I’ve put off wanting to write this post because I feared that it might come across as snarky, but it may just be time for such a post. After being in the trenches as an author-illustrator, I am all too familiar with the hurdles that authors and illustrators must jump over to submit to all the publishers out there.
This isn’t a rant from just my perspective. Several authors and illustrators have shared their submission experiences with me. This blog post serves to give a voice to those who feel that change is needed, but who cannot complain when the publishing industry could reject them for their unwillingness to simply play the game.
Without any delay, below is a wish-list from the submitter to the publisher:
Reduce the perfect-query-letter drama
This is a tricky one because the publisher wants to know if you can summarize your story, write professionally, and understand the market. However, a good picture book can be overlooked because someone didn’t get their query letter just right. Publishers need to ask themselves if the author is submitting a query letter for review or a manuscript.
For a book with around 500 words, it easier to have the publisher read the manuscript than a lengthy query letter about the picture book. Some author-illustrators are better at writing kidlit than perfecting a submission letter— and that’s okay.
Require just the basics
In the beginning, have authors and illustrators submit only their manuscript and basic personal info. Some publishers use lengthy online submission forms. Why do they need all of your information in the submission?
If they publisher likes your work, they can go from there to see if you are able to market the book (social media presence), how many books you have already published, and your favorite pet (just kidding). This is not a college application. Why make so much work for the creator just to submit their idea? Honestly, if they keep it simple, it will be appreciated.
Include a submission wish list
It takes a lot of hours to sift through every publisher‘s varying requirements. If publishers have a wish list of what they want, that will help. Specifications help the authors and illustrators navigate this sea of publishers much more easily. Many publishers do this already but if everyone did this, imagine what a difference this could make!
List directors’ names for easy access
If the publisher’s staff list is accessible, authors and illustrators don’t need to hunt for the names. Each submission should be short and sweet. On the submission page, the publisher should list the email and person to address the query to—simple as that.
Get back with a yes or no, sooner rather than later
Undoubtedly, the submissions are piling up and there are only so many days in the year to process them all. However, it might be easier for a publisher to look at a manuscript and reply with a pass right away if they know it isn’t a fit for their team.
I have seen publishers reply three years after a manuscript was submitted. This is 2022. There are faster and more courteous ways to process such a backlog of submissions. Additionally, a short email letting the creator know their submission was received would help tremendously.
If a publisher needs to automate an acknowledgement message due to the quantity of submissions, do so, however personal is better. Authors and illustrators are expected to create a unique e-mail to each publisher but then receive an automated reply. Publishers need to remember that a reply is common courtesy and if those submitting are taking the time to be personal, the publisher should find a way to be personal too.
Provide separate submission email for illustrators (only)
It is a hard blow to receive a rejection saying "we won't be moving forward with your manuscript" when you submitted an illustrator portfolio. The rejection feels extra cold and leaves the illustrator wondering if anyone even looked at their portfolio.
Having submissions come into a dedicated illustrator-submission-form could help. At least the automatic reply could address the illustrator. At most, it separates the manuscripts from illustrations so that it doesn’t all go to one large pile. Different departments can manage each independently.
I am sure this list could continue! What are your most frustrating manuscript submission experiences? Please share them in the comments!