Insider Tricks to Getting Published: Part II

by Jeff Herman

2000-2001 Writer's Guide to Book Editors Publishers and Literary Agents
by Jeff Herman
Ordering information:
Note: Click Here to read Part I of the series, which appeared in the March 2000 issue.

Let's pretend that getting published is a board game. However, in this game you can control the dice. Here are several ways to play…

Get the Names!

If you submit to nobody, it will go to nobody. Sending it to "The Editors," "Gentlemen," or the CEO of a $100-million publishing house equals sending it to no one.

Use the directory in this book to get the names of the suitable contacts.

In addition to using this directory, there are two other proven ways to discover who the right editors may be:

Visit bookstores and seek out recent books that are in your category. Check the Acknowledgments section of each one. Many authors like to thank their editors here (and their agents). If the editor is acknowledged, you now have the name of someone who edits books like yours. (Remember to call to confirm that the editor still works at that publishing house). Simply call the publisher and ask for the editorial department. More often than not, the phone will be answered by a young junior editor who will say something like "Editorial." Like people who answer phones everywhere, these people may sound as if they are asleep, or they may sound harried, or even as if they're making the most important declaration of their lives. Luckily for you, publishers plant few real secretaries or receptionists in their editorial departments, since it's constantly reconfirmed that rookie editors will do all that stuff for everyone else-and for a lot less money! Hence, real editors (although low in rank) can immediately be accessed.

Once someone answers the phone, simply ask, "Who edits your business books?" (Or whatever your category is.) You can also ask who edited a specific and recent book that's similar to yours. Such easy but vital questions will bring forth quick and valuable answers. Ask enough times and you can build a list of contacts that competes with this book.

Don't Send Manuscripts Unless Invited to Do So!

Now that you're armed with these editors' names, don't abuse protocol (editors' yell at me when you do-especially when they know where you've gotten their name). Initiate contact by sending a letter describing your work and encouraging the editor to request it. This letter, commonly referred to as a query letter, is in reality a sales pitch, or door opener. (Please see the material in this book about query letters for a full overview of this important procedure.) In brief, the letter should be short (less than 1~/: pages); easy to read and to the point; personalized; and well printed on good professional stationery. Say what you have, why it's hot, why you're a good prospect, and what's available for review upon request.

In addition to the letter, it's okay to include a resume/bio that highlights any writing credits or relevant professional credentials; a brief summary (2-3 pages) if the book is nonfiction, or a brief synopsis if it's fiction; a photo, if you have a flattering one; and promotional materials. Be careful: At this stage your aim is merely to whet the editor's appetite; you don't want to cause information overload. Less is more.

Also include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). This is an important courtesy; without it, you increase your chances of getting no response. Editors receive dozens of these letters every week. Having to address envelopes for all of them would be very time-consuming. And at 33 cents a pop, it's not worth doing. The SASE is generally intended to facilitate a response in the event of a negative decision. If the editor is intrigued by your letter, he may overlook the missing SASE and request to see your work-but don't count on it.

You may be wondering: If I have the editor's name, why not just send her my manuscript? Because you're flirting with the slush pile if you do. Even though you have the editor's previously secret name you're still an UN: and UNs aren't treated kindly. An editor is inundated with reams of submissions, and her problem is finding good stuff to publish. If you send an unsolicited manuscript, you'll just be perceived as part of that problem. She'll assume you're just another slushy UN who needs to be sorted out of the way so she can go on looking for good stuff. A bad day for an editor is receiving a few trees' worth of UN manuscripts: it deepens her occupational neurosis. On the other hand, a professional letter is quite manageable and is, at least, likely to be read. It may be screened initially by the editor's assistant, but will probably be passed upstairs if it shows promise.

If the editor is at all intrigued by your letter, she will request to see more material, and you will have earned the rank of being solicited. Even if your work is not ultimately acquired by this editor, you will have at least challenged and defeated the UNs' obstacle course by achieving quality consideration. Remember: Many people get published each year without the benefits of being agented or initially solicited.

It's okay, even smart, to query several editors simultaneously. This makes sense because some editors may take a very long time to respond, or, indeed, may never respond. Querying editors one at a time might take years. If more than one editor subsequently requests and begins considering your work, let each one know that it's not an exclusive. If an editor requests an exclusive, that's fine-but give him a time limit (4 weeks is fair).

Don't sell your work to a publisher before consulting everyone who's considering it and seeing if they're interested. If you do sell it, be sure to give immediate written and oral notification to everyone who's considering it that it's no longer available.

The query-letter stage isn't considered a submission. You only need to have follow-up communications with editors who have gone beyond the query stage, meaning those who have requested and received your work for acquisition consideration. If you don't hear back from an editor within 6 weeks of sending her your letter, it's safe to assume she's not interested in your work.

If you send multiple queries, don't send them to more than one editor at the same house at the same time. If you don't hear back from a particular editor within 6 weeks of your submission, it's probably safe to query another editor at that house. One editor's reject is another's paradise; that's how both good and bad books get published.

We've just covered a lot of important procedural ground; so don't be embarrassed if you think you've forgotten all of it. This book won't self-destruct (and now, presumably, you won't either).

Cold Calls Breed Cold Hearts

One more thing: It's best not to cold-call these editors. Don't call them to try to sell them your work. Don't call them to follow-up on query letters or submissions. Don't call them to try to change their minds.

Why? Do you like it when someone calls you in the middle of your favorite video to sell you land in the Nevada desert, near a popular nuclear test site?

Few people like uninvited and unscheduled sales calls. In some businesses, such as public relations, calling contacts is a necessary part of the process-but not in publishing. Furthermore, this business is based on hard copy. You may be the greatest oral storyteller since Uncle Remus, but if you can't write it effectively and engagingly, nobody is going to care. You'll end up soliciting their hostility. Of course, once they are interested in you on the basis of your hard copy, your oral and physical attributes may be of great importance to them. On the other hand, some people are so skilled on the telephone that it's a lost opportunity for them not to make maximum use of it as a selling method. If you're one of these extremely rare and talented people, you should absolutely make use of whatever tools have proven to work best for you.

Everything I've said is my opinion. This is a subjective industry, so it's likely-no. it's for certain-that others will tell you differently. It's to your advantage to educate yourself to the fullest extent possible (read books, attend workshops, and so forth)- and in the end, to use your own best instincts about how to proceed. I'm confident that my suggestions are safe and sound; but I don't consider them to be the beginning and the end. The more you know, the simpler things become; the less you know. the more complex and confusing they are.

Breaking the Rules

Taken as a whole, this book provides a structure that can be considered a set of guidelines, if not hard-and-fast rules. Some people owe their success to breaking the rules and swimming upstream-and I can certainly respect that. Often such people don't even know they're breaking the rules; they're just naturally following their own unique orbits (and you'll find a few illustrations of this very phenomenon elsewhere in these essays). Trying to regulate such people can often be their downfall. On one hand, most of us tend to run afoul when we stray from established norms of doing business; on the other hand, a few of us can't succeed any other way (Einstein could have written an essay about that). If you're one of those few, hats off to you! Perhaps we'll all learn something from your example.

Excerpted from Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman (Prima Press, 1999). Copyright © 1999 by Jeff Herman. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Photo of Jeff Herman **Literary agent Jeff Herman founded The Jeff Herman Agency, LLC, in 1987 while still in his twenties. The agency has expanded rapidly since then, and has sold more than 350 titles. Herman's agency has established a strong presence in general adult nonfiction, including business, reference, commercial self-help, computers, recovery/healing and spirituality. Herman's notable clients include bestselling authors Dave Pelzer, Jack Canfield, and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul, the #1 New York Times bestseller which has launched a host of sequels and football great Joe Montana. Herman speaks throughout the country about how to get published. He has been written about in many books and publications, including Success, Entrepreneur, and Publisher's Weekly. He has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Herman graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in consumer economics. He is a member of the Association of Author Representatives and the National Speakers Association.

Known as one of the most dynamic and innovative agents in the business, Herman is also the author of the annual bestselling book, the 2000-2001 Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents (Prima Publishing), You Can Make it Big Writing Books (Prima Publishing), and How to Write a Book Proposal: 15 Proposals that Worked and Why! (John Wiley).

More from Writers Write

  • WGA Writers on Strike Over Streaming, AI and Preserving the Writers' Room

  • Clarkesworld Magazine Temporarily Closes Submissions After Surge in ChatGPT Generated Stories

  • Prince Harry Easily Tops Bestseller Lists With Spare

  • Stephen King Compares Elon Musk to Tom Sawyer

  • U.S. Postal Service Honors Shel Silverstein With Forever Stamp