A few days ago I got a message from one of the publishers listed on my "Book Publishers" page. She wanted her listing removed. I'm talking about a tiny operation, even as small presses go, and she was getting swamped. Having a lot of great subs to choose from shouldn't be a bad thing, but the vast majority of submissions she received were not ready for publication. Also, entire manuscripts were being sent instead of the few sample chapters she asked for.
Why is this a bad thing for all of us? First of all, an author who may just have THE book for her may miss knowing about this publisher. Or we may all miss a great book this publisher has for sale because we didn't visit the web site looking for a potential market. The publisher may eventually decide there are no great manuscripts out there and close down operations. Earlier this month I got a message from a different publisher who did just that.
When we are not doing our jobs as writers we hurt ourselves and everyone in our community. Sending an unprepared manuscript out and not reading AND following the guidelines exactly, is not doing our job.
So what does "ready for publication" mean? Basically it's a manuscript that is nearly free of misspellings, grammatical faux paws, formatting mistakes, and blatant contradictions in style and plot. In other words, it's a manuscript that has been carefully edited, usually several times, and hopefully at least once by someone qualified as an editor, or a good first reader. But that's the publisher's job, you say? It is most definitely not. Not in this day and age, and I doubt if it ever was very prevalent in the industry (except, of course, books by celebrities whose very name will sell thousands).
Professional editing can be costly. Only the major houses, and a few more popular small presses, have full-time in-house editors. When you send out any work that is filled with errors, it WILL be rejected for that reason alone.
How do you know if your work is filled with errors? Well, if you aren't sure then it probably is. Unless you have recently studied spelling, grammar, writing, and editing you undoubtedly have no idea if it is or not. You can't rely on the Microsoft Word spelling and grammar checker either (or any other software generated check). There are too many things they can get wrong. Many times they leave the choice of how to correct a mistake up to you. Without a good grammatical background you may pick the wrong multiple-choice, or fail to see why you should change your words, and ignore the problem.
If you don't have the background, get help. This can be anything from paying a professional editor to line edit your piece to joining a writer's group or workshop (see the "Groups" category of my "Writing Links" page), but you need to get some kind of outside help. Maybe you're lucky and your cousin is a high school English teacher. She'll be able to correct your spelling and grammar, but what about plot, theme, story, format, characterization, description, exposition, suspension of disbelief, maintaining suspense, and all the other elements of writing that will make your manuscript salable? You must somehow also get an opinion on these.
If your only publications are in non-paying web "showcases" that post whatever is sent to them, and all you get are rejects from editors who are more discriminating, you need this outside help even more -- and some lessons, or self study, in grammar and writing. Writing is hard work. It is being picky. It is rereading and rewriting several times. It is making sure that when you send a piece out it is something you can be proud of. Even then it may not sell, but at least you know it was worth the effort.
The other part of the above publisher's problem is writers not following the guidelines. This publisher's GLs state very clearly that she doesn't want a full manuscript, only a few sample chapters and a synopsis. Why in the world would any professional writer send her a full manuscript? I don't know the answer to this, except that some, and maybe most, writers are not even reading the guidelines. Let me put this simply and loudly: IF YOU DON'T READ AND FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY, YOU ARE REJECTING YOURSELF. No two publications want the same thing, or want it presented to them in the same way. There is no standard. You must read the guidelines of every market you are thinking of submitting to and comply. I know some of them are long, rambling tirades that bore you silly. Read them anyway!
The book publishing market in question will not be added to my "Dead Markets" page. It isn't dead; the publisher just doesn't want to be listed at Ralan.com any more. I've checked the other free market listing web sites and it's not included on any of them. Good luck finding it.
I've repeated this message a number of times and still it seems the majority of writers haven't listened. I guess in addition to not reading writer guidelines they also don't read writer advice articles. That's a shame because those who don't, hurt all of us.
Be a real writer -- submit smart!