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View from the editor's desk

What happens when your submission arrives at a publisher? Will it impress them? Mohana Rajakumar, a publishing director for a new Bloomsbury venture, shares her insider know-how.

Recently I began working for a publisher, which has put me on the other side of the desk. For the past five years or so, I’ve been a writer. Fiction, non-fiction, even a blog to build a readership and ‘platform’ – I’m generally on the submitting side of the literary scene.

And then I began working for a new joint venture, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP). Managed by Bloomsbury UK and owned by the Qatar Foundation for Science, Education and Community Development, this is a meeting of the intellectual minds to promote a reading and writing culture in Qatar as well as the greater Middle East region.

I was not surprised when casual introductions turned into immediate inquiries about submissions. What I was soon taken aback by was the unprepared nature of most of the authors who approached us.

These authors, however earnest or good their work is, appear to have no idea what happens on the other side of the desk. So here is a brief description for aspiring writers everywhere.

Your work comes in via a query and generally is passed through many hands to see whether the team thinks there is interest. In most cases this alone can take several weeks depending on what is on the desk (or inbox) ahead of your query.

Then depending on the size of the publisher, a query can get farmed out to a particular department – fiction or non-fiction for example – and that editorial team will review. Again, same as above, the timeline depends on what else is on the pile.

Authors who send email after email asking about the status of their query are not necessarily gaining any good graces. It is good to follow up on your work because aforementioned pile can keep everyone distracted, but not before at least 3-4 weeks have passed. Be prepared for further delay as publishers are people too – family members take ill, women have babies, and employees do go on occasional vacations. Patience and appropriate persistence on the author’s side is a fine balance.

When you do send in your query, make sure you’ve done your own homework. Don’t expect the publisher to spell out submissions guidelines; there’s plenty of information available as to how to format a query or manuscript. Many organisations will have guidelines online and in other cases, such as BQFP’s, these may be in development. But a lot of back and forth with someone at the publisher is not how you want to get your information about formatting or other requirements.

Use the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and sites such as this one or others that are designed for writers as ‘insider’s tools’ so that your work appears polished. Asking questions is not wrong, but remember each one you ask may show your lack of initiative to find the answers on your own.

In today’s increasingly digital world this can be a tremendous disadvantage as the harried publisher is already inundated with more projects than he/she could ever put on the shelf.

Do your homework, present professional work, and then take up a hobby while you wait for a reply. If you’ve become an Olympic class swimmer, then it’s probably okay to check back in and see what they thought.

If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at our Interviews with the Experts.