First of all, the biggest lesson you need to take from this is to read the guidelines. Only submit what the agents or publishers are looking for. Don't assume just because your book is super amazing that you don't have to follow the rules. It's disrespectful and makes you look bad right from the start. And if you start out your query letter with, "I know you've specifically said no vampire erotica, but I think my novel is different than all the others," just know, your manuscript will likely never get read. Why waste the time then? Look for those who are looking for what you've written, it saves a lot of time and hassle for you, and it's less likely that you'll annoy someone who you may want to submit to again in the future. If there's no one out there willing to publish your unique idea? Well self-publishing may be the best option for you.
So Rule Number One is READ THE GUIDELINES. They aren't suggestions, they're the basic requirements to even get your manuscript looked at. Use them and you're one step ahead of a lot of folks who think the rules don't apply to them.
Rule Number Two is to not be a jerk. Sure, it may sound obvious, but you might be surprised how many people submit their work, assuming that the agent/publisher has nothing else to do than cater to their whims. Regardless of how great your work is, if you come off as pretentious jerk, the chances of someone signing you is slim to none. The publishing industry is brutal, and it often takes awhile for the agents/publishers to read your work. If it's a smaller house, it might take even longer. Be respectful, don't harass them and look to the guidelines to see if they mention following up. If they don't, give it at least six weeks before you send a follow-up, and then simply ask if they got the manuscript. Be polite.
Also, don't ever say you're the best writer ever, or even that you're better than most writers out there. This may sound obvious, but it does happen more often than I'd care to admit. It sounds conceited, and well, when it comes to working with you, there will be edits... And if you already think you're the best writer there is, it may seem like you're not willing to take feedback or to grow, which is a red flag right from the start. Sure, maybe your piece will wow them, but if you come off sounding like you're going to difficult to work with, you may get a pass from the very start. Be confident, but don't diss others in your pursuit. It isn't classy.
Rule Number Three may sound counterintuitive to what I wrote above, but it isn't. Be confident in your work. In your query letter, explain all the different ways you're working to make your book a success. Marketing is often split between the publisher and the author, and sometimes the author has to do the bulk of it. If you're not proud enough of your work to tell your friends about it, or create a website to write about it, how do you expect anyone else to take pride in it? It isn't about spamming people with "Buy my book" as that never works. It's about talking about it, reaching for the stars and making plans for success, either with or without that publisher signing you. If you base your entire success on whether or not they sign you, well, what's that say about your book?
Charlotte Pickering is an example of someone who has the drive and confidence to succeed. The reason her manuscript, Messiah of the Slums, initially caught my attention is because she not only followed the guidelines and knew what I was looking to publish, she also made huge plans for the release of her book that included films, getting reviews from important figures, etc. And guess what? It's working. Because she had the confidence to approach people others would consider out of their league, she's getting feedback from very important people. All because she knows she has something special, and through her query letter alone, she convinced me that it was something special too.
Of course, there are no guarantees in this industry. You can follow all the rules, do everything right, and still not get the attention of those in control. It's a brutal industry, and there will be more rejections than acceptances, that's a given. Even J.K. Rowling has been denied countless times. But she kept fighting, and as we all know, it only takes one "Yes" to change your world. Improve your craft by developing a thick skin, learning to take feedback and continuing to grow as a writer. When you look at the success stories, it may seem like they happened overnight. But most have written countless books you probably will never read because they were never signed. Others have spent decades trying to break into the industry. It's those who don't give up, who can handle the criticism that comes along with putting yourself out in the public eye, that have the greatest chance of success. So if you want this, don't give up. Keep writing, accept critique, and keep submitting those novels. You can only get better with practice.
More tips and advice will be coming in the future, along with other blog posts. I'd love to hear about your experiences, what frustrates you the most about being a writer. If you have any questions for me, I'm happy to answer them. Sure, it might take awhile because I'm super busy running a company plus working on other projects, but who knows? Maybe I can address your question or concern in a future blog post.
So go forth, ask away, and hopefully I can help you on your journey to success.