by Ali Shaw, Executive Editor

If gaining a contract to publish your book traditionally is a resolution for you this New Year, then a roundup of new imprints, publishers, and agencies may be just the tool you need. It’s over at the Hot Sheet, which delivers publishing news to email subscribers every two weeks. If you consider yourself a “career author,” then you’re in their target audience, and you might consider signing up for $59/year. Either way, check out their article about new places to submit your manuscript in 2021 here.

And while we’re talking about submissions, let’s talk about tips for doing them well. One of the first statistics I learned in grad school for publishing was that 80 percent of rejected manuscripts are turned away simply because they were not submitted well—not following submission guidelines, submitting to publishers who don’t even publish in the writer’s genre, spam emailing publishers and agents but expecting a personal reply, entering sample chapters riddled with typos and plot holes.

I cannot emphasize enough that if you want to publish traditionally, you must do the work to submit your manuscript well. Yes, that means putting in time and effort. The good news is, you wrote a whole book—maybe many—and that also involved putting in time and effort. You’ve already proven you can do this!

Here are some tips to maximize your chances for submission success:

  • A good approach is to submit to five or six places at a time, starting with your favorites. When you receive a rejection, or when the suggested window of time to wait for that particular publisher has passed, document that and send your work out to another company. This tiered approach helps you manage your submissions and also helps avoid the possibility that you’ll receive an acceptance from a company you’re less enthusiastic about while you’re still waiting to hear back from a favorite.
  • Submit only to publishers and agents who represent books that your manuscript fits with.
  • Follow submission guidelines exactly. Many submissions are rejected without ever being reviewed simply because the author did not follow the guidelines.
  • Always double-check submission guidelines before you submit, as these can change frequently and you don’t want to make the mistake of submitting when a publisher is no longer accepting submissions or addressing it to an editor who no longer works there. Especially pay attention to whom they want submissions addressed to, and double-check that you’ve spelled their name correctly. If no name is listed and you are not able to find a name on the website, address it to “Editor.”
  • Do not submit to more than one agent within an agency or more than one editor at a publishing company.
  • Take note of their response time, if it’s listed. Many agents and publishers take six months to respond.
  • Do not call or email to follow-up on your submission, unless the website explicitly says that you can. If you have not heard back within the standard turnaround time listed or six months, you can assume it has not been accepted.
  • Keep diligent records of when you submitted, when they responded, and what they said. Do not submit to the same publisher or agent again unless they request it.
  • Stay positive. Many authors who went on to become very successful racked up fifty or more rejection letters first.
  • When you receive a publisher acceptance, review their offer carefully. Details to consider: Are they offering an advance? Will they pay for all production services, or are you expected to invest as well? What kind of marketing and publicity plan are they offering, and will they pay for it? Do they have traditional publishing distribution (not just a wholesaler)? Will they publish an ebook and/or audiobook in addition to the print book? How long do they keep the rights? An agent will manage all these details for you to ensure you are getting the best deal. If you do not have an agent, consider working with a lawyer who specializes in publishing contracts.
  • As soon as you sign a contract with a publisher or agent, immediately notify all other publishers and agents that still have your manuscript to let them know it is no longer available.

Please do keep us posted on your successes. We’re rooting for you!

Ali McCartAli Shaw thinks her love for the written word might have something to do with the pungent odor of ink and the methodic sounds from her parents’ printing press, which permeated her senses before she even knew how to read. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Willamette University and a master’s degree in book publishing from Portland State University. She also spent two years as a bookseller and sometimes still itches to create front-of-store displays.

Ali founded Indigo in 2006 and has edited a diverse range of nonfiction authors from Ram Dass to Rodney King, from Chade-Meng Tan to Kim Barnouin, and many emerging writers. She began editing audiobooks in 2018 and launched audiobook production as an Indigo service in 2020.