The variety of book proposals publishers receive is great: some proposals have been drafted so well that the author either has long experience or has attended a course where it was discussed, whereas others simply ask their memoirs to be published. Perhaps the most puzzling proposals are novel manuscripts in the spirit of Fifty Shades of Grey submitted to a nonfiction publisher, or an astrophysics book proposal submitted to a poetry publisher. Let’s see why this kind of random submission method is a total waste of time for everyone involved.
It is so easy to submit a book proposal to a publisher (or agent in some markets) that even if the author has read the guidelines on the publisher’s web page, the author may think “You never know – maybe they still like my book”.
No, that’s not the case. The submission doesn’t even get a chance. A book proposal or manuscript that doesn’t fit into any genre specified in the guidelines will be swiftly moved into the receiver’s computer trashcan. The message and its attachments won’t even be read.
The reason is simple: publishers specialize in a specific genre in order to master the content and the business related to that genre. Small and independent publishers do it to focus their limited resources on a type of content and business ecosystem they believe they know the best. Big publishers who accept books of any genre operate the same way behind the scenes. They have separate publishing divisions for fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, and for all other categories they have decided to pursue business.
Let’s think of music: say, a conductor of a philharmonic orchestra wants to record Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with a new star violinist. The conductor doesn’t contact a punk rock or blues label, but a publisher that is specialized in classical music. The classical label knows the costs of a live recording, professionals required for post-production, and has the means to market the album to maximize sales.
Exactly the same applies to book publishing.
When an author submits his or her precious manuscript or book proposal to a publisher who has published, and wants to publish, books in the genre the author is targeting, the book proposal gets an opportunity. It will be opened, read and reviewed. Perhaps several individuals examine the submission, and discuss its merits and shortcomings. Above all, the proposal gets its moment of opportunity.
What if the author can’t specify a genre, and that’s the reason for submitting the proposal to many types of publishers? If the proposal is absolutely clear what the book is about, the genre can be specified. If not, more work on the proposal is required.