Next Friday (June 22), I'm going to lead a "Prep to Pitch" workshop at Lighthouse Writers Lit Fest in Denver. I sent a one-sentence query to an editor who acquires nonfiction, asking "Is there anything you'd like me to tell the wannabe authors attending--maybe something that would sound too harsh coming directly from an editor or agent, but that they need to hear?"
Here's the fulsome response:
Authors AND agents should not expect publishers to provide "feedback" about their work upon refusal. There are times when I do my very best to compose a polite, clear refusal stating why we don't think the book will work for us, and then the agent comes back and says "can you give us some feedback on how this might be improved?" or "can you give me more information on why this is not a good match for your list?" Now what do I do? I have probably avoided saying something I don't want to commit to paper, and am now on the spot. And too busy to respond again to something I have crossed off my list.
In all honesty, we only have time to give that kind of feedback for projects we have high hopes for. It's a good month for me when I actually reject all the projects I have before me in a timely fashion. Providing detailed feedback would turn me into a college professor, not an acquisitions editor. I have seen editors give detailed feedback, but only when they want the author to re-submit.
That's all rather negative, eh? On the positive side, authors should be aware of the power of clarity and organization. It's a lot of work for an editor to bring a title forward as a potential acquisition. The more information you provide about yourself and your work the more likely an editor is to pay attention to your proposal: your bio, all of your previous publications and their sales figures, your marketing platform, teaching schedule, number of attendees at your events, the size of your email list- all of that is extremely helpful. And it doesn't have to include the entire book, but should have a detailed Table of Contents or outline of the content and a couple of solid sample chapters. But don't overinflate your comparison titles. Compare your book to one that is genuinely equivalent, not to the latest best-seller. We are smarter than that.