10 Ways NOT To Get Published

Want to be published? Then don’t do the following:

Send your manuscript to the wrong publisher.

I have a friend who, early in her writing career, sent a sweet romance short story to Hussler magazine. Now, when she looks back on that, she says she bets the editorial staff had a good laugh.

Sending a ms to a publisher that doesn’t publish that genre is a waste of time. Nowadays, with most publishing houses having websites, a writer should take the time to make sure the publisher publishes what the writer has written. (There’s also The Writers’ Market, which lists publishers, what they’re looking for, and some guidelines. Most large libraries have a copy in their reference section.)

Write a confusing, apologetic query letter that tells more about you than the story.

The role of a query letter is to let the agent or editor know a bit about the story: genre, ms length, and a brief (usually no more than a couple short paragraphs) teaser telling what the story is about. The writer might also include marketing information, if appropriate, and information about the writer’s writing accomplishments or why the writer has the expertise to write this book (for non-fiction).

I have heard query letters where the writer goes on and on about his or her life, about the financial/health/psychological problems, the writer is facing, and about the writer’s religious beliefs. Unless this information is key to the topic being submitted, it merely makes the letter too long and detracts from the information the editor needs to know.

Don’t follow the submission guidelines.

Sending in a manuscript that doesn’t fulfill the publisher’s or agent’s submission guidelines is a waste of the writer’s time as well as an agent’s or editor’s time. Some publishing houses only publish certain genres, stories set in certain locations, set during certain time periods, or of certain lengths. Read those guidelines before submitting.

Bash all the books and/or authors being published by the editor’s company.

I’ve actually seen a query letters where the writer said the books being published by a certain company were mediocre at best, and the editor needed to take the story being submitted because it would improve the publishing house’s quality.

Since many of the books being bashed may have been selected by the editor, comments degrading those books are not going to impress the editor. It’s like telling someone their children are ugly.

Send in a manuscript with errors and tell the editor you are sure the editor can fix them.

Years ago an editor might have overlooked grammar and spelling errors if the story had merit, but nowadays, most editors simply don’t have the time to go through a manuscript and make corrections such as these. If the writer is lucky, and the story idea or the writer’s voice really caught the agent or editor’s attention, the writer might receive a rejection letter that indicates the writer may resubmit once the errors have been corrected. (Several agents and publishing houses will tell the writer to hire an editor to go through the manuscript before submitting.)

Writers must learn the craft of writing. Editors expect a manuscript to be 95% ready to publish when received.

Make it clear that you will not allow anyone to make any changes to this manuscript. You will not make any revisions. This story is to be published exactly as written.

Years ago a coworker told me she’d written a book, but she was going to self-publish it because she did not want anyone making any changes to it. I don’t know if she did self-publish. I wasn’t eager to read the book if she did because I know how valuable a good edit can be. No matter how hard a writer tries to write the perfect book, we still miss typos and don’t always realize we haven’t adequately explained something in the story. Or we’ve used one word too often. Or repeated information. Used clichés. Changed a character’s eye or hair color. (Or even a name.) We need editors.

Explain in your query letter to the book publisher why this story should be a movie and who they should ask to play the different roles.

As we write a story, it’s good to imagine it as a movie and it helps a writer to visualize certain actors in the roles of characters in the story. A BOOK editor, however, doesn’t care. Their business is to sell a book, not a movie. They want a book to do well. If it is picked up by a movie producer, that’s great. That might help with book sales, but they won’t get any part of the money paid for the option.

Sell an editor on why the book will do well in the book market. Let an agent sell a movie producer on why the book would make a great movie.

Submit a manuscript that is either way too long or too short.

Sure, some manuscripts that were longer than a publisher usually accepted (Harry Potter books, for example) have been published, and some shorter than usual get published, but exceeding the norm will merely make a writer’s chances of getting published more difficult.

Become a stalker.

I’ve heard stories of editors and agents being “stalked” during a conference, followed everywhere, even into the bathroom. I’ve heard of frustrated writers deciding the best way to get noticed is to send daily emails demanding a response to a query or submission. And there have been comments posted on social media bashing a publishing house for slow responses. Even if that’s true, the writer doesn’t know what’s going on at that publishing house and why the response has been so slow. The publisher, however, is going to remember being harassed by that writer.

And finally, probably the most important reason why a story will not be published…

Put your finished manuscript in a drawer and never send it out.

I’ve known some very talented writers who will never be published because they either never finished the story or never sent it out.

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16 Responses to 10 Ways NOT To Get Published

  1. Sound advice as always, Maris. Thanks for the reminders.

  2. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something right is to find out how to do it wrong. These 10 points certainly explain how to do it wrong! Excellent advice, Maris.

  3. Lucy Kubash says:

    It’s hard to imagine people actually doing these things, but we all know it still happens. I read so many reviews of self-published books that say, “it really needed a good editor for spelling and grammar.” No excuse. Thanks for the reminders on how not to jeopardize our work.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    I see many of these things each time someone sends in a submission to my publishing house. It’s frustrating and a little sad to have to tell them that they are sending to the wrong house.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Sometimes I feel sorry for writers who do that, but other times I wonder why they don’t take the time to check and see what a publisher is looking for. Thanks, Melissa, for taking the time to respond.

  5. Hi Maris,

    An excellent list of what not to do.

  6. Elorise Holstad says:

    Very good advice, Maris. And here’s yet another reason a book won’t be published: if the writer doesn’t finish it !!

    • Maris Soule says:

      So, Elorise, finish the damn book! (And yes, you are so right. I’ve talked to many writers who said they wanted to be published who simply never finished the book.)

  7. Great reminders, Maris. I need this list by my desk. Thanks.

  8. Diane Burton says:

    Now I can laugh at mistakes newbie writers make. Unfortunately, I remember making some of them myself. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I made a lot of mistakes when I started. I wasn’t laughing then, but now it’s nice to know I wasn’t alone. Thanks for the comment, Diane.