I often receive requests for feedback on a book idea or completed manuscript. Authors will typically send their outline or chapter sample and ask me one of the two questions below:
Q: "What do you think about my book [idea]?"
A: What I think--or what any agent or editor will think--about your idea will depend on how you present your material. When reviewing fiction or nonfiction, we're open to all good ideas that will entertain, bring new information to the market, or fill a documented need in the marketplace.
The truth is that you have far more control over whether or not you get published than you think. Use these guidelines to evaluate your manuscript before sending it out or attempting to self-publish.
Be able to document why your book will sell. Who will read it and why? And, please, supply more than your opinion and that of your family and friends. Mention articles in major print publications and topics of popular movies and books that relate to your book subject. Show us surveys that were done by impartial, reliable organizations (Gallop Polls, U.S. Census, etc). Document current trends that indicate an audience for your topic.
Explain why you are the right person to write this book. Are you an expert? Do you have personal experience with the subject? Are you already addressing your audience via writing, speaking or practice? If you can provide persuasive copy about yourself and your idea, almost any agent or editor in your genre will be happy to consider your manuscript for publication--which brings me to Q#2.
Q: I've submitted this manuscript to agents and publishers and I keep getting rejected. What's wrong with it?"
A: There's a host of possible answers to this question that have nothing to do with the quality of the manuscript. Here's a few reasons why you may be receiving rejection letters:
- You spelled the agent or editor's name wrong.
- You sent it to an inappropriate recipient (e.g., your cookbook to a fiction agent).
- You sent your entire 800-page, two-book manuscript, spiral bound, without first sending a query requesting permission to follow up with a book proposal or novel synopsis. (Never staple or bind your manuscript, even if it has been requested.)
- You didn't follow submission guidelines.
- You mentioned that Oprah will love your book.
- You listed all your relatives and friends or other nonprofessional readers who love your work.
- Your letter contained spelling and grammatical errors.
- You referenced all your previous rejections and lack of writing experience.
- You sent a three-page letter explaining your reason for writing the book and a detailed description of the contents.
Most likely, however, the reason your manuscript was rejected was because
- You didn't include the information they are looking for as specified in the answer to Q#1.
Remember when I said you have more control over getting your work being published than you think? You can dramatically increase the odds of getting a positive response instead of a rejection letter just by improving how you present yourself and your work. What good is an excellent manuscript if no one reads it?
Please consider these responses even if you are self-publishing. Although you may not need the approval of an agent or editor, you do have to prepare your work in a professional manner if you expect to sell the book or garner any respect once you've published it. You want to ask yourself the same questions an agent or editor would ask.
The best advice I can give you is to become educated about the publishing industry. Learn about the process; become familiar with expected standards. Read industry publications online and offline, take classes and attend workshops and conferences. If you want to cut light years off your learning curve, seek professional help. A good editor or consultant is well worth the investment if you are serious about your work. As a cost-effective alternative to private coaching, join VIP Authors Inner Circle for ongoing mentoring and get 4Ps to Publishing Success as part of your program.
I'd like to support your efforts in reaching your goal. You can email your questions to me or comment on one of the blogs. I'll answer as many as I can in next Wednesday's free teleseminar: "What's the best way to get published? Your questions answered."
Will 2009 be your year to see your name in print? It's up to you.