Write Submission Guidelines That Get Results

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A free 8-page guide on how to write or revise your guidelines so that the writing submissions you receive better match your publishing needs.

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Write Submission Guidelines That Get Results

  1. 1. HOW TO WRITE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES THAT GET POSITIVE RESULTS If you’re about to write (or rewrite) What Are Your Goals? your submission guidelines, it’s vital Your submission guidelines are one that you first define your goals. of the most important pieces of Do you want to: marketing literature you produce, yet many publishers and agents we’ve • improve your company’s encountered do not treat them as such. visibility? They put little thought into readability, • reduce the number of submis- visibility, or audience. They think of sions you receive? writing guidelines as a chore or a • foster a productive relationship necessary evil. And the last thing they with future writers? want to do is spend time revising them. Recruiting writers isn’t that much But an effective guidelines page is a different from marketing a website. A powerful, proactive tool that saves you website owner might love to check his time and frustration down the road. site’s analytics to see how many visits it Many publishers we talk to complain has received, but if it’s an e-commerce that a high percentage of the submis- site and no one is buying what he’s sions they get have nothing to do with selling, the number of visits he gets is what they publish. Our recommenda- useless. tion is to first take a look at your guidelines page and make sure that The problem may be that his your expectations are simple and clear, marketing copy is unclear or cluttered. with a specific call-to-action. He hasn’t done his keyword research or posted a strong enough call-to-action.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 1
  2. 2. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.comHe’s attracting the wrong visitors. Even Visibilitythough a large number of people are Many publishing houses have nowvisiting his site, it does him little good if closed their doors to unagented submis-none of them are buying customers. sions. But if you’re reading this, you The same goes for the submissions might not be at that point; you’re notprocess. You might be ready to jeopardize yourattracting a large firsthand connection tonumber of submissions, new writers. Not yet…your filing cabinets or You might also bethe corner of your office cringing at the thoughtmight be overflowing of increasing yourwith manila envelopes. exposure to writersBut it does you little because you’re equatinggood to spend all that visibility with thetime looking for a number of submissionsneedle in the haystack you receive. But makejust to come up empty. no mistake: If you’re a The truth is, if successful publisher,you’re educating your you won’t stay invisible.writers on exactly what If you’re producingyou’re looking for using quality content, if youa powerful, concise make a deal that’sselling message (yes, announced onyou’re selling to them), Publisher’s Lunch, ifthen the slush pile will one of your books is Courtesy of Cory Doctorowbecome more produc- marketed on a radiotive for you. Sure, you’ll interview or at a bookalmost certainly get the odd manuscript signing, writers will find you. It’sthat has nothing to do with what you’re inevitable.seeking, but if you can reduce the So you have two choices: sacrificepercentage of those mismatches, your direct connection to new writers, orwouldn’t it be worth your time to revise educate them. Let them know exactlyyour guidelines? what you expect. And make this information readily available.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 2
  3. 3. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.com Writers Are Readers, Too quality writers because you’re afraid that you’ll get bombarded with manila There’s a danger involved with closing envelopes, your content will suffer.your doors to submissions or offeringunrealistic submission requirements: Think of the submissions process asfrustrating large numbers of writers can something akin to a funnel. Wide at thebackfire. After all, they’re writers! In this top, narrow at the bottom. You mightage of social networking and easy access already have your guidelines posted withto digital soap boxes, upsetting those who a popular listing service such as Writer’sare proficient at, or at least passionate Market or Publishers Marketplace, butabout writing can be detrimental to your have you thought of other venues toimage. advertise your needs? Writers who want to submit to you • Are your guidelines posted on yourmight also be some of your best custom- Facebook or LinkedIn pages?ers, customers who actually look at the • Are you using SEO related to thepublisher’s logo on the spine. They’re genres you publish on your weblikely interested in the topics you publish guidelines?and might have some influence over • Do you have a printed submissionsother potential customers. By adopting a brochure that you can hand out atreasonable submissions policy, you have trade shows?a better chance of converting thesewriters into evangelists rather than • Do your acquisitions editors write adetractors. Many of them will even blog and grant interviews to otherforgive you for rejecting them. bloggers? That’s why you need an effectivesubmissions policy that invites andeducates your writers. The Submissions Funnel Your company’s success is almostcompletely dependent upon the quality ofthe content you produce. Though marketshifts, a poor economy, or high produc-tion costs can all affect your bottom line,in publishing, intellectual property iswhat you sell. If you restrict the flow ofsubmissions, if you cut yourself off from The Submissions Funnel© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 3
  4. 4. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.com The more information you have out Specific/current needsthere to let writers know what you Don’t be afraid to let writers knowexpect, the better. The trick then, is to what you’re currently hoping to add tocraft guidelines that will narrow down your list. Some might worry that this willthe number of writers moving through show your hand to the competition, butyour funnel, so that the submissions the potential gain of a great new authorreaching your slush pile accurately match far outweighs the result of a competitoryour needs. trying to jump on your bandwagon. If Sample Guidelines someone tries to copy you, take it as a compliment.Let’s look at the typical structure of asubmission guidelines page: Contract/fee arrangement Company info Again, though you might worry that you’re revealing too much about how In addition to telling writers what you your company operates, contract termspublish, don’t be afraid to shed some are first and foremost on authors’ minds.light on how your editorial process They want to know if it will be worthworks. Tell them how long it takes to their time to submit to you, so let themproduce a book from initial manuscript know if you offer a flat fee or a royalty,to distribution. Tell them how many and don’t be afraid to give a range foreditors you have on staff. Tell them what both. They’re going to find out eventu-they can expect from you in terms of ally, and the fewer surprises the betterediting, layout, and marketing. when it comes to contract negotiations.Genres Tips/tastes Be as specific as possible about what Though your guidelines may cite thegenres you publish. If you’re fuzzy about genres you publish and your currentthis, the percentage of submissions that needs, it will help considerably duringdon’t match your needs will increase. For the submission review process if youexample, if you’re a publisher of K-8 share with writers a few clues to what youeducational materials, don’t say that you like and don’t like. Let them know yourpublish children’s literature. You’ll find tastes, and it doesn’t hurt to use thisyourself swamped with picture books section to let some of your company’sthat have nothing to do with your personality shine through.publishing plan.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 4
  5. 5. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.comFormat requirements Common Mistakes Telling writers how you expect them Too much textto format their submissions can be atightrope walk. If you’re too permissive, Though it seems to run counter toyou’ll spend more time trying to what you might expect, the more textdetermine what you’re getting in each and requirements you have for submis-submission. If you require submitters to sions on your site, the less likely it is thatjump through too many hoops, you’ll you’ll get what you’re looking for.discourage writers (good and bad) from Why? Put yourself in the writer’staking the time to submit to you. And position. Submitting to publishers is ayou’ll find that a good number of tedious, painstaking process with a lowsubmissions won’t follow your rules chance of reward. Putting too manyanyway. roadblocks in your guidelines will deter But be sure to explain clearly how just as many good writers as bad. Whyyou want writers to send work to you go through the hassle? they might ask.(i.e., through the mail, e-mail, website, There are plenty of other publishers outetc.) and if they need to include a cover there who don’t require a ten-pageletter and SASE. Think of this as your marketing analysis formatted in Couriercall-to-action. Just as in your marketing 12-point font with no simultaneousliterature, it needs to be easily visible. submissions. Too many stipulations will only resultResponse in an influx of submissions from authorsdeadline who are submitting to you for the sake of Be realistic in your getting their work out there—and theyestimates of when probably didn’t bother to read youryou’ll respond, but guidelines thoroughly, or at all.assure writers that In short, don’t put unnecessaryyou will respond to impediments in front of good qualityevery submission. writers who might not have hours toEven if you tell writers that a SASE is invest in submitting to you. You can berequired, it’s generally a good practice to specific about what type of material yourespond even to submissions without want, but be succinct and be reasonable.them. (We won’t tell if you won’t.) Ittakes much more time to respond to anangry author via phone or e-mail than itdoes to put a stamp on an envelope.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 5
  6. 6. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.comNo headlines No simultaneous submissions Your submission guidelines should be Some publishers still ask that they getwritten just as you would write any other exclusive rights to a submission (butpiece of marketing copy—with the their numbers are dwindling). Theyunderstanding that your readers have might have many good reasons for doinglimited time and attention spans. If your this, but we believe that saying no toguidelines are on the web (and they simultaneous submissions is a deterrentshould be!), then you should be taking you can’t afford. It may reduce theSEO into account along with basic number of manuscripts you receive, butreadability. it may also reduce the percentage of quality submissions in your slush pile. Central to this is including clearlyworded, short headlines. These help Unless an experienced writer wantswriters navigate easily and quickly from to submit to you more than anything elsesection to section (outlined above) and in the world, there’s a good likelihoodalso build your visibility on search-engine that she’ll either pass on submitting torankings. you or send something to you—and five other publishers—anyway. It’s also aLarge blocks of text difficult policy to enforce, and most Again, we are always amazed by the writers know that. However, it’s a goodguidelines pages we visit that are not idea to ask writers to tell you if they’vewritten for readability. If you hide key signed a contract with another publisherinformation in large chunks of impene- before they hear back from you.trable text, it makes it much less likely Poor visibility (where’s thethat a writer will find it and submit thework you’re looking for. In addition to link?)headlines, use short sentences, concise If you believe that your submissionslanguage, and bullet points. are a valuable resource, then make sure that the link to your submissionHiding your personality guidelines is in plain sight on your home Writing your guidelines in a style that page and elsewhere.reflects your list. If you publish humor Don’t hide the guidelines in an “Aboutbooks, your guidelines shouldn’t be dry Us” or a “Contact” menu. The moreas dirt. You want to attract writers who impediments you put in front of writersshare your sensibilities so make sure that interested in sending you work, the moreyour personality, or brand, comes likely it is that you’ll get submissions thatthrough loud and clear. don’t match your needs.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 6
  7. 7. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.com Spreadsheet exported from Pubmission Metrics to do so. Ask your editors to record how long it takes them to review submissions, Are your submission guidelines either per submission or session. Thenworking the way you’d like them to? review this figure each month to see howThere’s no way to know unless you record much of your time the slush pile issome key metrics. We recommend that consuming. If the time is going down, seeyou create a log of every submission you if this corresponds to a recent revision ofreceive in either a spreadsheet or your guidelines. Tracking this figuredatabase file. In addition to the basics, throughout the year can also help yousuch as author name, title, and contact with scheduling. Some months might beinfo, measuring the following areas can consistently busier for submissions thanhelp you determine if your message is others. Knowing this in advance can helpgetting across in your guidelines—and if you prevent a backlog.further revision is necessary. Success ratioTrends/keywords The number of publishable works that Your slush pile can reveal some actually come from the slush pile willimportant data regarding current and likely be very low. But that doesn’tfuture trends in your industry. You might discount the value of keeping a close eyeeven discover some new buzzwords that on this figure. Your success ratio canhaven’t presented themselves to you provide some great insight into thethrough your market research. For each effectiveness of your submissionsubmission, record a few keywords to guidelines.describe it. This is also helpful info toshare with your writers via a blog post. Match percentageIt’s important to let your writers see whatthe competition is up to. You might also want to track the number of submissions that areReview time completely inappropriate for your publishing company. Hopefully, after This is perhaps the most important revamping your guidelines, you’ll see thismetric to track, and most publishers fail figure drop dramatically.© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 7
  8. 8. Sign up for a 60-day free trial at www.pubmission.com Don’t Dread the Slush Pile Tell Us What You Think Even if you’re still getting more We’d like this article to be a workingsubmissions than you can handle, there document that evolves with the industryare tools out there that can help. and your feedback. Pubmission is designed not only to To help us achieve this, your opinionhelp you sort and search your submis- is always welcome and necessary. So letsions online, it also works to educate us know what you think about thiswriters on how to submit to you. It shows article. Send your comments tothem if their submissions match up with feedback@pubmission.com.your needs and lets you use the site to Thanks and good luck!create an effective guidelines page. The Pubmission Staff And with our staff of experiencededitor coaches, we can help push writersin the right direction so you don’t have todo all the heavy lifting. Check out Pubmission atwww.pubmission.com. Sample Submission Dashboard on Pubmission© 2011 Pubmission. All rights reserved. Page 8

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