Professional writers like I—I mean, such as me, that is, like I am—are often asked how someone gets published. In truth, there's no big secret to the process. I'll assume you've gotten an idea—be it for a wonderful picture book about talking carrots or a rollicking piece of journalism in the inimitable style of Hunter S. Thompson—and have already done the writing. All of that is pretty easy. Heck, anyone can write. I'm writing at this very moment while the TV is blaring and my cat is chewing on my ankle. No problem. I have a one friend who writes during her shock therapy sessions, and another who does all his writing while driving a tandem semi on cross-country hauls. (Hint—if you look in your rear-view mirror and see a truck with a bumper carrying the message, "Kerouak Rules," just pull over until he gets ahead of you.) Writing itself is no big deal. The trick is getting someone to buy your manuscript. And that's where the real art lie—in submission techniques. So, let me share some tips.
Avoid lost manuscripts:
Imagine this—the hopeful author mails off his manuscript and days go by without a word. Has it been rejected? Is it in a slush pile somewhere? Nope. Worse. It never got there. The weak glue on the envelope fell open and the manuscript slipped out. This happens all the time. According to a recent survey in Professional Editor Magazine, ninety percent of the envelopes that arrive in the average publisher's office are empty. Don't become a statistic. Make sure to use at least three wraps of duct tape. Better yet, place the whole envelope in a large box, and cushion it on all sides with styrofoam peanuts. For added security, nail the flap to a two-by-four.
Avoid lost pages
Once a manuscript has arrived at the editorial office, there's a good chance one or more pages will get lost. We pros know better than to depend on a flimsy paper clip. In a professional manuscript, page one is stapled to page two. Page two is stapled, at a different spot on the margin, to page three, and so on. This method—technically known as a daisy-chain staple system—assures that no page will be lost.
Stay on top of things
Sometimes, a writer will call after two or three months to check on the status of his manuscript. This is far too late in the procedure. Ideally, the first call should be made right after you mail your submission. This lets the editor know it is coming and guarantees that he will be on the lookout for it. Editors lead extremely boring lives, and rarely have anything to do. So they love getting phone calls. Make sure to do more than just chat for a moment. The editor may try to end the conversation quickly. Don't take this the wrong way. He knows that to a freelancer, time is money. He's just trying to be thoughtful. But be a sport and talk to the poor guy for a while. The longer a conversation you have, the better the editor will remember you. And, let's face it - editor's are human. Now that you've made contact, he's much more likely to buy your manuscript.
See if it's been read
Let's say you get your manuscript back. What can you do about that nagging suspicion that nobody ever read it? In the old days, writers would turn one page upside down before making a submission. If the page was still upside down when the manuscript returned, it was a sign that the submission hadn't been read. If the page was shredded, it was a sign that the editor didn't like that trick. Today's writer is much more subtle. Place a hair between the last two pages. Hi-tech solutions using modern DNA testing can be ordered from the ads at the back of Writer's Digest.
Send it in again
Whether it's been read or not, feel free to resubmit your work. If you know in your heart that the piece is perfect for the market you selected, just keep trying. A manuscript that gets rejected one day will tickle the editor's fancy the next. A submission that is quickly dismissed on its first reading will, by the fifth or sixth time it passes the editor's eyes, strike him as wonderfully familiar. Be persistent. This piece wasn't accepted the first time I sent it in, or even the tenth. It took thirteen tries. But if that's what it takes, I'm willing to put in the effort. Heck, a couple dozen staples and some scrap pieces of two-by-four are a small price to pay for fame.
That pretty much covers all the basics. For those of you interested in advanced techniques, check my website for an article on safe methods for arc-welding the clasps of manilla envelopes.
David Lubar delivered this manuscript using the Don Corleon messenger service. He generally uses their Equus Express option, which guarantees overnight delivery and immediate acceptance. Their slogan: "We make you an author they can't refuse."
"SUBMISSION IMPOSSIBLE" Copyright © 1996 by David Lubar