Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Why won’t publishers respond?
“Mr. Lukeman, maybe you could comment on the problem of even getting publishers to look at a manuscript. My frustrating experience has been that they simply ignore it, do not send it back even when you've included an SASE, and do not answer your polite inquiries by mail, even a year or two later. This has happened to me more than once. I've submitted the first 20 pages of my novel as per submissions requirements for a number of publishers, and even though their website says they'll answer in, say, four months, they just ignore my submission and keep it for years. I never hear a word from them. I can't even get my 20 pages back from them because they don't bother answering inquiries. This seems to be standard practice in the publishing industry these days. How does a writer get around this?”
To begin with, you need to find a literary agent first. In the vast majority of cases, editors at major publishers won’t even consider a submission (whether it’s a query letter, 20 pages, or an entire manuscript) unless it comes from a reputable literary agent. They will likely just send back a form letter stating that you must submit through an agent--or they may discard your pages and not respond at all. Most likely, your package was opened by an assistant (or an intern), and the editor in question never even knew of its existence.
Second, in your case it sounds as if you are concerned about getting your submitted pages returned to you. As a rule of thumb, when you submit pages, assume that they won’t be returned. Even if they are returned, they will rarely be in pristine condition, and you certainly won’t want to re-circulate worn pages for a new submission. If your submitted material is so important to you that you absolutely must have it back (for example, original documents or photographs), then you must be certain in advance that the recipient is aware that you are sending it and is willing to return it.
Third, when you do approach agents, I would strongly recommend your approaching them with a one page query letter, as opposed to sending 20 pages (I discuss this topic at length in my free book, How to Write a Great Query Letter). I would also suggest your approaching a large number of agents simultaneously (at least 50), so that you are not sitting around for a year waiting to hear. As a rule of thumb, a query letter should be responded to within 2 to 6 weeks, a proposal within 4 to 8 weeks, and a finished manuscript within 6 to 12 weeks; there is no reason you should ever have to wait an entire year for anyone. If you haven’t heard after 4 months, you likely never will.