As experienced editors, the team at Autonomous Press is often amused by the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Querying editors the way the song’s main character does is no way to get paid for writing fiction – and yet it happens every day.
Yet some of us also admit that in our early days as aspiring writers, we loved this song. So how did we get from first time writers to experienced authors and editors? Certainly not by following in the “Paperback Writer”’s footsteps! Here’s what the poor narrator gets wrong:
Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?
Already, the editor’s toes are curling. Always address your query to the editor by name. Ours are listed as “senior editor” under their respective imprints – that’s who you need to write to.
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer….
Editors assume that writers who query us want to get paid for writing fiction. We want to get paid for publishing it! Pay for everyone!
But your (and our) desire to get paid isn’t enough – you (and we) also have to produce things people want to give us money for. Skip this line in favor of telling us why your book is engaging and important to publish right now.
It’s a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn’t understand.
We try not to judge your manuscript too heavily on its description in the query. At that point, we’re only checking to see if what you describe is the kind of thing we publish. Hint: the Paperback Writer’s description is not.
If it’s not the kind of thing we publish, we’ll pass. Not because you haven’t written an outstanding book – you probably have! We’re just not the right place to help it shine like it deserves.
It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few. I’ll be writing more in a week or two. I could make it longer if you like the style, I can change it ‘round….
Where to start? This person certainly wants to get paid for writing fiction – they’re producing enough of it – but this is an editor’s nightmare.
- A thousand pages is far too long. Aim for closer to 150, double-spaced. Better yet, use word counts, not page counts – 60k to 70k is a solid length for a first novel.
- Writing more in a week or two? You mean you didn’t send us a completed manuscript? Pass.
- Offering to “change it ‘round” when you submit it indicates that you aren’t confident that you’ve written a cohesive, engaging story. And if you’re not confident, we’re not.
Overall, this Paperback Writer gets an A for enthusiasm, but an F for effort. Fortunately, you now know how to do better.