What Happens When... The Query Edition
[WARNING: We are very likely to go off on a few tangents here because...well, it's Ellie writing. If you have small kids in the tub or a kettle about to boil, you best not get involved, at least not yet. Ye be warned.]
In this series, which we are calling "What Happens When...," we are going to explore all the "behind the scenes" activities involved with publishing a book. What happens when we like a manuscript? What happens when we make an offer? What happens when we start editing? What happens when we start marketing your book? What happens when we design your book? What happens when we make an e-book? What happens when your book releases? And so on, you get the point. This, being our first post in the series, we are going to start at the start. Today we will be discussing what happens when you send your query package to CDP.
When your query lands in the inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org), we typically see it right away. Like, that minute unless we are sleeping or something. Let's face it, we all have cell phones these days and on those cell phones are email inboxes. My cell phone dings in a jaunty, side-tipped hat wearing kind of way when your submission arrives. Hello. Fancy meeting you here.
The first thing we will notice is the subject line. And guess what, deers? This is where our impression of your book begins.
On our submission page we say that we are open to most genres, but there are a few that we tend not to prefer. If you have done your homework, which we hope you have if you're submitting to us (for Pete's sake), you will know that we don't much care for erotica. However, we DO like books that are unique and will consider everything, even if the story is a genre we don't typically like. So if you're submitting an erotic story, for example, we need to know right away why we will like it. You need to do this in the subject line of your query. Yes, that's right, the subject line.
For example, please look at Exhibit A, a sample subject line:
Query: Unique erotic novel about lesbians
And now, Exhibit B:
Query: Tromboner - Erotic Mystery about Band Geeks
Before we go any further, let me make one thing very, very clear: we have NOTHING AT ALL against lesbians. Like, at all. In fact, we don't care even a single speck about any of that personal stuff when considering a book proposal. We are not more likely to accept a manuscript written by a member of a minority simply because that author is a member of a minority. Doing so, to us, would be just as bad as rejecting a submission based on an author's nationality, gender, physical attributes and so on. We are here to make good books. We believe in 100% equality for all. The writing is what determines a book's acceptance or rejection and nothing else. Basically, we love everyone no matter their kinks and quirks, looks or ethnicity. That stuff matters less than nil to us. So you will never see a tweet from us requesting manuscripts from minorities---no such segregating call will ever exist from us. We hope everyone knows they are welcome here no matter what---to us, you are not a minority no matter what you do/who you are/where you were born. That is not your identity to us. Your writing is. That is all that matters. Okay?
Now, where were we?
Ah yes, Exhibit A: the subject line of your submission and our first impression. Look at it up there. Is that sentence interesting? Does it highlight the awesomeness of your very unique erotic novel? Are we likely to miss the barista calling our name telling us our latte is ready at Starbucks because of that subject line? No. We're not. Our coffee is still hot, we may burn ourselves today. Here is what we are thinking when we receive a query like this: This person didn't read our preferences. They are probably just submitting to every house they can find that's open to unsolicited submissions hoping to get lucky. Then we move on to the next.
Now, let's look at Exhibit B. First of all, "Tromboner" is a funny, obviously made up word. If you researched us, you will know that we have a weakness for stories that contain humour. You will also know that we like literary stuff, and literary authors often tend to invent words so this suggests a possible literary flair. And finally, if you did your homework, you will know that we seriously love books about music. Here is our first impression of a query with this subject line: OMG, this is clever, funny, and unique. I love stories about music, too. I want to know if all of that creativity justifies the presence of the erotic stuff. And then my latte gets cold, my tongue remains burn-free.
Once your submission is received, we will open it and look at your query letter. Oh, you didn't send us a query letter, just a paragraph thanking us for our time (very polite, but not exactly what we wanted) and your full manuscript as an attachment? You know what that says to us? Again, you are very likely submitting to every house on the planet. You don't care about us; you didn't bother to read our submission guidelines even. So why should we spend our time reading yours? Okay, we're not that nasty, but think about it: we are a super small press, and we prefer to work very closely with our authors to bring into the world the best books possible. How great of a teammate are you going to be if you didn't even bother to learn about us before submitting? Do we really want to spend our limited time and resources to work with you? Not so much. Plus, we won't open your attachment. Unfortunately, this kind of submission will equal an automatic rejection because we can't see your sample---the most important part of any submission to us.
There are two things we NEED to see in a query letter: 1) the summary paragraph, and 2) the pertinent information such as genre, word count, title, and that kind of thing. Your bio paragraph is the least important part to us. So don't stress if this is your first book. No big potatoes.
If your story premise sounds interesting and the pertinent information isn't too out there, we will move on to---okay, some people move on to the synopsis because they want to know if the story is good. I don't. I'm greedy. I want to know if the writing is good. I move on to the sample from here. The test is simple: if I find I've bumped into the last page of the document, I will read the synopsis. If the synopsis remains interesting through to the end, I will write to you and ask for the full manuscript. However, if I stopped somewhere along the way because the writing was riddled with errors or dull or amateurish (telling me you haven't dedicated yourself to your craft and may be a hobbyist or just someone who is trying to make a quick buck), or if I got caught up in an I wonder what I should make for dinner tonight. We had meadow grass salad last night so I don't really want meadow grass salad again tonight, but there's nothing else thawed right now... type of thought, that is the end for me.
And that's about it. So as you can see, if you get a rejection only a few days after you submitted, it doesn't mean we didn't look at your submission. It simply means that either your story wasn't quite right for our list, we already have a similar book coming out, the writing didn't grab us, you didn't give us what we wanted (like the sample pages), or we didn't make it to the end of your document (and, by the way, we're going to have tulip heads for dinner). We are able to tell most of these things fairly quickly---it doesn't take us days to decide if we like something/if it will work on our list or not. So rather than making you wait, we will let you know. However, if we made it to the end and found your writing intriguing, relatively error free, and unique, we will request more. And what happens THEN...is a post for another time.
Man, this is so long. I apologize for taking over your life. But sometimes, people don't think about this stuff. This is what it's like from the other side of the desk, folks. Next time we'll talk about what happens when we read a full manuscript and decide we really like it.
Until then, my deers...