Five Mistakes New Authors Make

The first time you send in a manuscript can be scary. With all the apprehension, excitement, dread, and anticipation you go through, it can be hard to stop, focus, and ask yourself, “what shouldn’t I do?” instead of “what haven’t I done?” While larger, international publishers will generally only accept solicited manuscripts—work sent to them from a literary agent—the smaller world of lesbian fiction (or “lesfic”) publishing is well-known for taking e-mail submissions from anyone who can hit the send button. Nevertheless, before you tap that magic button and cross your fingers—or before you stop yourself from doing just that—take a look at the top 5 mistakes new authors make when sending their manuscripts to publishers:

  1. Waiting for the literary fairy

  2. Over editing

  3. Overthinking the query letter

  4. Mistaking a rejection letter as a dismissal of your work

  5. Giving up

Waiting for the literary fairy

If you want your book in stores (online or otherwise), the first step is always going to be finally sending it in. For years, I expected a literary agent to show up at my door, demand to see all the writing I was hiding in my laptop, and then insist she acquire the rights to all of it. It might seem silly, but the first step to getting published is taking your work off of your screen and sending it to someone else’s. I know a lot of writers who have grown bitter, especially reading other published works they might feel are inferior to their own. The truth is, in order to get noticed, you need to put yourself out there. There is no literary fairy who is going to show up at your door. You have to take that first step on your own.

Over editing

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably edited that book so many times you practically have every page memorized—and even more impressively, can remember how many times you added in and removed that special comma—but in the end, this can be counter productive. Just make sure you’ve run spellcheck, removed the clichés, and that you feel good about the story you’re putting forward. No one is expecting you to be a professional editor; publishers just want to see that you’ve got potential. The first time your work crosses someone’s desk they are largely looking to see if you have what it takes, and the longer you wait, the more your bad writing habits tend to fester, especially if you don’t even realize you have them. Don’t count out your manuscript if it has a couple of plot holes. Again that’s what your editor is for. Editors don’t just get paid to find the perfect comma placement. Your editor is an amazing friend, resource, and wealth of knowledge, and worthy publishers will have editors who make you better as an author by pushing you to put forward the best possible version of your book.

Overthinking the query letter

…and under thinking the publisher’s preferences. A lot of us learn that the query letter is what’s going to make or break us. We fear that the publisher will pass our manuscript around the office with a malevolent laugh if we don’t get the query letter just right. For this reason, a lot of writers spend days, weeks, or even months writing their query letter based on what they think the letter should have instead of following the publisher’s guidelines. Most publishing houses will tell you exactly what they want right on their website. Look for the “submissions” page and follow those instructions, and follow them well. Note the publisher’s font and spacing preferences, the length of the sample they want, and don’t send them anything they haven’t asked for. Today, the traditional query letter is becoming dated, but following instructions and showing you have the desire to be attentive can go a long way. One more freebie: don’t send an explanation of the book with your manuscript—not to be mistaken with the synopsis. A synopsis describes what the story is about, whereas an explanation tells the publisher everything you intended the story to be, but failed at. When submitting to a publisher, your story needs to stand alone.

Mistaking a rejection letter as a dismissal of your work

It’s every author’s prerogative: you can see a rejection letter as the apocalypse that lets you know your dreams are over, or you can read through the notes that came back with your book from the publisher; a thoughtful rejection is incredibly valuable because it will offer guidance on how to improve your story or your craft, and sometimes both. If the publisher took the time to give you suggestions, that means the publisher felt your manuscript had possibilities. They haven’t given up on you.

Giving up

Sometimes, the sad reality in this business is that you need to grow a thick skin, and it doesn’t stop at querying publishers with your manuscripts. Even if you get a contract, there are always going to ups and downs, hurtful reviews, and the possibility that one of your other books in the future won’t end up with your signature somewhere on the dotted line. The most important thing, if you want to get published and stay in the business, is never giving up.

A good publisher will help you through the lows and hurdles that come with being in the publishing industry, but to benefit from that, you need to reach out to them first. So, don’t over think it; don’t over edit it; don’t overlook the publisher’s preferences; and most importantly, never give up on yourself.

To see if your manuscript is right for Dirt Road Books, get to know us and check our submissions page to see if we are accepting new manuscripts.

No matter where you land, good luck, and happy writing!