Here at Dreaming Big Publications, we get a lot of submissions, but probably not nearly as many as some other companies do. It can be overwhelming sorting through them all and deciding which ones we want to take a closer look at. Here are some tips that will help you get past the query stage.
Please note that some of what I'm pointing out here might pertain mainly to our company, but most is good advice for submitting anywhere.
1. Get their name right! Many times in the initial query, we are referred to as Dream Big instead of Dreaming Big. This is a problem. There actually used to be a company named Dream Big but that is not us. Never has been. (We still get emails from authors who worked with that company before they went defunct, asking about their manuscript, but that's off topic.) This may seem like a small thing, but it is attention to detail and that matters. It is a pet peeve of mine, and I instantly delete queries from authors who have queried us as Dream Big. On a similar note, it's okay to address "editor" or a title if you don't know the person's name. However, if you are going to address them by name, spell it correctly.
2. Keep it short and simple. Just tell them in the query what they need to know. A query should be a short synopsis, not long. I like one or two paragraphs, that's it. If it takes you several pages to tell me what your story is about, what this tells me is you are long-winded and might tend to ramble, which tells me the book might need way more editing to cut out unnecessary and boring content to get to the good stuff. If I'm reading 20 queries in a day, I want to know right away if I want to see more of this manuscript or not, and making me wade through a lengthy description is going to make my eyes glaze over and make me say, "next!"
3. Don't fall for cliches. "Must read" or "best book ever", or "no other book like it on the market" doesn't work. Let reviewers use terms like "must read". Let the publisher decide for themselves if it is a must read or the best book ever. Don't waste precious time and space in your query with empty words like these. They don't attract our attention. These phrases don't tell us what the story is about and come across as clickbait I guess is a good way to describe it.
4. Have a platform and let the publisher know about it! I wrote another article describing what a platform is, so I won't go into that here. But the publisher doesn't just want to know if you have a good story, they want to know about you as well. This should include other published works you have, awards you've won, speeches you've given. If you are a celebrity or have a huge social media following or do a podcast, we definitely want to know about it. We want links to your author website and social media pages so we can check out your online influence ourselves. We want your credentials, especially if you're writing nonfiction. We need to see what sort of a fan base you already have in place because that helps us figure out if your book has the potential to sell or not. You might have a great story, but without a platform, it isn't going to sell and we want books with selling potential.
5. Make your query error free! If you have spelling and grammar mistakes in your query, I'm going to delete it and not respond. It tells me your book most likely is going to be full of the same kind of errors, and we don't want that. Make a good first impression. It matters a lot.
6. Follow their instructions! This is a big thing that I see a lot of lately. If I like the query and think the idea of the story shows promise, I ask to see the full manuscript, attached as a Word doc to an email, and there is information I ask them to add on the first page. I specify that they are to send just one document and I tell them what I want on the first page. Yet so many times they sent multiple documents, or they send a PDF file when I clearly said Word doc. I've had people send zip files before. The way I see it is, if you have trouble following simple instructions now, you may be a difficult author to work with throughout the entire publication process, and I'm going to pass on this one without even looking at the manuscript most likely.
7. Send a completely clean manuscript with no fancy fonts, styles, or markups of any kind. Don't put headers and footers, don't put images, don't use styles for your chapter headings. All of these hidden marks will need to be removed and we want a completely clean document to work with. I don't want page numbers or page breaks. Single space, no space between paragraphs, a normal font. PLAIN. If you have some of these in the manuscript you send to us for your query, it won't count against you, but if we accept it for publication, you will be asked to totally remove anything like that so we have a clean manuscript to work with.
8. Don't send a rough draft. If you know you're not good with grammar or sentence structure, have an editor edit your manuscript and get it to where you think it is perfect before you submit it to publishers. If you didn't write with an outline, have a great content editor edit your manuscript before you submit it to publishers because it most likely rambles and needs a lot cut and needs rearranging. Have people other than friends and family look at it, and take their advice. Writers groups are a good idea, either in person or online. You can hire editors if you want. Get it as perfect as you can get it before submitting it. (But then know that it isn't perfect and will still go through heavy editing if accepted, that's part of the process).
9. Have the first 30 pages PERFECT and engaging. Submission editors usually follow the rule of thumb that if their attention isn't grabbed in the first 30 pages, they stop reading at that point and discard the manuscript. You have 30 pages at most to grab our attention and make us want to read more. Sometimes, you have just the first page! If that first paragraph and first page is full of errors, or is boring and full of backstory, I am not going to want to read further. The opening should drop the reader right into some action. If our submission editors find themselves reading after the first 30 pages because they can't stand not knowing what happens next, we've got a good book on our hands. But if it is a struggle to read that far, we don't want it. We don't want something that bores us. And like I said, we won't make it off the first page if the first page and opening paragraph are horrible.
Know your genre. Be well read in the genre you are writing in. It will help you out a lot to see how other published works arrange their story, for example. World building, character development, plot - these things might vary greatly across the different fiction genres. For nonfiction writers, you usually need to have professional credentials or something that makes you qualified to write on that subject. One of the biggest reason for rejecting certain nonfiction work is that the author has no qualifications in the subject they wrote about. A self help book is a great example. For memoirs, things that are relevant and meaningful to you probably aren't to readers, so be prepared to have a lot of material cut that you thought was important. Ask yourself if you were reading this book, would this passage matter to you? It's hard to be subjective when it's your own story. Unfortunately, what readers want and what authors are willing to put in the manuscript for the world to read are often two different things. The readers want the juicy bits. They want to hear details of the lows you sunk to when dealing with the worst of your bipolar mania, they want to hear the details of your extramarital affairs, or the abuse you suffered. These are usually the bits that authors want to gloss over or skip entirely. If your memoir is more of a personal diary that only matters to you or a handful of people who know you, it won't get published. It has to appeal to readers.
By Kristi King-Morgan
BIO: Kristi has a Master's in Social Work and an MFA in Creative Writing. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Dreaming Big Publications, and previously worked as Director of Corporate Operations at Pro Se Press. She resides with her family in Mississippi.