Submitting Your Idea
Now that you know what a typical editor's day is like, you can understand why editors get so peeved when hopeful writers don't pay attention to the guidelines for submitting their material. It isn't that editors are particularly rigid or controlling. They simply don't have the time to read material that isn't right for them or respond to writers' unnecessary e-mails and phone calls.
You stand the best chance of catching an editor's attention by following the writer's guidelines for submitting material; it shows that you respect the editor's time and that you've done your research. Market directories like Writer's Market offer specific instructions, and some publishers have their submission guidelines posted on their Web sites. With such readily available resources, there is no excuse for not giving an editor what she wants.
It's critical that you do your homework when submitting your material. Match your book to appropriate publishing houses and to editors who handle similar kinds of projects. Find out what the editor prefers to receive from writers — will she read unsolicited proposals or manuscripts, or do you have to send a query first? What is the editor's format preference (electronic, snail mail, etc.) for submissions?
Finding a Good Fit
Editors are all too familiar with writers who take the scattershot approach to submitting their material, aiming at anything with “publishing” or “press” in the company name and praying for a hit. Just as your book has to have a specific audience, your marketing efforts need to be targeted to publishing houses that fit your type of writing. You do yourself no favors — and might even do yourself untold damage — by sending your how-to book to a publisher that specializes in women's fiction.
Also consider the right person to contact within the company. At many publishing companies, different editors are responsible for specific lines or imprints. Make sure you address your submission to the appropriate editor; don't assume that your material will be passed along to the right person. It annoys the recipient, and it makes you look unprofessional. If you can't target the right editor, how can an editor assume that you know how to target your readership?
Following Submission Guidelines
In writer's groups and on writers' Internet discussion boards, you'll sometimes find people who advise you to ignore a publisher's or editor's submission guidelines. You may be advised to send an e-mail query even though the guidelines call for “snail mail” (the U.S. Postal Service) or send your entire manuscript when the guidelines ask for proposals only. The theory behind this advice is that you set yourself apart from the crowd by deviating from the guidelines. This theory may be true, but it's not good for your image. Editors and publishers establish guidelines so they can handle the sheer volume of submissions smoothly and effectively. When you ignore these guidelines, you throw a wrench into the machinery, causing delays and frustration.
The guidelines will tell you what to submit to the editor and how to send it. Many editors won't consider unsolicited proposals or manuscripts, just because they don't have time to read them all. Instead, they require a query first; if the query interests them, they'll ask for more. This can be frustrating for the writer, who feels that her work has been rejected sight unseen, and this is why it's so important for aspiring authors to master the art of the query letter. Very often, the query is your only opportunity for impressing an editor.
Some editors ask for electronic submissions, but most still prefer hard copies, largely because so much of their reading is done away from the office. Even when an editor accepts proposals or manuscripts electronically, chances are he prints out a hard copy to review. Writers tend to like the speed of electronic submissions, but don't let your expectations run away with you. Even if an editor accepts e-mail queries or proposals, he probably won't respond any faster than he will to a snail mail submission. You may save two or three days getting your material to him, but he's still going to take six to eight weeks (or longer, depending on his workload and what you send) to get back to you.
Don't give an editor (or an agent, for that matter) a deadline to respond to your material. Directories list the response times for each publishing house, and that's how long you should expect to wait for an answer. Telling an editor that she only has a week or two weeks to consider your material won't endear you to her; in fact, it's more likely to make her send back a form rejection without even reading through the rest of your submission.