Each writer has to make this decision for herself or himself, but I send manuscripts to closed houses by researching editors and selecting a specific person to contact. (Just as I do for publishers who do accept unsolicited submissions.) Here’s what has generally worked for me.
Always Submit to a Specific Editor
Early on, I followed guidelines, but the first reader is often (NOT always, I know) a very beginning editor or even a freelancer or student, and doesn’t necessarily have the same taste as an editor. I submitted on my own for years before I had an agent and am now doing it again. To me, it only makes sense to submit to a person–one I’ve researched–who can advocate to buy my manuscript. I try not to send it to someone who can only pass it on and say, “This one met the bare minimum for consideration.”
My first trade picture book that I sold (Stampede), I sent to a specific editor at Clarion, Jennifer Wingertzahn. And she bought a second manuscript, too (BookSpeak!). Every manuscript I’ve ever sold or an agent has sold for me has been addressed to one particular editor.
1. One Saturday in July 2017, I sent out a bunch of email submissions to editors, several of them brand new to me. Within a week, I received two replies–both rejections, but MUCH faster than if I had sent the manuscripts to a general slushpile address. And both editors had clearly read the manuscript and told me why they were passing. These were editors at Candlewick and Running Press Kids. Running Press’ website says, “(note we do not accept manuscripts or proposals via email)” and Candlewick’s says, “Manuscripts: We’re sorry, but we’re unable to accept unsolicited manuscripts at this time.” Carefully researching editors and sending professional, awesome letters or emails to specific editors is, in my opinion, the only efficient way to go. Well…MORE efficient, anyway. And it’s the only way to get your work read at closed houses if you are not agented or don’t meet the editor at a conference or something.
2. In January of 2018, I sent a picture book manusript to an editor I didn’t know at a newer publishing company. The website says: “We do not accept unsolicited original manuscripts.” Using a combination of Publishers Marketplace and Horn Book Guide Online, I identified the name of this editor, who had acquired some picture book manuscripts with themes similar to mine. I emailed, introduced myself, explained why I chose her to submit to, and pasted my manuscript directly into the email (in case attachments got sent directly to spam).
She replied two weeks later(!), saying, “Thank you for giving me a look at your picture book. This skews a little too young for our list. I’m currently looking mainly for [X and Y and Z] picture books. Thanks for keeping me in mind!” I sent a quick thank you to her.
A month later, I sent another manuscript (one that has at least X and Y, and I think Z, too). This was a manuscript I already had written months previously, though I was still polishing it. I didn’t write it specifically for this editor, in other words. This time I attached it as a Word document.
I quickly received an email saying she thought it had potential, and she asked me to revise it, based on specific notes. I did that, and in May, I had a signed contract with Two Lions/Amazon. Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten will come out in the summer of 2020!
Being polite and professional (and doing your homework) can open doors for you! Yes, I sometimes get an email response that says something like, “Hi Laura, Thanks for your email, but due to our work flow and company policy, we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.” No editor has ever acted insulted that I emailed him or her. And I of course respect that and do not send to that editor again. But a blanket-wide company policy is often just to weed out people. It’s a fence to hurdle, but it’s not a steel wall keeping you out. IF you aim to be a professional writer, just follow good business practices. Do your research! Approach politely! Give it a shot!
You have to decide for yourself what works best for you. But in my opinion, this is the way to go, and it’s how I have submitted my work from the very beginning, before my first book was ever published.