Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Unsolicited Manuscripts

Most of the big publishers, and an increasing proportion of the smaller ones, state that they’ll no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t submit to them: it just means that they have to solicit your manuscripts before they’ll even consider reading it.

One way to arrange this is to write a concise, appropriate and brilliant query letter. Tell them a little about your book: make them desperate to read it. If you can spark their interest sufficiently they’ll ask if they can read more and suddenly, your manuscript will be solicited.

Note that this won’t work with publishers who refuse unagented work: to be read by those publishers, you need to have an agent of your own. But it can open several doors that seem at first glance to be tightly locked shut.


Douglas Florian said...

When I was younger I took a rejection letter for my unsolicited manuscript and sent it back to the publisher with a note:
"Unsolicited rejection letters are no longer accepted. Please contact an agent immediately.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful post, Jane. Can you clear something up for me? Would you recognise a difference between 'no unsolicited MS' and 'no unsolicited submissions'? I've always taken the former to mean 'don't send us your whole thumping great book, but sample chapters & synopsis is okay', and the latter to mean 'don't send us anything at all'. Which of course still, as you point out, still leaves the option of the query letter.

I have to say, though, that as one who's capable of writing a decent novel, but not a decent query, I dread the day, if it ever comes to it, when query letters are the standard approach here as they are in the US. I do think that agents are always liaible to miss good stuff which is really, really hard to summarise. The market's already skewed at the other end of the process towards high-concept (and therefore, so often, low-execution) fiction. It would be unfortunate if the beginning of the process also went further that way...

R.R.Jones said...

You make it sound so easy.
All you have to do is write a brilliant query letter that hooks 'em like a gaffed sturgeon and makes'em pant for more.
So where does all this brilliance come from? At the moment I'm all brillianted out, I used it all up on my MS.

Why am I being so pessimistic?
It's my birthday tomorrow and the publisher I sent my MS to is just waiting to until the 8th of jan. to tell me they want to print my book.
I know it.
I can feel it in my water.
Fortuna wouldn't let me down on my birthday now, would she??
Thanks Jane, good post.
Reg :-/

Penny said...

Happy Birthday, R.R. Jones and Good Luck...

Anonymous said...

What a hoot, Jane. I just blogged about this very thing.

Jane Smith said...

Emma: yes, yes, and yes. I agree with you about unsolicited submissions vs. unsolicited manuscripts; and about the problems that query letters can pose. Not everyone is good at writing queries (I hate writing 'em, and synopses too), and now there's a whole debate raging across a few literary blogs (off the top of my head, I think it's centred on Nathan Bransford's) about whether or not it's acceptable to get someone else to write your query for you. Some say yes, others say no: there are compelling arguments for both points of view.

It's particularly hard to query literary fiction, as it often doesn't have the same sort of hook that other genre fiction requires. So a query-based system would be another nail in the literary coffin, as far as I'm concerned--and it's already a difficult genre to publish.

Jane Smith said...

RR, happy birthday for yesterday! Did you get cake? I do hope so.

Let me know when you hear from the publisher. We can celebrate or commiserate together. And I hope you're writing something else now--you don't want to lose your flow.

Jane Smith said...

Lynn Price. You must stop pre-empting all my posts, it's making me feel silly. Be careful or I'll set my cat on you. The Beagle will not help you.

Unknown said...

Interesting article, Jane; informative as ever. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Beagle will not help you.

Are you kidding? She's the first one to throw me under a bus. Any bus.

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam which appeared here just now: I've deleted it, and have switched on the comment moderation feature in an attempt to stop it happening again.