“Do your homework,” replied Sarah Bauhan, of Bauhan Publishing, in Peterborough, New Hampshire, when asked about the first step in finding a publisher. “You’d be surprised how many fiction submissions we get.” Since Bauhan’s small, independent press publishes only nonfiction, the audience attending the February, Seven Bridge writers’ workshop understood the implications immediately.
Writers are not unfamiliar with homework. Many devote hours to researching a particular setting, or topic, or to interviewing people for a magazine article. When it comes to finding a publisher, however, sometimes that same devotion is missing, and the consequences can mean frustration for all concerned. Time is wasted, for both the writer and the publisher, when submissions don’t fit the publisher’s list. Money is squandered mailing unwanted submissions. And egos founder as rejections come in. All due to a lack of preparation.
So, what does doing one’s homework look like? The first step is to research publishing companies. Go to the bookstore and browse. Know your genres and see who is publishing what. How many manuscripts a year they publish? Do they accept unsolicited submissions or require an agent? Do they prefer a query letter, the first chapter and an outline, or a completed manuscript? Do they require snail mail submissions or email? Books such as the Writer’s Market or Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market or Christian Writer’s Market Guide or Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Market will provide guidelines, but be sure to research the most recent editions because editors and process change over time.
Publishers’ websites also provide information about their submission requirements. Nothing ruins a writer’s chance more than sending in a manuscript that is not to specification. Does the publisher require double-spaced, 12 inch font, and one inch margins which is standard, or something entirely different? Is your name and title of the manuscript supposed to be on every page or just a cover page? Do they require page numbering, and if so, in the top right corner or centered at the bottom?
Though these details sometimes can seem superfluous, publishers receive so many submissions, that an inattention to detail becomes an easy way to weed out manuscripts. Doing your homework ensures that you and your work receive the consideration worthy of all your efforts.
Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.