I was recently asked: As an editor, what’s a deal breaker for you? What thing(s) can an author do that will completely ruin any chance they have of being offered a publishing contract?
Interesting question don’t you think? Allow me to offer an answer.
Every writer knows the most important tool they have to capture an editor’s attention is the query letter. The second most important are the sample pages. But beyond those two things, what else does an editor look at? You might be surprised. So, pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and settle in because I’m about to spill the beans and reveal the top four things that are deal breakers for me.
DEAL BREAKER #1 – INABILITY TO FOLLOW SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS
I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around this one. The simplest rule of all when querying is to always follow the submission guidelines. I know from personal experience how complicated some submission guidelines can be. There are presses that require a list of documents each formatted in a very specific way. It’s time consuming. But when the guidelines are as simple as: Paste a query letter and first three chapters in the body of an email, I find it extremely difficult to hide my annoyance when it’s not followed.
And trust me, it’s not followed a lot! When I get a query with the sample chapters attached or a link to a blog, Google docs, or a website with instructions on how to find the chapters, I simply delete the query unread. I know, it seems harsh, but we have guidelines in place for a reason. If an author can’t be bothered to follow the rules, I can’t be bothered to read their query. I have been known on occasion to send a reply asking the author to resubmit following the submission guidelines on our website, but as I get bombarded with more and more submissions, I simply don’t have the time to do that anymore.
So, please, I beg you, follow our submission guidelines! They can be found here: http://www.anaiahpress.com/submissions.html.
DEAL BREAKER #2 – DOUBLE DIPPING
True story: I got a query via our general submissions email. Two days later I got the same exact query sent directly to me at my Anaiah Press email. Four days later the same query popped up during one of our monthly pitching contests. One of our other Senior Editors saw it, liked it, and requested it. In a matter of a week, this same book had been queried three different times and was simultaneously with two different editors.
That might not seem like a big deal to most, but it is because we now had to take time away from actually reading the manuscript to figure out who was going to take the time to read and assess it.
It’s pretty common knowledge authors should only ever query one editor at any given press. I promise you, we have a good reason for doing this, too. What is this reason you ask? First of all, it’s to avoid scenarios like the one above. Secondly, editors are very kind people. We really do want to love your book, and if we don’t, we try to find someone who might. At Anaiah Press we are constantly shar
ing manuscripts. If I get a query I don’t like, I’ll share it with all the other editors. If any of them show an interest, I pass it along. So when you query one editor you’re essentially querying the entire editorial staff.
DEAL BREAKER #3 – MISREPRESENTATION
I once received a query that was rather impressive. The premise was good. The writing was engaging. The voice was unique. In the query letter it was stated the author had previously self-published some books. So, I hopped on over to Amazon and checked them out. I’m curious like that. Guess what I found? The book being queried was available for sale! Confused, I went back to the initial query letter to see if I missed that little tidbit of information. I hadn’t. It was conveniently omitted. Needless to say, I rejected. Had the author been honest from the beginning, I would’ve seriously considered it (I really liked this story!), but because I felt like I was being duped, the author had lost all credibility and my trust. I’ve even had queries where the author claimed to have a lengthy publishing history but upon further inspection I couldn’t substantiate those claims.
DEAL BREAKER #4 – BAD BEHAVIOR
The internet is a fantastic thing, so full of information and knowledge. It can also be an author’s greatest enemy. When I’m considering offering a contract, I will take some time to look up the potential author. I will seek them out on social media. I’ll read their tweets, Facebook posts, and even their blog if they have one. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone by watching how they interact on social media. If I see the author behaving badly – insulting other authors, consistently airing their personal dirty laundry, reacting badly to reviews on Amazon / Goodreads, trashing their publisher and/or editor, unprofessional communications with me or any other member of the Anaiah Press staff – I will reject.
Why? I’m going to quote Dr. Phil for this one: “The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior.” If you’ve done it before to other publishers, editors, authors, reviewers, book bloggers, etc, what makes me believe you won’t do the same thing again? Every author we sign is a reflection of Anaiah Press and what we stand for as a publisher.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times. You never know who is looking.
Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking: But Kara, an author’s writing should speak for itself. Decisions should be based on the merit of the work. Not on all that other stuff.
You’re right. Kind of. The initial decision is always based on the merit of the work. A well-written query, an enticing premise, and strong writing are my weakness. But writing and publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such because at the end of the day it really is about so much more than just a great story.
Kara Leigh Miller is the Managing Editor for the Romance and Surge imprints of Anaiah Press.