No unsolicited manuscripts! Ah, the pain of reading or hearing those three words is every writer’s nightmare. As the squeeze on the publishing industry grows tighter and tighter, so grows the frustration of new writer.
Everywhere we turn, we see the words no unsolicited manuscripts. With such stop signs how could we expect to ever be published? The greater question becomes, “Why don’t they accept unsolicited manuscripts?”
As sad as it seems, with the fall of the 2008 economy, publishers had no option but to cut positions. Houses were turned upside down, editors were pared to the nub and work – well. . . the work only continued to increase. Something had to give and unfortunately, it was the ability to place your manuscript, along with a query letter, into an envelope and mail it directly to the publishing house.
Desk after desk line the rooms where editors once sat. Behind their chairs, “the slush pile.” If a publisher was forced to cut two editors, their work fell on the shoulders of the one left. One person cannot do the work of three. This forced the new phrase, “We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.”
This trend began before the downward turn in the economy, but until that point, most new authors could still submit directly to the publisher. As trends shifted, publishers began to rely on agents to do the vetting. Before long, agents became, for lack of better words, “the gatekeepers.” Publishers trusted the eyes and instincts of the agent to read the work and only submit the cream of the crop.
It’s far and between now, to find a house that will accept unsolicited work. Though publishers still have mounds of work to sort through, what they are receiving is quality work. Their issue now, is choosing which good work to publish.
The point is, writers must produce the best work possible before they consider submitting to an agent. Grant that writing is subjective, at least if it’s well written, its opportunity to slip past the gatekeepers is much better.
When I teach at conferences, one question continues to pop up. “What can I do to get an agent and do I really need one?”
The truth is, there are folks who can voice an argument for either side of the question. Some insist in order to get through the gate to the publisher, you must have an agent. While others insist they are able to sell their work to publishers without an agent.
Small independent publishers are the exception to the rule. They like to keep things simple, and though they accept agented authors, they will often work with writers without agents. However, the general rule is, that they meet the author at a conference. If they do not see you at a conference, then many times, that “No unsolicited manuscript” law rears its ugly head. Regardless of the publisher it boils down to manpower and houses simply do not have enough manpower to manage a deluge of unsolicited manuscripts.
If you want to break through the gate, here are some suggestions to help better the odds:
Invest in your future. Hire a free-lance editor to do a content edit. – Despite your own editing skills, often you cannot see holes in the work, redundancies, or character flaws. You are just too close to the work. You can always work through your critique group to catch typos and misspellings, but major plot issues need to be searched out by the pros. It costs you some money, but the investment – whether it sells or not, is a good one.
Shop for and query agents who read and sell in your genre. – It’s a common mistake to befriend an agent at a conference and assume because you attended a 15-minute appointment with them, that they will represent you. They may not even read in your genre. Do your homework. Locate agents that are experienced in your genre. It takes time to find a fit.
Don’t submit your work until it’s ready. – I have new writers constantly approaching me to acquisition their books at conferences long before the work is vaguely ready to be acquisitioned. Take your time. Learn the craft. Hone it. Make the work the best it can be before you send it to an agent. Remember, these folks talk amongst themselves so don’t become fodder by submitting a poorly done manuscript. It may follow you for some time.
In the words of Robert Benson, acclaimed Christian author, “Write today. Edit tomorrow. And then edit some more. And by the way, edit some more. Edit until every word is perfectly placed like notes on a scale, harmonizing and keeping beat to the rhythm of the story.”
Strive to be the best writer you can be. Do your best work every time and before long, you will have an agent. You will become published. No unsolicited manuscripts will be a thing in your past.
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