An article by Harold Underdown entitled Editors’ Names on Manuscript Submissions: Required or Not Necessary? was recently brought to my attention. And after reading it, I felt compelled to write a response. Harold is well-respected in the field and I personally adore the man for all that he gives to children’s writers. At the same time, I sometimes disagree with some of the content in his articles. So if you’re looking for another opinion on the subject, here it is.
I want to say I half-disagree with Harold’s article. I believe targeting submissions to editors whom you’ve never had personal experience with can be well-worth the research effort. While it is true that infomation you find on the Internet can become outdated, it is my belief that editor’s preferences for humor versus boy books versus girly historical fiction don’t really seem to change over time. While an editor’s strategic direction may differ from his own personal tastes, more often than not, an editor who appreciates humor now. Still appreciates it later. Or an editor who is THE historical fiction guru is probably not going to be switching to mass-market commercial projects in the near future. It seems to me that more often than not, you can get your manuscript to the person who should be looking at it through simple research. And if you are rejected because things have changed, well, there’s nothing that says you can’t look for an editor who’s a better match later. And if the editor moves? The most standard procedure is your work either gets turned into the slush pile or the editor looks at your stuff and, if it’s good enough, gets passed to someone else.
So yes, I think you can still accurately target editors with the info that is out there. I suspect, in most cases, it helps you versus hurts you. I think this is where I disagree with Harold’s article. And I will also add, I suspect the reason why editors’ preferences aren’t publicly announced to the world at large is because if it were too easy, then…well, you’d get a lot of submissions from people who don’t know very much about children’s writing. These are the folks who send things in on hot-pink paper and write in 36 pt font. And as you might have guessed, there are PLENTY of people already doing that now. Why make it even easier to harrass our editors.
However, you will notice that editor information is readily available through writing organizations like SCBWI, book associations, editor’s blogs, and writer’s websites like the Blue Board. In case you need more help on how to do this reseach, do [read post, how to submit your work to editors or agents->how to submit your work to editors or agents] or [read post, Monster List of Children’s Book Editor Interviews, Blogs and More->monster list of childrens book editor interviews blogs and more] as well. In many cases, these editors are the people who are looking for educated-writerly-you as much as you are looking for them. These editors might not find it in their hearts to penalize you if you address a letter to them directly because you took the time to find out they’re interested in quirky picture books. So why not try to make that connection?
I know that I myself and many other writers have developed great relationships with editors just through simple good research. So here’s why you should strive to find an editor match. I personally find that targeted submissions, on average, result in faster response times than being in the slush (and isn’t this biz slow enough?). More personalized feedback. And if the writing holds muster (of course), future invites to send more work. You CAN build relationships with editors more efficiently through #1) good writing (people, don’t forget this!) and #2) a beautifully targeted submission.
So I said I half-disagreed with Harold’s article. The part I totally agree with is that if you have NO idea whom to send to at a particular publisher, you should follow the guidelines. It’s not a bad alternative. It can be a great one! It could be a way to start making the editorial relationships that will later turn into submissions where you will include a specific name. And if you simply can’t bother to do the research, by all means, happily submit to the slush pile or get an agent. Everyone has their own process like Harold says. Do what suits you best.