Writing Advice: Submitting Novels
Okay, full disclosure: it’s been a few years since I had to go through this process. I think most of it remains the same, even if the names may have changed, but if I get something wrong, please note in the comments down below!
Slip Wolf, who is going through this process, suggested I could write about it for people who did not get the chance to talk to me one on one at MFF about it, so I figured I’d do that this month.
Step zero, I guess, is to write your novel and make it the best you can. This means proofreading, editing, running it past beta readers, editing again, proofreading again, etc. An editor’s job is to take your final polished draft and provide their feedback to make the novel suitable for publication by their publisher. That’s already a good amount of work. If your novel looks like it’s going to be more work than that, there’s a good chance the editor will pass on it even if they might think it would sell.
Step one, as it is with any publication submission, is to read the submission guidelines. Make sure the publisher is open to novel submissions. However they want to receive submissions, make sure you follow their instructions closely. What e-mail address to send it to or what submission program to use, what format the document should be in, what information they want in the cover letter, etc. Usually those instructions are to make the submission fit into the publisher’s workflow as easily as possible, but they also serve to give the editor a hint about what kind of person you are to work with. If you can follow their instructions, that’s a good sign.
(I’ve told this story before, but when I was working with Sofawolf, we requested that submissions be sent to our email address, in .docx or .pdf format. At a time when we were only open to novels 50K words and up, or short stories for specific anthologies, a person came up to our table and gave us a USB thumb drive with their submission on it, a 40K word novella in WordPerfect format. I told them to submit it in the usual way when we were open, but they insisted on giving me the thumb drive. Needless to say, we did not even open their submission.)
Step two is to write a cover letter. This doesn’t have to be a big thing. It should just tell the publisher the genre and word count of your novel and give them a short pitch for it, then include some biographical information about you and what other publications you’ve had.
The above is for mainstream publishers. In the furry fandom, you might not have to write a cover letter. We’re a small community, so you might know the publisher from a convention. If you’re at a convention where furry publishers are present, you can approach them and ask them how to submit your novel to them, and perhaps whether it’s something they would be interested in. If you do this, it’s important to keep the conversation quick and professional. If they ask you to tell them what your novel is about, keep it to two sentences (prepare a two-sentence pitch). What you want to do is (1) find out whether your novel is a good fit for the publisher, and (2) establish a connection so they’ll remember you when they get your manuscript. When you’ve done that, thank them for their time and either change the subject or leave.
Step three is to actually send the manuscript. This is really the easy part. Just send it to a publisher that is open to novels, following the guidelines they have on their site.
In the furry fandom, some publishers are closed to public submissions but will take submissions from authors whose work they know. If you’ve published short stories with a publisher’s anthology, or if you’ve published other novels with them (I assume this advice is mostly useful to people who haven’t published novels before, but just in case), then you can send them an inquiry saying that you have a novel and asking if they’d like to read it.
Some publishers will also ask for an exclusive submission, meaning that you can’t send the novel to another publisher while they’re considering it. Or you may have a relationship with a furry publisher and unofficially give them an exclusive submission period. If that’s not the case, send it around to however many places you can find. If it is the case, then you’ll have to decide if that publisher is important enough to you to hold off on submitting it elsewhere.
Step four is to wait for a reply. This is the hard part.
Some publishers will have as part of their guidelines a time period in which you can expect a response, after which it’s okay to send a followup email. If this is the case, use those guidelines and skip the rest of this paragraph. If they haven’t given you a time period, or you haven’t worked out one ahead of time (if you talked about your submission), then I’d say three months is a reasonable time to send a followup. Your followup should be short and polite, along the lines of: “Hi! I submitted a novel to you a few months ago, and I just wanted to follow up to know if you have an idea of when I can expect to hear about it. Thanks for your time.”
If they give you a date (or if they did in the guidelines), then I’d generally give them a couple weeks past that date before you send a followup. In this case, like the last, it should be short and polite, like: “Hi! I submitted a novel to you a few months ago and you said that I should follow up after [period of time] if I didn’t hear from you. Please let me know when I can expect to hear something. Thanks for your time.”
If they haven’t responded to your first followup and you don’t have a date, I’d say three more months (six total) is a good time to wait before following up again.
Ideally, you will not have to make these judgments yourself. Ideally, the publisher will get back to you in a reasonable period of time. But publishers are busy, especially in the furry fandom where nobody is a full-time publisher. Slush pile novels, even with publishers open to public submissions, are just not the top priority for a publisher, who also has to edit, publish, and distribute their existing properties. I know, because I’ve been there, that if you haven’t heard from a publisher in a while, you’re worried that they don’t like your manuscript, and if you remind them that you exist, it will spur them to reject it. Or that if you appear impatient, they’ll reject it because you’re being a pain. But I’ve also been on the publisher side and I know that whenever an author followed up to ask the status of their submission, I was grateful for the reminder. So if it’s a short, polite note, it’s fine. And hopefully the publisher will be communicative.
In the last resort, if the publisher isn’t communicating and you feel like your submission is lost, you have the right to take it to another publisher. In that case, when you have identified another publisher to send your novel to, definitely send one last note to the original publisher saying something like, “Hi, I submitted a novel a few months ago and I haven’t heard anything from you, so I’m submitting it elsewhere.”
Hopefully, fingers crossed, by the end of this process, you’ll have a deal with a publisher. If you get a rejection, well, I wrote a whole thing about dealing with rejection in Do You Need Help? (free from Bad Dog Books!). Short version: if they give you feedback, great! But they don’t owe you feedback. If you really want to know what they thought, you can send a short, polite note asking if they have any suggestions for what might make your next submission more fitting for them. If they don’t reply, let it go and move on.
Final word, which I have to say every time I talk about being an author in a business sense: publishers and editors, especially in the furry community, know each other and talk to each other. When you write to them, being polite means that they will be open to doing business with you in the future and they will not warn other editors away from you. There’s not an official blacklist, but publishers do exchange stories and if your name is familiar from one of those stories…well, it’ll make it harder to sell them a book.
Get out there and write, and good luck!