When I worked as a full-time editor I was frequently amazed by the submissions that I received. I worked for a book packager which specialised in highly-illustrated esoteric non-fiction: we packaged books about retreat, meditation, religion and myth on behalf of publishers who didn’t have the time or the in-house expertise available to produce the books themselves. And yet every day I received proposals for books which simply didn’t match our very specific requirements. Among the many submissions I received were illustrated children’s books, car maintenance manuals, fiction of all kinds, memoir, graphic novels and pet-care manuals. My favourite was a children’s story which, judging from the illustrations appeared to be about trolls but I couldn’t be sure: it was written in Dutch, with no translation provided.
I received a query letter hand-written on scented, fairy-printed paper, with a sprinkling of loose glitter which fell into my coffee as I opened it; and an entire manuscript which must have been a third or fourth carbon copy (remember those?) judging by its feintness and blurring (that one was made even more memorable by the absence of any spaces, punctuation or paragraph breaks, so the entire text was one great big run-on word). Then there was the hand-written manuscript which arrived with a cover letter urging me not to destroy it, as it was the writer’s only copy—but no postage or return address was provided for its return; and one writer sent me a banana, surrounded in layers of bubble-wrap and encased in a cardboard tube.
All of the writers responsible for those ridiculous submissions must have thought they had a chance of publication with us, or they wouldn’t have bothered to send their work in: but because of the nature of book packaging it was very unlikely that we would ever be able to commission their books, even if those books had come close to our requirements. As a result, the writers concerned wasted everyone’s time and money by making a submission that had no hope of getting accepted.
Because the writers failed on so many basic levels, they failed to get published regardless of the quality of the work that they submitted. If they had only researched their market more carefully before submitting they could have saved themselves time, money and disappointment: and instead could have sent their work somewhere it had at least a chance of being considered for publication.