Publishers and agents receive THOUSANDS of manuscripts every year…yet only a handful of submissions are published. How can you beat out your competition and get into the top 3% of manuscripts they receive? On this week’s Writing Momentum podcast, Chris and Gena discuss what they’ve learned over the years about getting OUT of the slush pile FAST.
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Episode 37 Transcription:
[00:00:13].970] - Gena Hi. Welcome to the Writing Momentum podcast. I'm Gena Maselli and I'm here with my husband, Christopher Maselli. We're so glad to be here. And you know what, Chris? It is a beautiful day outside. [00:00:27].190] - Chris It's a beautiful day. It's a beautiful day because we live up in the mountains in northern Arizona, and it's starting to turn into a season where it's not so rainy anymore. And we just really like it. [00:00:36].630] - Gena It's cool. The temperatures are beautiful, and I'm looking forward to the leaves starting to change. We've even got aspens here in the mountains, so it just turns gorgeous. The fall was one of my favorites. [00:00:52].940] - Chris One of the nicest things about being in a climate like this is that during the fall, we can sit outside and write if we want to, which is a really nice kind of cathartic thing to do, right? [00:01:02].130] - Gena It's beautiful. If it seems weird that we're talking about the weather and you feel like, why are they talking about the weather? Who cares? It is because we have lived in the south for many years. Chris didn't always live in the south, but I have. I've always lived in the south where it has been humid and hot, and it pretty much you go humid and hot, humid and hot until it finally turns to really cold and rainy and wintry. Coming to an area where we get to really enjoy the four seasons is just a beautiful thing. [00:01:38].370] - Chris Absolutely. Now, one of the things that you can do when you're writing outside is you can submit things to publishers and editors. And that's what we're talking about today. [00:01:46].400] - Gena That is what we're talking. That's the real story today is how to bypass your peers and get out of the slush pile. [00:01:54].210] - Chris That's right. So publishers and agents, they get thousands of manuscripts every year. Okay? So really, like, if you work at a publisher, you might get 3000 manuscripts a month. Imagine that, 3000 a month. So they have to go through them very quickly. And you need to know if you're going to be submitting to a publisher or an editor or an agent. Some tips on how you can rise to the top percentage of those who submit to that slush pile, because you want to get out of the slush pile is that massive stack of documents that they received. It came from back in the days when they used to receive all physical documents and it created a literal pile on desks that would end up falling over and it created this huge amount of slush in the office. Right. Well, now it's almost all electronic, but they get the same thing in their inbox. It's like getting a whole bunch of spam they don't necessarily want, especially if things aren't what they're looking for, right? [00:02:49].890] - Gena Well, it is true that they are getting a lot and we want to maximize your opportunity to get to the top and attach their attention. And you would be surprised how you can become, I would say, part of that 10% that does rise to the top just very easily. And let's just start with the basics. And this is formatting. This seems like such a strange thing for us to talk about because we're professional writers, we should know what formatting is. But let's just make it clear that there is an industry standard that you want to follow if you want to be taken seriously. And this is simply one inch margins all the way around. And when I say all the way around, I mean left and right, top and bottom. Times New Roman. Twelve point font. Now, you might be able to get away with Ariel or Calibri. They are becoming more popular. And I know Calibri is the standard, is the template standard for Word, but I'll tell you, I would still do a control all and change that whole thing to Times New Roman. I would rather be knocked out for some other reason than the fact that I've got an old school editor who's going to look at that and go, what in the world? [00:04:12].970] - Gena They've sent me something. They don't even know how to format their documents. [00:04:17].510] - Chris Before we go on and talk about all these various tips, just to give you some insight as to what these editors find when they get documents, several years ago I was a judge for a very popular writing contest where people send in submissions. And I said, sure, I'll be happy to do it. And I thought that would be a really cool thing. What I didn't know was that I would receive at the beginning of, I think it was May, I received over 1000 manuscript in a big UPS box on my doorstep. It was actually a couple of boxes. And I had like 30 days to go through these thousand manuscripts and rank the top 100 in order. Okay, this is a tall order. And what I realized is this is how the editors feel at these publishing houses. They receive all these manuscripts and they literally have seconds to go through each one to try and find the ones that rise to the top and then they can spend more time with those top ones. So what you end up doing is you look for anything that might disqualify a manuscript and then you move on to the next one. [00:05:29].230] - Chris You have to it's just the only way that you can get through the massive amounts of mail that you receive. And so what I ended up doing was I looked for anything that was wrong. So Gena was just talking about having things in the right format if I found something that came and it was written in Comic Sans, which, believe me, it happened, I tossed it, right? I said, no, that's not the top 100 because they didn't even know how to format the manuscript. And the editors and agents, they're looking for those kinds of things too, because they're looking for ways to make easier decisions and to find the things they really want. So yes, first things first and make sure it's formatted properly. Have those one inch margins, use Times New Roman, use paragraphs. You wouldn't believe how many people submit things without things like paragraphs. Right? And also no spelling or grammatical errors on your page. You have to be careful because what happens is that people will submit things with spelling and grammatical errors. And guess what? They should have caught those because your program most likely puts a little red squiggly under anything that has a spelling error or a little green squiggly under anything that's a grammar error and so they should have been caught for sure. [00:06:42].000] - Chris So be sure to watch for those kinds of things. [00:06:43].640] - Gena Yes, and I think the thing that we have to keep in mind is there's been a couple of things. One, like Chris said, they are getting so much that when they see something that is not formatted correctly, when they see something that has errors in it, typos things like that, they are seeing that to say, if that's the basic level of professionalism and quality that I can expect from this author, then that's not someone I want to work with. I mean, that really is what it comes down to you. And that may sound harsh, but that's why it is so important to have your work edited, to have it professionally edited. If you've got a friend or a family member who can do that, well, then perfect. But otherwise, go ahead and spend the money to make sure that your manuscript rises to the top and isn't disqualified. And the other thing that I want to point out with that is I hear an excuse given pretty regularly that says that the message is so good that the quality of the story structure. That the structure of the nonfiction book. That the structure of the article. [00:08:02].430] - Gena Whatever it is. That somehow the message or the story or whatever is so good and even that the writing is so good that somehow the grammar. The punctuation. The formatting. That all of this stuff doesn't matter. And that's just not true. That is like building a house on a shaky foundation. You don't want a bunch of cracks coming in your foundation because the whole thing will come crumbling down and it's the same way. And the good news is that you can learn this stuff. You can learn it, you can use tools like ProWriting Aid to help you find errors and to point out they won't catch everything, but they'll certainly get you along the way. And then, yes, pay to have someone professionally edit it. That is an important part of it. [00:08:52].070] - Chris Another thing that you'll hear often from editors and agents when we've talked to them is that they receive so many manuscripts that are not the kinds of things that they publish, right? They'll say, I publish romance novels and they sent me a picture book, right? A lot of the manuscripts they get are things like that, and they say, this person didn't even do their research. And so you want to make sure that you're sending them exactly what they're looking for. And today that's easier to do than ever. You can go on the website. You will find submission guidelines on the website that tell you exactly how to submit your manuscript. Often they want you to fill out a form nowadays and upload your manuscript to that. If you send it by email, they're not going to look at it. They might, as a courtesy, send an email back and say you got to use the form, but they may not. It may just get discounted. So if you want to make sure that your manuscript is look at follow their rules, right, submit it the way that they can receive it, and then you have a much chance of rising higher to the top, because if you just do the things we've talked about so far, I bet you bypass what, 90% of the manuscripts that come in probably. [00:10:03].750] - Gena And then, yes, like Chris said, just making sure that you're submitting to the right place. If you're writing science fiction, find the science fiction publishers, find the science fiction online zines. Find those people who are interested in your genre. And here's the thing again. People might say, well, my message is so good, but you have to understand that those publishers, they have already set up their model so that they can reach their audience. And so if they're a picture book publisher, a children's picture book publisher, they are not going to know what to do with a science fiction novel. They're not going to have access to that readership, they have not set up the distribution channels. They haven't set up how to advertise to that market. So that's the other thing. Sometimes people we get in our own heads as writers, and we can kind of get excited about our message or about our book or our work and think that somehow it's so good that it's going to bypass all of these things. But this is, again, it's a business, and we just have to be as much as we have to act like business people instead of the publishers, they have to act like business people, and they have to handle their business in a reliable and in good faith way. [00:11:30].520] - Chris Yeah. And when you submit your manuscript, just another thought here is to go ahead and make sure you send a professional cover letter. Or nowadays it's called cover letter because that's the way it always used to be done, with a piece of paper. But nowadays we do it by email. So be sure you include a little introduction. That usually is an elevator pitch of what your book is about. Then a little bit about why this book is something that would fit that publishing house. It shows that you've done your research, and then you'll put a little bit about yourself. Remember, when I say a little bit on all these, I mean a little bit, okay. And then you'll go ahead and close out, and that's it just a nice ending. There, that kind of thing. Again, it signifies that you're professional. You're not just attaching a document in a silly picture or a document and, hey, I hope you'll read this and sending it off. You're covering it professionally. And by doing that, you'll get a lot further. [00:12:24].360] - Gena Yes. And I would even say with understanding who their audiences and understanding who their current writers are, by going on their website, by seeing who they publish or who they represent, you're able to stay in that cover letter again very shortly, in a very succinct way, like Chris said. But you can say, I see that you published this book by this author, and I believe that I would be a good fit for that. And I hesitate on that because you don't want to oversell yourself, and you don't want to say, well, this is the next Harry Potter. I would not say that. Be careful of overselling yourself like that, but find maybe that next generation of author who's in that vein and say, I'm in this line, and I'm in this vein. I'm on the same page with this person that you also represent. So you want to sell yourself. You don't want to oversell yourself, you don't want to undersell yourself, but you want to just be professional. [00:13:32].940] - Chris Yeah, absolutely. Now, the one way you can get by a lot of these things is actually by meeting an editor or an agent at a writer's conference. If you've listened to this podcast for any length of time, you know that we love writers conferences because not only can you learn a lot, but you can make a lot of connections. And one of those connections that you can make is with an editor or an agent. And when you're able to sit down across from an editor agent and pitch your idea, often you'll get great feedback. But you can also overcome some of these errors, right? Because this is the one chance where even if your writing is not perfect, if you can sell your vision, then they might overlook that a little bit. Again, just a little bit, because ultimately they're going to bring it back home. They have to sell it to their marketing team. So you really want to make sure it's as flawless as possible, but that is a way to get an edge. What do you say? [00:14:27].430] - Gena I would say absolutely a way to get an edge and also to show that marketing wise, that you are a savvy business person as well, that you already have a presence on social media, that you are already building a platform or an audience, that you're reaching out to readers, that you're involved in these other things. So that, again, they know that you're a sure bet when they buy your manuscript or they take it. [00:14:55].810] - Chris They want to know you have an audience for sure. [00:14:57].840] - Gena Absolutely. [00:14:58].790] - Chris Yeah. So the last thing I want to say is just remember, it takes time. It takes time. When you submit something to an editor or an agent, don't write them within a couple of weeks and say, hey, do you have a chance to look at it? That sort of thing. It can take, I don't know, six weeks, eight weeks, 90 days. I would definitely give it time because the longer time that you give it, the better chance you'll hear back. And just know that some of them don't have very good ways of cataloging all of those manuscripts that come in. And so you're going to have to wait anyway. The one exception to that might be that if you met someone again at a writer's conference and they said, send this to me right away, then maybe you could respond in about 30 days just to say, hey, I sent it. Just wanted to make sure you got it, that sort of thing. Even then, though, I probably wouldn't. I'd probably wait a good 60, 90 days and do it that way. [00:15:48].610] - Gena Yeah, it's the nature of the business that it just takes time, for sure. It really does take time. We hope that you have enjoyed this podcast. We hope that you will subscribe. We hope you will share it with your writing friends. We hope you will. What else, Chris? [00:16:04].950] - Chris Subscribe, share, rate, and review it. I tell you, it really helps if you can rate and review this podcast. You can do that in your podcast app or even on YouTube. If you're watching this on YouTube, go ahead, subscribe there, or give it a little thumbs up. All those things help other people find this podcast. If you find value in it, that's probably the biggest way that you can give back is just to say, hey, I'm going to give it a thumbs up. I'm going to give it a few stars. I'm going to write a review. Any of those really help and we'd appreciate it. [00:16:37].120] - Gena And also, if you have any questions about writing, please go to our writingmomentum.com. Yes. And we've got a little pop up there that you can submit questions to us at chat box. So go ahead and send us questions. If you have questions about writing or publishing or branding or selling your book, we'd love to hear it. [00:17:01].070] - Chris And if you are looking for some people to write with, we love to write with other writers. We have a group that we have that comes together every Wednesday at noon Central and we just write together. We have a 15 minutes of a training and teaching time. And then for 45 minutes, we write together over zoom and just keep each other accountable to our writing. And it's been growing. We've got about a dozen of us in there now. We just have a good time doing that together. We would love to have you join us and just keep building this up bigger and bigger. You can find out more about that writingmoments.com. [00:17:36].180] - Gena Well, and I just want to say that it's a great way. If you need accountability or if you are somebody who is writing on your own and you feel like you're surrounded by people who don't really understand the writing life and the writing journey, come along. Come join us. We understand it, we get it, and we want to support you in it. [00:17:55].410] - Chris Absolutely. So until next time, remember it's together that we have writing momentum. Bye.