“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

I do. I can’t say I’m as happy about their insistence on referring to themselves as “indie publishers,” because those of us who have been publishing independent of the traditional model for the last couple of decades think we’ve earned the right to that name.

When you consider how much courage it takes to single-handedly put yourself and your work out in front of God and the world without the support a publisher provides, I would think there would be more cachet to being an indie author than an indie publisher.

I’m aware that indie authors are constantly being bombarded with sage advice. Some of what follows I’m sure they’ve heard so often reading it again will send them screaming. Consider that it’s is based on my personal experience both with self-publishers and the traditional industry, bearing in mind that I was active in ebook publishing before Harlequin and Amazon invented them.

This isn’t advice about self-publishing. These are my responses to what I experience on a regular basis, and I hope will explain a some things a few people seem not to be aware of. And in conclusion, I’ll tell you why so many manuscripts get rejected over and over.

  • 1. There are far too many books being published electronically that show a painful lack of editing–and I refer to NY published folks re-publishing backlist, too. You can’t trust OCR to be accurate, and you can’t trust Amazon or anyone else who scans your old print book to fix errors. Ebooks have been around since the mid-90s, so there’s no huge rush to get yours published. Take the time to do it right.
  • 2. I can’t review your books. Not even the good ones. I barely have time to read the manuscripts from my authors and the submissions samples I request plus stay abreast of what’s being published by my competitors. In addition, I’m a professional editor. When I see so many things that should have been fixed it distracts me. Your book may have wonderful potential, but I’m not giving it four stars when it’s riddled with problems.
  • 3. I respect your right to publish your own work. Please respect that other people prefer not to, and that doing so doesn’t make them idiots. As a corollary, we are not a way for you to self-publish without cost. If you have signed a contract for us to publish your work, you may not refuse to make reasonable changes when required, dictate your cover design, or inform us when your next book will come out. That’s our decision, not yours.
  • 4. My partners and I go out of our way to ensure our authors receive a proper return for their efforts. Making your ebook available for nothing does not make it a best-seller. It makes it a book that got downloaded a lot. Our ebooks are reasonably priced and DRM-free because we know that while you can always lower a price you can’t raise one–and that’s an economic fact, not an opinion. So, bombarding our authors with “advice” that they should demand we lower the price of their ebooks because they’ll never sell otherwise is insulting. Please don’t.
  • 5. You’ve self-published the first book in a series. Now you want me to pick the series up because you did fairly well with book one. My policy is to want all books in a series under contract to make it convenient for readers to find them. So, you’re asking me to publish at least two books: the next in the series and the one (or more) that came before. I will have to edit the books and pay for new cover art for the previously published, costs the previously published book may never earn back. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances in play, it’s likely not going to happen.
  • 6. Connecting with me via networks and social media will not provide you with a way around our submissions protocol. I’m delighted to know you, but if your Twitter stream is an endless commercial, I will not follow you back. Do not send me messages on LinkedIn telling me about your new book or asking me to review it. For one thing, I have an acquisitions editor who handles submissions. For another, I’m the one who established the submissions protocol, so I’m not likely to look favorably on someone who thinks it doesn’t apply to them. If you have a book you believe is worthy of publication and don’t want to do it yourself, the method is simple: read our guidelines, submit per instructions. The only way around that is to be referred to me by someone whose opinion I respect, and they need to contact me first, not you.
  • 7. If you published through a channel that provided you with an ISBN, that channel is your publisher of record. Any book you’ve sold through that channel and want me to consider would be a reprint. Reprints don’t sell. We do them as a courtesy to our contracted authors, and then only if we feel there’s a new market for them. I have rejected doing reprints of backlist titles by some well-known writers; backlist from unknowns is going to be a hard sell.

The above list doesn’t just apply to Zumaya Publications. Any legitimate publisher will tell you at least some of the same things, although there are exceptions, of course. Getting published is hard not because publishers are ignorant or uninterested in finding new talent but because they are professional organizations who expect professional behavior from writers seeking to establish a relationship with them. They don’t expect perfect manuscripts, but they do require something more polished than one you finished last week.

Yes, publishers do provide editing and copyediting. They aren’t, however, in business to teach you your craft, and if you can’t be bothered to learn that craft before you submit, don’t be surprised if no one’s interested. I would venture to guess that 90% of the manuscripts we reject are potentially good stories that are so badly written they would require months of editing to be even halfway ready for publication. So, before you buy into the myth that publishers are the enemy, be sure you aren’t your own worst one.

Comments on: "I admire indie authors" (5)

  1. I’m just wondering about other reasons why books keep being rejected. My novel actually hasn’t reached that point yet because I’ve submitted to very few, and now I’m revising, making a shorter novel, and struggling with a query and a synopsis. So my personal experience pertains less to any sort of prior self publishing or expectations of publishers, or even my novel itself. I think it mostly applies to the query and synopsis and how I represent my story. I think I fail miserably at query writing. There’s a lot of info out there about proper queries, but it seems to focus on what publishers and agents look for. I think I need to know what about a query or a synopsis would cause them to be rejected. I avoid gimmicks, I know that, and that seems to be the only thing it is advised to avoid. What other ‘avoidables’ are there? Also, every time I ask a fellow writer to critique my query, they make suggestions which essentially obliterate my tone and voice. As far as I know, the query is supposed to reflect the tone and voice of the novel itself, so this has been very discouraging. I’m endeavoring to publish the traditional route. Do you have any suggestions?

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    • If the advice you’re getting about queries and synopses is “keep it short,” you’re in good hands. What many new authors don’t understand is just how little time agents and editors have to read queries, so it’s imperative you grab their attention with the first sentence. It’s not that much different from the advice to have a great opening paragraph to grab a reader.

      We want to know the following: What’s your book about? Why would we, specifically, be interested in it? How do you see yourself marketing it? If you can then condense your writing credits into a sentence or two, include those, focusing on the ones that most address your professionalism. Please note that word. It doesn’t mean you have to be abrupt and stuffy. Professionalism is really showing us that you have confidence in yourself as a writer and that you understand you’re asking for a “job” with our company.

      I find many new writers screw up on that second item. Not only do they not bother to read our guidelines but it seems they can’t even be bothered to go to our website to see what we’ve already published. Please note that just because we’ve published a particular kind of book (say, cozy mystery with a craft theme) doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be interested in something similar provided it shows a lot of originality. For example, we have a mystery series in the spirit of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, but “spirit” and a great deal of humor are all they have in common.

      As for synopses: I hate writing them, too. If you know someone who’s a halfway decent writer, considering asking them to read your manuscript and draft a synopsis for you. Then, take theirs and polish it. The synopsis introduces your protagonist, your antagonist, your sidekick (if any), and the protagonist’s romantic interest (if any). Period. It’s a straightforward outline of the conflict from discovery through action to resolution. Period. And it ends with a description of the theme of the book and how the protagonist is changed by his/her confrontation with the conflict. These are all things you should know about your manuscript, which is why writing a good tight synopsis is essential not just to garner the attention of a publisher or agent but for your own marketing efforts once it’s published.

      I don’t know if that’s any help, and bear in mind I can’t help but be subjective about this because each agent and editor will have different desires. That’s why you’re advised to do lots of research before you start submitting to them, and why the people who think they’re saving time by sending out mass-mailed/emailed queries end up in the circular file. Do you like getting bulk mail? Of course not. So, why should we?

      Bottom line: querying a manuscript is really no different from sending out a job resume. Because if your goal is to be a professional writer, you are applying for a job. An agent is the HR department, and the publisher is the final employer. If you keep that in mind, you may find the whole process a lot less esoteric.

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      • Thank you so much for your help and your extensive reply. I appreciate the time you put into this response. My query is currently 281 words, and someone told me it was too long. I get a lot of mixed information from people, and it’s very confusing. The more research I do into query writing, the more diverse information I receive, then get contrasting critiques. I believe I’m expressing what needs to be said, perhaps it’s just the way I’m saying it, and that’s where my uncertainty arises. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll figure it out at some point, or I’ll just keep trying. Thanks so much! Take care, Sage

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  2. In 2008 I tested publishers by presenting them with 3 chapters of my book as requested.
    Several rejections later I realised that the script was not being read. How do I know this?
    The test was to place a page out of order. It proved that the publishers were not even reading the manuscript as it was returned with that out of order page still in place.
    I am sure that there will be professional reply to this statement. My point is that I have found publishers lazy. It was that email from one publisher that gave me the courage to continue writing…Quote :- I have read your manuscript once, read it again, could not put it down.
    We signed a contract within a week. So dont give up authors. I had a one in twenty three chance of being read.
    Michael Keene.

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    • Michael,

      Did the publishers who sent back your manuscript unread specify digital submissions only? Our guidelines do, and they also state that not only will hard copy submissions not be read, they won’t be returned.
      And they aren’t.
      Here’s the thing. Publishers have guidelines. Those guidelines are written to address each publisher’s procedures for reading and acquiring manuscripts. Yes, it’s a nuisance for a writer contacting several publishers with widely varying guidelines, but as I told Sage, querying a publisher is really no different from submitting a resume to an employer. You ignore the procedures at your peril.
      From your post, I gather you weren’t guilty of not doing the above. However, here’s another point. Publishers decide well in advance how many titles they’ll publish every year. This is partly the reason for that two-year delay to publication people complain about all the time. When they reach that quota, chances are they will simply stop reading. There’s too much else to do; as it is, most editors have to squeak manuscript reading in on weekends and when they wake up with insomnia in the wee hours. It might be your submission had the bad luck to arrive after the quota was full.
      Additionally, multi-genre publishers have sub-quotas for each genre.
      Larger publishers tend to use lower-echelon staff to screen manuscripts, and turnover is fairly high, as with any such position. It might be the individual who originally requested your manuscript moved on before reading it, and nobody else was interested. Remember: acquisition of manuscripts is as subjective as buying a book. What appeals to me might not to you.
      So, before declaring the laziness of publishers, consider that there is a great deal of work required of editors in the average publishing house that has nothing to do with publishing books, and yes, they always have to keep in mind how good a book is likely to sell.
      Finally, keep this in mind. Nearly 150,000 print books were self-published last year, and many thousands more were self-published electronically. In 2008, there were likely that many other writers querying those same publishers you did. As hard as it is, writers need to understand just how many of their kind are vying for a single editor’s or agent’s attention, along with the accountants and the marketing people and the senior staff…
      Well, you get the idea. 🙂

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