscript should be copyedited and cold read by a friend. Everyone has a friend or relative that will give their unbiased opinion on a manuscript. Utilize this person.
- Have a query letter that sells the story before it sells you. (Unless you're Stephen King!) We don't necessarily care to read two paragraphs about your life story before we even read the ms. We want to know about the writing. And we certainly don't want to read two to three pages of a letter either. Make it simple. Make it quick.
- Check, recheck, and then check again. Would you read someone's manuscript after reading your query letter and synopsis? Try to be objective. It never hurts to keep editing these documents.
- Stay organized. You should focus on what you want and submit to the publishers you like the most. It's always easier if you keep all the information organized in a spreadsheet.
- Be persistent. Keep your eye on the prize. Some of the most renowned writers were rejected one hundred times or more before someone decided to publish them.