Three Common Mistakes Writers Make When Looking for a Publisher

They are, in brief, these: rushing, rushing, and rushing.

Rushing 1: getting impatient with the submission process. It’s exciting to have finished your story. You know you have something worthwhile and you strongly suspect there’s a readership for it. But the time-lapse between that heady feeling and the moment you might get that “yes” from a publisher seems intolerable. Many publishers say that it takes six months or longer to review your manuscript and, of course, there is no guarantee that the answer will be what you want it to be.  Waiting is hard, and the suggestion you can do it yourself (by choosing a self-publishing option) can be tempting. But here’s the thing. The six months is going to pass anyway. If you think your book is a good fit with a publisher – and there are ways of checking whether this is the case – then you can start another book project while you wait for an answer. Also, most publishers do not require exclusive submissions anymore, so perhaps there are two or three publishers you’d like to contact.

But avoid the following mistake:

Rushing 2: submitting before your manuscript is ready. Early drafts which survive in the bottom of drawers or shoe boxes tend to cause major embarrassment to their authors when they resurface.  It could be the number of typos. It might be the misuse of words, overwrought descriptions or characters that don’t make sense, but skimming through those old manuscripts can send shivers up and down the spine. A novel draft that today seems to beg you to release it into the world may one day fill you with a desire to cast it into permanent oblivion. So don’t rush to submit your manuscript before you are sure you’ll be proud of it in ten years’ time.

How do you ensure this is the case?

Before any manuscript is seen by an editor at a publishing house, it should have been through several redrafting processes, and it should have been read and commented upon by experienced authors and editors. And sorry if this sounds snobby, but there are no real substitutes. Friends and relatives are not necessarily the best advisors.  A professional whose work is connected to literature but who has never published in your chosen creative sphere is not a good stand-in either, no matter how lofty their title may be.

Most national or regional writing organizations have lists of authors who offer editing and evaluation services. Make sure the designation is an exact fit. If you have written a novel, you need feedback from a professional novelist. If you have written a play, you need feedback from a professional playwright. If you have written a series of poems, you need feedback from a poet. The feedback will be more precise and more insightful and the experienced writer will understand what you have put into it and how high are the stakes. And as they have trodden the road before, they will have the stamina to stay with you while you try to solve your issues.

Rushing 3: forgetting to put the horse before the cart. It’s great to be free and unfettered when you create your masterpiece, but it’s also a good idea to clearly define your goals as you are writing. Even while your project is in its earliest stages, you should take a look around book stores and libraries. Who is your readership? Who publishes books like the one you are working on? Thinking about these questions in advance will prevent you from writing yourself into a hole.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. But some of your decisions might unconsciously slice off whole swaths of your potential readership for no good creative reason, and others might disqualify you from being considered by certain desirable publishers. This is especially the case with questions of setting. Sometimes there are compelling reasons to place your story in, say, rural Ireland, particularly if you know the culture well and the theme demands this setting. But other times, decisions of place can be more arbitrary than we would like to admit, in which case you might want to think about the most authentic match both for yourself and for the most promising publishers.

Perhaps the most important thing of all is to enjoy the ride even while you’re imagining your final destination.  Savour every character who comes to life and every dramatic event as it transpires. It’s a long haul, but you’re creating a world so it’s worth it!

Upcoming Creative Writing Workshops

November 26 & December 3, Prepare to Publish, (2 live 3-hour sessions), 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, casa, Lethbridge, Alberta. Build a strategy for matching your work to a publisher and a marketplace. Learn how to look for the right fit, and how to entice a publisher with your blurb and biography. Learn to tell when your manuscript is polished enough for submission.

Guided Online Writing Workshop Series (anywhere) is opening up a limited number of spaces this November. Call 403 915 7685 or email paul.butler@nl.rogers.com for more details or if you wish to register.

Remember to check out the Instant Hook Writing Contest rules and deadline here.

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2 thoughts on “Three Common Mistakes Writers Make When Looking for a Publisher

  1. I’m so guilty of impatience! I have the reminder tacked up on my study wall “Hurry and impatience are the marks of an amateur. ” Thanks for this post.

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