What a publisher expects from an author, and what authors can expect from a publisher.
The world of publishing has changed greatly from the pre-1990s era. One of the reasons for this is the computer revolution that places in anyone’s hands the ability to turn an idea for a short story or a complete novel into something which can be submitted to either a publisher or an agent, and now a days, it is not even necessary to send a printed manuscript, most publishers and agents are open to receiving your manuscript as a digital file that is transmitted in an instant. While this enhanced ability to write and send your work for possible publication opens the field of authorship to many more individuals, it has created difficulties. Where a publisher once received a few unsolicited submissions in a week, with today’s technology a publisher can receive dozens (and thousands for each editor from the leading houses in the industry) of submissions in a day. Just because it is possible to use a computer program to write and enhance a writer’s work, does not mean that the new technology will enhance the writer’s talent. No matter how much a computer program will allow a writer to cut, amend, and develop their work, it is still the judgment of a publisher whether the work of the writer is done well enough and is interesting enough to warrant offering the writer a contract.
Writing and publishing is a business. The product is the work of the writer, and that product has to be something to appeal to a target audience that can be sold and generate a profit for the publisher and a royalty for the author. With hundreds of thousands of titles in print, the publisher must feel confident that if the writer is offered a contact, that gamble will pay off in sales and recognition for both the author and the publisher. The publisher is making an investment of time and significant costs in cover design, book editing and printing, and promotion that must lead to success; otherwise, this is an exercise in futility and a financial drain on the publisher. That is why the writer must have realistic expectations and follow all of the guidelines in a submission to a potential publisher.
First, realistically evaluate your work. Have you gotten it critiqued--not just by friends or family members--but in writer’s critique groups and by those who will give you an honest and sometimes brutal evaluation of your writing. Novels today must catch the interest of the reader quickly and progress at a fast pace. Television and film have been responsible for this, along with shifts of scenes, to enhance a feeling of action in modern novels. The reader must be grabbed in the first few pages. Most editors will look for this, and if they are not “hooked” within the first couple of pages, many publishers will reject your work. The reason for this is the huge amount of submissions received. Editors at a publisher simply do not have time to nurse a manuscript that has good potential but poor execution. They will simply move on to the next submission. It's not the plot that makes the story but, how the writer crafts it. That must continue throughout the length of the story, of course, with consistent development of the reader’s interest.
One of the most important pieces of advice for the submission process would be "follow the publisher’s guidelines to the letter." If you are asked to provide a query letter, a synopsis, and two chapters, then don't submit the whole manuscript, and so on... Check to see what style font is required and if the publisher wants you to copy and paste your work to the body of an e-mail or if you are permitted to send your work as a file. With the number of hackers and computer viruses around today, many publishers will not accept attachments. In a fiction novel, your manuscript must be complete and as well edited as possible. Manuscripts filled with spelling and grammatical errors will be quickly rejected. Most publishers also expect you to have more than one novel in the works. They want to know if you are capable of consistently writing more books. This applies to submitting to agents as well. Virtually all large publishers will require you to have an agent in order to submit your work. These publishers rely on the agents to sort out the exceptional from the mediocre and save the publisher time and expense.
Know what the publisher is looking for. This is usually spelled out on their submission guidelines. If they want detective mysteries, don’t send them a western with mystery-like characteristics. If they want a military science fiction, don’t send them a fantasy, unless they accept it as well. If you wrote a murder mystery, don't submit it to the FBI (still with us?)... Pay attention to the requirements of word-count, and give a submissions editor exactly what he or she wants. Anything else will result in your efforts being deleted. Learn how to write an effective query letter. This is your introduction and your “hook” to catch the attention of the submissions editor (There are lots of great sites on the Internet to help you create a great one.) Learn to write a coherent synopsis. This is often the most difficult part of a submission. You need to boil down three to four hundred pages of your work to between two and five pages, depending on how detailed a synopsis an editor wants (never hide the ending of your story from the editor!). Never “hype” your manuscript as “the greatest new novel of the decade” or the next Gone with the Wind. If your work is good, the quality will shine on its own. Often, you will be asked for a small biography and résumé. Don’t fake it but expand on things that will help you be seen as someone who will be successful. Writing and publishing are businesses: for profit, not art forms supported by patrons. Nonetheless, it is a very difficult and mostly struggling business for an individual. Gone are the days of the reclusive author who hides away in his or her room churning out manuscripts and expecting the publisher to market and promote the author's work. Those days are long gone. Only best-selling authors with a proven track record of success will get promotional consideration lavished upon them by their publishers.
If your writing is considered for a publishing contract, many publishers will ask you to be proactive in promoting yourself. That means getting out there, going to conferences, searching out media that will help you promote your work through radio interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, community events and book signing activities. This seems to be the most stressed advice out there--at least regarding to maintaining an author role--probably because it defies the novice author's mind-set about the glory of the publishing world. But in fact, writing is only part of the job, self-marketing and show of passion toward your topic make up a larger portion of professional writing. It is very important to be reachable by your audience: create and maintain a web site, use social media such as Facebook and other interactive sites for your promotion. There are thousands of authors with both small and large press publishers who are screaming, “Notice me!” There are an equal number of self-published authors, now that computer programs and the Internet have made this a far easier possibility. You are competing for attention with them as well. Never pass up an opportunity to blog or get an interview or attend a conference as a speaker or a workshop leader. Your publisher will do what they can to promote you with press kits, press releases, distribution nationally and internationally (depending on what distribution sources they use), but they can't baby their authors, considering the numbers of authors they represent--and they shouldn't. The publisher will provide reviewers with copies of your work and approach industry sources to get your work noticed, but it is up to you to make it happen. It works both ways. The publisher who accepts your work gives you the opportunity and the credibility to become a successful author. It is up to you to seize that opportunity and to market and promote your published creation.