I opened up a submission the other week, and a tennis ball came rolling out. It rolled under my desk and got caught in the wires of my computer. I had to get on all fours to retrieve it. A spider had taken up residence there and darted across my hand in its race to safety. Freaking out, I smacked my head on my desk as I lurched for my own safety of my chair. Can you imagine my frame of mind when I finally got to the submission? To add insult to injury, it was poorly written, and I rejected it immediately. The month before that, I received a chocolate bar. Had it not melted all over the manuscript, rendering it unreadable, I would have eaten it before almost certainly rejecting it.
This sad state of our media driven world has leeched its bad self over to the publishing industry, and authors are under the impression that the more outrageous or unique the presentation, the better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Success deriving from stunts such as these are the exception, not the rule, and no one should confuse the two.
For every story we hear about how Jane Writer got the attention of an editor or agent by having a male stripper deliver the manuscript, or Joe Writer wrapping his manuscript in Christmas wrap, there are thousands whose submission are dumped into the trash unread.
Why do they get tossed? Because we see it for exactly what it is; schlocky and desperate. Friends of mine who are reviewers, agents, and fellow editors have the same complaint.
Submissions 101 teaches a number of Golden Rules. Number 2 is “Never Look Desperate.” Ever. That you’re submitting or querying initiates a forgone conclusion that you want your work read. But for crying out loud, keep a firm grasp on your dignity. Inserting tennis balls, chocolate, sticks of chewing gum, a package of Cheese Whiz, or a Micro Machine does not scream to me, “I’m a serious writer.” It screams that you depend on gimmicks because your writing isn’t up to standards. What’s sad is this many not be the truth at all, but this is what you convey.
Look at it from my point of view; I’m not an ad person, I’m an editor. This means that the only product I review is the manuscript; not tie-in toys or food that you think is cute and will capture my attention. It’s not cute. It’s annoying and unprofessional. Like the tennis ball writer, is this the frame of mind you want an agent or editor to be in when they begin reading your cover letter? Sure, you may happen to find the one in a thousand editors who find this effective. But are you willing to take that chance?
Repeat after me: What you have to sell is your writing. Only your writing.
What’s the Number 1 Rule in Submissions 101? Write a great book.
My recommendation is that you keep your gimmicks for friends and family and stick to presenting a professional demeanor…unless you have access to a male stripper…