Small publishing houses work for me because I can't seem to resist the urge to put my two cents in on how the publishing house works. I'm sure Simon & Schuster or Random House could care less about what I think on the way they run things, but I've had two publishers now who value my opinions. Let me tell you, it's a heady feeling.
When my current publisher was backed up by the onslaught of query letters, I volunteered to lend a hand. Not that I know anything about acquisitions (is there a training manual somewhere?) but I know what I like to read. I've also studied the market and have an idea of what sells.
I loved all the letters I received. Some were funny, some were written by a quivering hand, all were hopeful. But, here's where I went off the beaten path of query letter/synopsis/outline.
When I open e-mails, the first thing I look for is genre and word count. We are a strong genre house, our word count doesn't exceed 85,000. This is the only way to make books cost effective, for both the buyer and the publisher. While main stream publishers push the idea that BIGGER is BETTER is a BLOCKBUSTER is a BESTSELLER, we have more realistic expectations. Sometimes the best novels come in small (55,000 words) packages.
I know all the writing books stress that the query letter is “The most important letter you'll ever write.” Really? How about the letter to the IRS explaining that strange tax deduction? To Santa for a new computer? To Match.com to complain about bad hook-ups?
I don't even read the query letter. Blasphemy!
The first thing I do is Google the writer's name. I'm expecting to see at least a website. I'm hoping for many more hits. How active is the potential author on the Internet? Does this person blog? Have they joined any professional/social sites other than Face Book? What has this person been doing to foster their career goals?
Because it's not just about the writing anymore. I lecture on marketing at conferences. My mantra: marketing starts the minute you decide you're a writer. Waiting until the novel is finished puts you behind the pack. Name recognition is key. Why would anyone in the writing field want to withhold words, to refuse the reading public a sample of their “voice?”
I doubt if the big houses bother to investigate. I wonder if they even look at their slush pile before sending rejection notices. Although the expectation is that a big house will supply an endless marketing budget for the book of an unknown author, that's not going to happen unless your name is Paris Hilton or Prince Charles. Marketing has become the responsibility of the author.
Although my publisher originally believed I wasn't fair to authors, I convinced her that checking the writer's “street creds” goes a long way to selecting authors working hard at their career goals. In my opinion, they are the ones who deserve a shot at publication.
But, that's just me. And I'm the acquisitions editor.