Consider the following scenario.
You’ve rewritten and revised and polished your manuscript until it shines like a sparkly diamond. Your critique group has scrutinized every chapter, commented on every character and subplot. Even the crusty dude who never offers his own writing for critique loves your story.
You’ve researched your target publishers/agents/editors and carefully crafted your query letter. You have a one-page version of your synopsis and a three-page version, a single-spaced one and a double-spaced one. You have the biography paragraph that mentions your pet Pekinese (for the agent who posts pictures of her new puppies on Facebook). You even have an alternate version that lists every article you’ve ever published (for the editor who just wants to know what you’ve already done).
You’ve done your homework. You’re ready to submit. The emails are composed and proofed. The actual submissions–one chapter for Agent A, fifty pages for Publisher B, the full manuscript embedded at the end of the email for Editor C–are ready to go. You hit send. And then…
You’re waiting. For weeks. Sometimes even for months. No response. You wait for the amount of time they told you to wait. Agent A’s guidelines say she responds in two months. Publisher B’s website says the house replies in four months. Editor C’s instructions said if you don’t hear from her, your manuscript is no longer under consideration. You carefully craft an email asking about your submission. You double-check the language for tone–you sure don’t want to irk anyone–send it… and wait some more. You even send one to Editor C, just in case.
Maybe, a few weeks later (if you’re lucky), you get a terse response. We’re sorry, but your manuscript doesn’t fit our needs at this time.
Now, there are valid reasons why one agent asks for one chapter and another requests the first five pages, why some editors want attachments and others want your submission embedded in the email, why some agents take months to respond and others don’t respond at all.
Not that any of those valid reasons matter to you, the author. You’ve just submitted your masterpiece into that Kraken-like orifice of a slushpile that sucked your manuscript in with a gut-jarring slurp. The beast didn’t even bother to provide a decent malodorous belch to let you know your submission arrived safely.
We’re not agent-bashing. Agents are terrific! Agents have their pulse on the literary marketplace. Agents love authors and writing. But they’re overwhelmed with submissions and do a lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to evaluating manuscript readiness. Most importantly, agents get to go to the best parties at conferences. We love agents.
At Equinox Books, we’ve all faced the black hole that is a publishing slushpile (in fact, we’re thinking about making it a pre-requisite for new job applicants). While we understand how hard it must be to get back to authors with a personal email in a timely manner, we know how dreadful it is to be facing the abyss of nothingness. In an industry whose very existence depends on a steady stream of quality manuscripts, authors are all too often treated as mere content providers.
We’re going to be different.
Our submissions process is different. We just say “no” to query letters.
First of all, no query letters required. In fact, no query letters allowed. We won’t read them. We believe too many authors have spent so much time tweaking their query letters for a particular agent/editor/house that the important stuff about the author, the work, and the potential readers gets lost.
The query letter is designed to whittle down the meat of your manuscript into a single-page, at-a-glance summary of salient details. In its present form, the query is designed for incredibly busy people who receive hundreds of them each week.
That’s not to say that we don’t want all the stuff that generally goes in the query letter. We want all of it. In fact, we want more stuff than most fiction authors ever had to provide in a submission.
We just don’t expect you to try and cram it all in one page.
But we didn’t say it was going to be easy.
We consider the author, the manuscript, and the future reader to be equally important components of a successful book. So we’re asking you a lot of questions about you, about your story and about the person you think will read it. We’re probably asking more questions about your work than you’ve ever answered before.
Our questions are the same any agent, editor, or publisher will ask you at some point in the publication process. We’re asking them up front, because we want to know you have given these questions some thought and will continue to think about the answers throughout your journey to publication.
Because your answers to these questions will help us not only get excited about your book, but they will help us determine if and how we can situate your book on the market to make it a success. We’re not just your first readers. We want to be your partners in your journey to publication. And we want that journey to be successful. From the start.
You might not yet have identified your ideal reader, your author platform may not be up and running and your marketing plan may be just a fuzzy idea. That’s fine. All we want to know is that you’ve considered these things and are willing to keep thinking about them.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. Or, instead, get ready to submit.
So, toss the query letter. We don’t want it. But get that manuscript ready. In a future post, we’ll describe our internal submissions process, so you’ll know what happens once we get our hands on your manuscript.