I’ve written previously about ways to hone your story so that your manuscript will stand out to busy editors. As an editor, I’m always especially delighted to find a well-written submission that captures my attention. It’s always much more fun and satisfying to say “yes!” to a manuscript than it is to say “no.”
But although don’ts are always less fun to focus on than dos, it’s useful to know that there are a number of things that will almost immediately turn an editor off from your submission. Here are a few common pitfalls you will want to avoid when submitting your story to an agent or a publishing house.
1) Poor spelling and grammar
This is one of the most basic and obvious things to avoid. Sloppy, careless submissions are never impressive. You want your submission to be professional and showcase your best work, and to convey that you are willing to put effort into creating quality. Take the time to proofread your submission carefully. Particularly make sure that you’re spelling the editor’s name and the publishing house correctly (for us: “Eerdmans” and not “Eerdman,” “Erdmans,” or “Eerdman’s”).
2) Not being familiar with the publishing house you’re submitting to
Make sure you pay attention to the types of stories each publisher is interested in. EBYR, for instance, doesn’t really do any fantasy or paranormal books—so submitting those types of manuscripts to us will be completely wasted effort. Also bear in mind, though, that we’re probably not going to publish a book that’s virtually identical to one we already have on our list. So even if you think you’ve written a cracking good picture book biography of Peter Mark Roget, we probably won’t be interested. You want to strike a balance—being familiar enough with a publisher that you can mention specific details about how your book would fit in well with the rest of their publishing program.
3) Including illustrations unnecessarily
Unless you are a professional illustrator, there’s no need to include illustrations with your manuscript. For a picture book, the publisher is typically in charge of finding an artist to illustrate the text. Including illustrations usually conveys that you are not familiar with the way that the children’s publishing industry works, or that you may not be willing to work with the publisher to let them help shape your book.
4) Offering unconvincing endorsements
Do mention in your cover letter any relevant qualifications you might have—particularly if you have previous publishing experience, if you’ve worked with children, or if you’re part of an organization like SCBWI. But it’s not necessary to mention, for instance, that your story was a huge hit with your grandchildren. Although reading your story to children can be a good practice, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that your story is publishable—and friends and family are typically fairly biased.
5) Expecting us to publish your book immediately
Bear in mind that it takes a long time to publish a book, particularly a picture book: it can take an illustrator six months, a year, or sometimes even more to finish the art, and it typically takes a year from receiving the final art for the book to be printed and published. Don’t send your manuscript expecting that a publisher will be able to turn it around immediately in time for whatever holiday or event that you have in mind. Doing so can come across both as pushy and unaware of the time and effort involved in children’s book publishing.
6) Relying on gimmicky packaging to catch our attention
Don’t feel the need to use bright paper, loud fonts, or flashy envelopes to catch our attention. And please, please, please don’t include glitter or confetti. Keep your submission simple and professional, and rely on the quality of your writing to win us over.
You can commit one or two of these faux pas and still have your manuscript be considered—but too many will take it out of the running altogether long before it gets to my desk. Make sure you invest the time and care into getting your submission right, and it will definitely make a difference!
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Kathleen Merz is managing editor for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Read her From the Editor’s Desk column — packed with editorial insight and behind-the-scenes info on Eerdmans books — one Thursday a month here on Eerdlings.