With such fierce competition between the numerous aspiring authors trying to get their books published, every author should do what he/she can to make themselves stand out in a publisher's mind so that they will get the recognition they deserve. Now, I'm not going to say that you should pull silly gimicky tricks to make an editor notice your query letter among the heap they peruse daily. No. I'm talking about using your craft to get the attention of an editor. What I am going to say here is very importnant. These are things I've noticed just from reading what publishers produce and communicating with other writers. Frankly, some of it is appalling.
I like to say that seeking a publisher or literary agent is very similar to competing in American Idol. I say this because if you watch American Idol, there are hundreds of thousands of people who audition for that show. Out of that multitude, some actually have talent. The rest? Well, they're disillusioned individuals that think they have talent. Now, I can't sing. If I tried, people might pay me to stop! But rest assured, you won't see me in line to audition for that show. At least I know I can't sing, so there's no use in me trying. But what about all those idiots that stand in line, waiting to waste the judges' time? How can they not know that they suck? I mean, really! Well, I feel that many aspiring writers today are equivelant to these talentless asshats that tryout for AI and think they have talent. Of course, I believe that editors and agents are too professional to tell a horrible writer that they suck as candidly as Simon Cowell delivers the news point-blank. I think it would be a much different industry if editors/agents were so blunt.
I like to follow literary agents' and publishers' blogs to keep abreast of the industry and changes in it. Also, I try to follow some professional authors' blogs (not only because I enjoy what many of them have to say, but because they can teach me things about the craft of writing and the publishing industry). I even follow some of the unpublished writers. Now, the aspiring writers are the best, in my opinion, because they are like a yard stick by which I can measure myself against the competition. For instance, one writer said they were going to write four different stories for four different submission calls they heard about. Well, that's fine and dandy, but I've read quite a bit of this writer's previous stories and they all stank (again, my opinion--well, and a few of my friends' opinions as well). The writer in question comes across too brash, always trying to whip out a story like a switchblade in a streetfight. When a writer acts that hastily, usually their work suffers because of it. This writer is no exception. All it takes is to read this writer's work to see that spelling and grammatical mistakes go unchecked because the writer is too caught up in the daydream of being in print and hurries toward it without heed. As a writer, your work reveals a lot about you. Writers should not try to publish (or self-publish) a piece of work until it is as error free as possible. Otherwise, you come across sloppy and/or lazy.
I also find it embarrassing to correspond with other writers only to learn that their messages are peppered with misspellings or that the idea the writer tried to convey was jumbled and difficult to follow. As writers, we're supposed to be wordsmiths. Our vocation is using words to paint visual imagery to our readers, to efficiently and elegantly describe or convey something to those reading our prose. When I read an email or message from a fellow writer and I see ungrammatical text and the sender is telling me they write, have written, or better yet, are published, I can't help but roll my eyes and wonder whether they are just lying. I mean, what kind of agent or editor would represent such a sloppy, lazy person? I know you may be reading this and asking yourself where I get off thinking I'm God's gift to the reading world. Well, I don't want to come off sounding so high-handed, but goddamn it, someone needs to bring attention to this situation.
I read the work of a professional author recently (I won't mention any names, but this writer is fairly prolific) and I was amazed that a major publishing house represented this writer. I actually thought that the writer must've finished a first draft and submitted it to their agent/editor. Well, maybe I shouldn't say editor, because if an editor did read any of the manuscript, he/she should've wiped their ass with it because to say they read it and then published it that way, well that agent/editor should be fired! So enough of my ranting. I wanted to talk about ways to set yourself apart from this large crowd of non-writers that are also seeking to publication.
First, I must strongly urge you to pay very close attention to your writing. Walk amongst the trees again! Reread your work once it's finished, seeking out those misspellings and unclear thoughts. Fix them! This is called editing. It exists for a reason. I know it's boring and sometimes very tedious, but without it, you may come across to the reader as a moron or lazy. I usually edit my short stories several times before they ever see the light of day. Another trick is to get a couple of close friends (people that will tell you honestly what they think of your story) to read your work and provide feedback. Also, make sure these people are fairly literate. There's no need asking someone that never reads for their opinion. Try to steer clear of people that will tell you that they love your work because they wouldn't want to hurt your feelings by telling you that they did not like what they read. I believe there are a lot of writers out there with this problem. Actually, I'm quite sure of it! I've seen authors with dreadfully bad stories posted on the internet and the comments have all been sugar-coated bullshit about how well the story was written, etc. Please! This does nothing to help the writer improve and only gives him/her a false sense of pride. Make sure you receive honest, educated feedback. My wife is my first reader (she's an English professor) and I listen to most everything she says about what I should correct. However, sometimes I might disagree with her on more subjective things. In which case, I leave it the way I originally wrote it, but this is quite rare.
Okay, I know I've praddled on quite a bit so I'll offer up one more bit of advice: study the really successful authors in the field. And not just one, but several. Get to know why they are successful. You should be able to glean this from reading their work and watching how they write descriptive scenes, their use of narration and dialog and a whole host of other things. You will learn volumes from their writing if you open up your mind to look for these things. Also, read some truly bad authors to learn what not to do. I think that if you follow this advice: learn your grammar, edit (edit, edit), let others provide unbiased feedback about your writing, and learn from the success or mistakes of other writers; you will single yourself out from the herd of talentless twits trying to take away from you that publishing slot.
One last thing: as a writer, you should always be improving and growing. Never stop doing that!