Thursday, July 21, 2011
Bad Submissions by Terry Burns
I open my inbox and there they are, submissions that shouldn't even be there. There's really no excuse for it. Our submission guidelines are very clear on markets that we don't work in at present. Not that we have anything against them, just that we can't spread ourselves that thin and have to make some choices. It says at present we aren't working in sci-fi or fantasy, in markets for children (below middle reader), poetry, short fiction, screenplays, scripts or magazine articles. It says we are probably not the right place for your literary fiction nor for books with extraordinary violence, profanity or gratuitous sexuality. It's all spelled out.
So why do people send them anyway? They wouldn't apply for a job without reading a want ad or something that would tell them what the job is so they would know whether it was worth their time to apply or not. The submission guidelines at our agency as well as other agencies or publishing houses are our 'want ads' as to what we are looking to see.
Maybe it is a genre we would consider but it is simply not ready to submit. Maybe the word count is way too large for any market we work in or perhaps too small. It could be the formatting is just not professional or that it has far too many typos, grammar problems, opens too slow or doesn't have good story flow. Someone sent it before it was ready, and such a submission just can't compete with others that are coming in polished to a fine point needing little work from an overworked editor or agent.
It could also be that it is just not unique enough. It is unfortunate that we often see a large number of people choosing to write very similar books at exactly the same time. Something probably happened in the news that gave each of them a similar idea. It isn't their fault that they have spent a huge amount of time writing a book that a thousand other people were writing as well. No way to know. Not fair. But the reality is that the first books to get to the market get the contracts then the market is saturated. Any time we start opening submissions that are too much like a bunch of others we are receiving, it tells us the market is not going to be there because everybody else is also receiving the same type of submissions.
It's hard for a writer to have someone pass on taking their work, but guess what? It's hard on us too. It's depressing to have to spend the morning turning down submission after submission, knowing that it isn't just a letter but the actual hopes and dreams of the author. Even when it something that should not have been sent in the first place it takes time to work and it takes a toll on us having to do it as well.
I don't understand why people don't check submission guidelines and send what editors and agents want in the manner that they wish to receive them. Failing to do so can't help but make the recipient wonder if the person who doesn't look at, or even worse ignores the guidelines, would be a difficult author to try and work with. I wonder about that when my guidelines say I don't take hard copy submissions and people send them anyway. Why?
I hate proposals pasted into an email. They are hard to read and generally it destroys the formatting. Some people WANT to receive them that way, but that information is readily available in the submission guidelines as to who wants it which way. A proposal is a single, well-formatted document that looks professional, not a dozen files attached or a link to a place online where you can find the information. We can't pitch a project that way so those are useless to us.
I suppose it boils down to the fact that I turn very few projects down. A lot of what is coming in takes itself out of consideration. Some days we get more than others, such as today, which prompted this little epistle. But then there is the submission that is beautifully prepared and formatted, that tells me why the person submitting thinks I am the right choice for it, what it is and the word count. I'm interested. The 2-3 page synopsis tells me it might be a unique story idea. I'm intrigued. The first page pulls me in and and by page ten I am invested in the story. I'm hooked into asking for the full. The flow, the voice and the story do not let me down.
Those are the submissions we are digging through the pile looking for. And that's what the clients I represent used to make me a believer in their work.