How (Not) to Submit a Manuscript

We get a lot of manuscripts at Lantern Books; we think of it as one of the hazards of being publishers. Well, that's not fair: We depend on manuscripts to keep publishing, so we welcome them all.

However, much of the time what we're sent are manuscripts that we're never going to publish. Some are novels, and we don't publish fiction; some contain a lot of poetry, and we don't publish that; some are children's books, and we don't publish those either. It's not because we hate fiction and poetry or don't like children; it's simply because those markets are huge and complex and we don't feel ready to move into them right now. It would also be a major disservice to you, the author: Who wants to be published by someone who has no idea what they're doing?

For those of you who've written a book, or are thinking of writing one, we thought it might be useful to put together a checklist of sorts so that we don't waste each other's time.

Does the publisher publish books in my subject?
You'd be amazed by the number of manuscripts we get where the author has seen that we publish books, but hasn't bothered to find out that we are not the go-to folks for an anthology of Andalusian folksongs or a cultural history of the Sami people. Make sure that your manuscript fits one of our publishing programs. If in doubt, take your time scrolling through our website, or, better yet, buy one of our books and read it (nothing works better than flattering the publisher by showing you know their work).

Is your manuscript the best it can be?
Don't expect a publisher to finish your manuscript for you: no missing sections or to-be-filled-in-later bits, please. Your manuscript should be finished or give a clear indication of how you intend to finish it and what will be in it. Also, get someone to look over your manuscript. Your friends or your mother are fine, but they're not necessarily going to tell you the truth. It's worth hiring a third party, and best of all a professional editor, to go over the manuscript so that there are many fewer errors, misspellings, inconsistencies, and less confusion all around; your manuscript is no longer than it needs to be; and it says what you want it to say in the most effective way. It's what you want; it's what we want; it's what the public wants. So, it's worth the investment.

Do you know who's going to buy your book?
It's hard enough being a writer, we know, without worrying about the marketing and selling of your worthy tome. But if you don't know who'll buy your book, there's a good chance the publisher won't either. That's why you should accompany your manuscript with some kind of marketing plan, some sense of where best to sell the book and to whom, and why they should buy it. We don't expect you to have all of the answers; we just don't want you to be clueless. Producing a successful book is genuinely a partnership between publisher and author—one that doesn't end when the manuscript is turned in. Oh, and one other thing: Be honest! It doesn't help if you tell us, "All the mothers in America will want to buy this book because it's about family." If you find yourself thinking a thought like that one, ask yourself one question: How many books did you buy last year?

Have I done all the legal stuff right?
Have you got permission from your interviewees to use their words in your book? Have you got permission to use all those quotes from the publishers or authors you've quoted? (For that matter, why do you need so many words from so many other people to make your point for you? Whose book is it, anyway?!) Before you go a-quoting, therefore, make sure you know your rights and the limits of fair use of other people's words.

Don't despair
Finally, don't despair. First of all, reflect on the fact that you have written a book. That's a hell of a thing to do: most people around the world aren't even literate, and the ones that are spend most of their time watching television or drinking beer. You, however, dedicated your time to constructing ideas to which you have given shape and thought, and you've finished a book. That's a very good thing, and worth celebrating—even with a beer.

So, you got turned down by an agent or a publishing house. Welcome to the club. All of the great writers got turned down by publishing house after publishing house. In fact, there probably hasn't been a significant work of literature published over the last 150 years that wasn't completely missed by at least three publishing houses that then spent the next few years desperately trying to copy the book that they turned down by publishing clones of it (and failing dismally).

There's always self-publishing. It has an honorable tradition: every poet in history and some of the most successful writers today started out by paying for their own books to be printed. Now, self-publishing won't make it any easier to actually sell your book to a customer, but you'll get to keep more of the sales if you do, and you'll have complete control of the process (which, if you're honest with yourself, might not be an entirely good thing, right?).

Ultimately, there's the web, or turning your book into one or more magazine articles, or a lecture series, or even standing on the corner on an upturned crate. If you're passionate and tenacious enough, what you need to say will reach somebody: it just might not be through a publisher.

Now, if you've read all this, and are still convinced that you want to be published and that we're the right house for you, then send us your manuscript, with your marketing ideas, and we'll give you some feedback. And who knows, maybe you'll become one of our authors?