Jul 13 2011
Here’s a list of submission mistakes that may be instantly fatal to your query or submission letter.
1. You’ve submitted something in a genre or medium the publisher doesn’t handle. If you submitted a novel without a major romantic component to Harlequin or a comic book to a novel publisher, you’re dead on arrival.
2. You’ve submitted a story that isn’t yours. For example, if your story bears a startling resemblance to something that’s already been published, is fan-fiction, and/or is fan-fiction with the names changed, you’re probably dead on arrival. Note: Most publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions for preexisting series or licensed works. When DC Comics needs a writer for Batman or Dark Horse needs somebody for Star Wars, they’ll call authors that have already published notable works.
3. Your submission was missing something listed in the submission guidelines. For example, if the publisher asked for illustrated comic book pages but you forgot to include them, you’re dead on arrival.
4. You submitted a query for an incomplete novel but are an unpublished author. Finish the novel and try again. I have not yet encountered a publisher interested in novel submissions from unpublished authors because nobody knows how long it will take the author to finish the novel or even whether the author is capable of finishing the novel. The publisher can wait.
4.1. You tried submitting an “idea” or a “concept.” Sorry, but novel publishers only consider completed novels from unpublished authors*. On the other hand, some comic book publishers will consider partially-completed series (but usually want to see at least one issue scripted). If you’ve been professionally published, you might be able to query a proposal for a book you haven’t started yet, but even then you’d have to finish it yourself.
*Unless you’re a major celebrity, like a film star or head of state. In that case, a publisher might be willing to ghostwrite a book for you.
5. You forgot to include the word-count for your novel or the page-count for your comic book.
5.1. Many publishers will instantly reject you if your word-count/page-count are not even close to what the publisher usually prints. There’s a bit of variation by genre, but usually I’d recommend 80,000-100,000 words for an adult novel manuscript.
6. You missed anything else in the submission guidelines. Do not pass Go, do not collect an advance.
6.1. You’ve tried submitting to a publisher that doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. Notably, DC and Marvel Comics do not accept unsolicited submissions from writers. Admittedly, publishers DO accept such stories once in a blue moon, so it’s not necessarily a waste of time to try, but more likely you’re dead on arrival.
7. Your query letter raised significant questions about your mental health and/or professionalism. If you want to be a professional writer, always be professional.
8. Some publishers will instantly reject writers that include copyright notices because it suggests that they’re paranoid amateurs. Also, please don’t submit to a publisher unless you have faith in their professionalism. Including a copyright notice is like saying “I don’t trust you not to steal my work unless I tell you not to,” which will go over with the editor about as well as a frying pan to the face.
9. A few publishers will instantly reject you for addressing your query/cover letter to “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern.” I’d recommend looking up any one of the editors that handles submissions for the publisher and addressing it to him/her. Even if that person isn’t actually the one that ends up reading it, it’ll show you put some thought into the submission.
10. You tried using a hilariously bad pen name. Here’s some advice on pen names, Max Slaughter.
11. The query/submission letter had too many typos. Personally, I’d stop reading at three unless the writer was a head of state or something. Unless the main selling point for your proposal is your celebrity bio (rather than your writing skills), your writing skills need to be impeccable. If it’ll take you a few years to get the rules of grammar down, the publisher can wait. It has no reason to rush out a book from an author that isn’t ready yet.