How to impress a publisher

by Lynn Duncan

How to Impress a Publisher

I am occasionally invited to talk to writers’ groups about publishing. Invariably, the conversation turns to the challenges authors face in finding a publisher. When I attend publisher events, we tend to discuss the difficulty of finding good manuscripts.

While these positions may seem contradictory, I believe that both of them are true—the economics of the book business, especially in small market like Canada, mean that publishers have little margin for error and are consequently always looking for manuscripts that meet their specific needs. This does not mean that publishers are only interested in mainstream titles from established authors. In fact, most publishers I know work hard to find promising authors with fresh perspectives. The problem is that most first-time authors don’t know how to meet that standard. So, for all those authors whose New Year’s resolution was to reach out to agents or publishers, here is how to make a good impression:

  1. Do your research

We regularly receive submissions that are completely unrelated to our publishing program. For example, even a cursory review of our website would establish that we don’t publish children’s books, self-help or cookbooks, yet these kinds of manuscripts continue to arrive.

  1. Connect the dots

If you think your manuscript would be a great fit for us, tell me why. How would your book complement our existing titles? Include this information in your query letter or synopsis. Refer to Step 1.

  1. Understand your market

Writing is a creative process that produces a unique work. But publishing is a business and authors need to be able to place their manuscript within this ecosystem. Be prepared to articulate the ways in which your book is both similar to, and different from, successful titles. What would readers find familiar? What would be unique? Including comparable titles will go a long way toward getting a publisher’s attention. Back to Step 1 again.

  1. Follow instructions.

Most publisher websites will include submission guidelines. Make sure you follow these and that you tailor each submission carefully. On several occasions, we have received submissions with a carefully worded query letter addressed to a different publisher. If the publisher has asked for a synopsis, don’t send the full manuscript. And make sure you understand what is meant by a synopsis—don’t confuse this with a query, author biography or marketing plan.

Most authors are prepared to be persistent when looking for a publisher or an agent. And most publisher open every submission with hope in their hearts. A judicious investment of time and—wait for it—research can greatly improve the possibility of a match.