We Are Your Dress Rehearsal

Author K.S. Brooks
Author K.S. Brooks
We are watching you.

We’re watching you. Yes, we are. Didn’t you realize that? You’re always being watched. Everything you do. It’s that everything you do that gives us a sense of who you are and how you will be to work with. Perhaps you don’t realize exactly how important that is. And guess what? We’re not the only ones watching.

I’m often asked about soliciting agents, publishers, magazines, etc., probably because back in the dark ages when I started in this industry, that’s how you did it. And I did it a lot.  So I’m speaking from years of experience to provide you with the following insight. Agents, publishers and the rest all get to know you the same way we here at Indies Unlimited do.

How do we get to know you? We see if you follow instructions with your initial query. Typos in your emails speak volumes. How your book is presented for purchase is huge. Did you read our submissions requirements? We can tell, trust me. If you read them, did you observe and respect them? These may all seem like little things to you, but they’re not. Not at all. How you perform and behave is extremely important. People are paying attention.

Consider us your dress rehearsal. Treat us the way you’d treat anyone you solicit: newspapers, magazines, agents and publishers. Honestly – you want us to publish something of yours, right? It’s the same, just on a different scale, isn’t it? It’s all about perspective, really. And it’s the perspective of the person you solicit that should be first and foremost on your mind. Here are some things to keep in mind:

#1 – The person you solicit is busy. This is probably the single most important factor you can consider. The agent, reporter, editor, or publisher you’re contacting does not have time to sort through a never-ending thesis about how great your book is. That person wants one thing only – to receive the information they’ve outlined in their submissions guidelines. This is the absolute most common hurdle I face on a daily basis. It forces me to scan what’s been written to see what the person wants. 90% of the time, there is no solicitation, just an overabundant amount of sentences and paragraphs about a book that I will never read. My reply is always “how may I help you?” Do you know what a publisher or agent’s reply would be? “Delete.”

#2 – I can’t be bothered to read your submissions guidelines and/or – I will now prove I can’t follow directions. Do either of these sound good to you? I’m thinking no. The person who doesn’t take the time or make the effort to read and follow the guidelines is sending a clear signal to the recipient that they will be difficult to work with. Most writers don’t realize that submissions guidelines can be part of the culling process. Agents and publishers can immediately identify and eliminate authors who don’t follow guidelines from consideration no matter how good their work is. Authors who produce good work and are pleasant to deal with open themselves up for all kinds of opportunities. Making a good impression truly does mean a lot.

#3 – Don’t make more work for someone. If a reporter asks for a one paragraph biography, a 500kb head shot and a list of your books, send exactly that. Don’t send them your manuscript, or a 3 megabyte glamour shot. For all you know, attachments over 500kb could be rejected by their server – meaning they will NEVER get your email. If you only send one of the items, then they have to email you. Every email generated is more work. Odds are if it takes 10 emails to accomplish what should have taken two – your story will probably never run. Speaking for myself – if something simple like providing information for a video trailer or sneak peek feature can’t be done quickly and easily, I envision never inviting that person to guest post, be interviewed or be a staff writer. No one wants to work with someone who will make their job harder. There are ramifications.

#4 – Perception is everything. Here at Indies Unlimited, we ask that each initial query includes a purchase link to the author’s book. We want to get an idea of how your book is presented. One author thought that was because we wanted to see reviews, and since his book was new and had none, he refused to send his link. Sure, of course we want to see how your book has been received – is every review a one-star? But that’s not the main reason. Are there typos in your book description? Does your book blurb go in circles? Are you professional?

#5 – Don’t take things personally. The person receiving your query or materials has a job to do. If what you’re sending helps them to do their job, it’s likely you’ll hear back from them. If you haven’t followed the rules or guidelines, the response may take longer, or not happen at all. I’ve submitted plenty of queries to agents and publishers in my career: at least a hundred, I’d say. Occasionally I’d get a form letter telling me how my genre didn’t fit their niche, which completely contradicted their web site. Most of the time, I heard nothing back. And supposedly I had a killer letter. Did they know me? No. Had they even bothered to read my letter? Probably not. Did they tell me my writing sucked? No. Could I take that personally? I don’t see how. Because really – what does personal mean?

Any and all of these items dictate how an author will be to work with. Work is the key word here – because your book is your business. Helping you promote your book is our business. Professional and respectful behavior will always be to your benefit in any environment. So practice on us. You’ll be able to tell by the response how you’re doing.

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K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist and photographer, author of nine books, and Co-Administrator of Indies Unlimited. In a previous life, she worked as Director of Operations, Manufacturing, and Procurement for a number of high-tech corporations. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her web site: http://www.ksbrooks.com/


Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

29 thoughts on “We Are Your Dress Rehearsal”

  1. If we want writing to be our profession we need to act professionally. Thanks for telling it like it is.(I had yelling here, maybe I ought to have left it like that. lol)

  2. I'm more concerned about KS watching me. I told her no more webcam until she pays the bill she already owes. And figures out a way to get the broccoli nubbins out of these damn fishnets!

    1. Heh. I like that one. That's sort of universal. And, how about adding to your #6 "if I'm trying to help you, be gracious instead of combative."

  3. Wow! Great blog post… but your picture is too sexy for this blog, maybe too sexy for your shirt… but I digress.

    I agree with all of it. Arline's comment is right on, too! I conferred with Arline a few years ago, when I ran novel contests for a certain writers' group.

    The bottom line is that people who do not follow instructions found in the submission guidelines only reveal themselves as a "problem child." Publishers don't have time to play psychotherapist. They need authors who will be team players in the business run by the publisher. If you want their help to become a successful author, then lose the attitude and follow the instructions exactly, even if you disagree with them.

    If you can't tell, a part of it is a test to weed out the troublesome personalities. Most of the requirements are to reduce the work needed before publication.

    Just my $0.02.

    1. You are right on the money, Newt! We don't use our submissions guidelines to "weed out" the difficult folks, per se. But it does give us the opportunity to see if they will be troublesome on simple features, and if they are, we certainly won't invite them back to do others.

  4. I'm seeing a lot of melting down lately, on the part of writers, small press publishers, just a lot of bad behaviour. Someone should point those people in the direction of your post, Kat. Problem is, meltdowns get attention and I've even seen them claim to have sold more books on the back of the controversy. Go figure?

    1. While they are the minority, the ones who get combative do exist and um, duh, they're burning their bridges when they do that. You know, I could go on to work for an agent or a publisher…and while the industry seems huge, it's really not. People talk. And if someone doesn't know how to behave, the word WILL get out.

  5. Has Rutger seen that pic? 🙂

    When I queried literary agents I read their submission guidelines until my head hurt. To me it was like responding to a "request for proposal" when I was in sales.

    This is a great post for newbies and experienced authors alike!

    1. Thanks, Lois. And that's a great comparison – the RFP – so true. When I worked for a municipality, if you didn't follow the RFP instructions exactly, they'd reject them. Case in point – our books are our businesses. 🙂

  6. Great post, Kat. Things haven't changed from the 1980s either when I first started writing and sending out queries. I read the agent and publishing marketing books until I was blue in the face to learn which agents took what type of writers and which publishers took what genre. Much easier now that everything is on the internet; those books were huge and could damage your head if you fell sleep while reading it.

  7. So, what I'm understanding is; cross your t's, dot your i's and PAY ATTENTION TO THE RULES/SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

    I feel there should be an "or else we will (insert preferred method of murder here)…" somewhere in the fine print.

    Or maybe I'm paranoid.

    Definitely a great post. One to bookmark, for sure. It's nerve wracking to sit there and try to do everything right and put yourself out there for someone to look at. It certainly behooves one to behave themselves, I think.

    1. R.J. …the "method of murder" may be a little harsh there…how about "or else we won't want to work with you"? I'm glad you like the post. Thanks for taking the time to read it. 🙂

  8. I know there are a lot of new authors of the brash genus out there who feel affronted at having to follow anyone's guidelines in the publishing world. But. I think most simply don't know how to do it. You see when you've never done something before you can over-think every question and every instruction.

    My bio? Do they want a sort of condensed CV or do they want a short, witty/funny paragraph on 'the essential me'?

    A summary of my story? Um…gawd but it's complicated!

    I think we know first impressions are terribly important. What we don't know is how to do them properly. I seriously wish someone would come up with a Submissions 101 type workshop 🙁

    1. Hey Meeks – most agents and publishers now have explicit instructions on their websites – and they all vary – so a submissions 101 would consist of "follow the instructions". And the bio? Most of them say how many words they want. Same for the summary of the story. They now leave very little room for interpretation, probably because of exactly what you've said. This is based on some querying I did last year. Some will say "send the first 30 pages with a cover letter which contains your pitch and…" while others will say "send the first 5 chapters along with a 3 page synopsis and…"

      So, the instructions have become quite exact – at least the ones I've encountered.

  9. Those are things I follow, but so far it hasn't worked and I've published two as an Indie. Elementary though. If you don't follow guidelines they will toss before even reading.

  10. Great post. Being in the military for 20+ years makes you learn how to follow the rules (although I've had troops that somehow managed not to). But if you wanted to get anywhere in your job (making rank) you had to know the rules, the mission, and your superiors. I didn't make it to the 3rd highest enlisted rank not following the rules–sure, I bent them (often!) but in the end, I followed them. I think it this holds true for being an author; if you want to get somewhere, play by the rules.

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