As a party-goer, you have three choices.
2. Hammer on the door / throw stones at the windows till someone notices.
3. Phone and explain that you're on the doorstep and would they please come and let you in.
2. Disobey. Just send it anyway. After all, they won't turn down the Next Big Thing, will they? Publishers and agents DO want your book if it IS perfect for them.
3. Send a query - a letter or email which makes your book sound so irrestistible and shows that your power of language is so astonishing that they will ask you to send your submission (partial or full). Then it won't be unsolicited, will it?
Each of these choices carries risks of a negative outcome.
1. Obeying carries a negative certainty: your book will absolutely not be taken by that publisher, because you haven't sent it. Therefore, obedience is not necessarily beneficial, though it is safe. If obedience is your forte, see option 3.
2. Disobeying obviously carries the risk of outright rejection simply for having disobeyed, and the risk of having wasted your stamps, paper and time. However, it carries the tiny possibility of success. So, it may be worth disobeying if you are as sure as possible that there is a very good specific reason why this publisher might really be looking for this book. Is your book a perfect match? [Don't say so: that's for them to decide for themselves.] Can you be sure that your pitch is so perfect and so compelling that it will get you past the No Unsolicited Submissions rule, which they have put there for a reason?
NB: the reason why they say No Unsolicited Submissions is, basically, that they are sick of being overwhelmed by the utter crapulosity of the guff that lands on their desks, often accompanied by toffees*, tea-bags**, stupid rhymes***, and glitter confetti****.
* - see this post.
** - an agent friend just received another one, accompanied by a covering letter suggesting that she might enjoy a cup of tea while reading the jolly MS. Consider the possibility that a) that is for the agent to decide and she is perfectly capable of knowing whether she wants a cup of tea b) this might not be the first time someone thought of this rubbish idea c) that she might think twice before drinking the tea from a grubby bag that has been fingered by a stupid author before being stuffed in a re-used envelope and d) it says absolutely nothing for the quality of the MS, which is the only thing the agent cares about.
*** - see this shame-faced post here.
**** - a well-known way of pissing off agents and publishers.
3. The risk of the query letter approach is that if the answer is no, you have buggered your other option of disobeying. Remember when you were a kid and you did that oh-so-mature thing and asked permission to do something exciting / radical and the person said no? Well, then you couldn't do it, could you? Whereas, if you'd just gone ahead and risked it...
The query letter approach is also very difficult. To query someone who has already indicated busyness, exasperation, crabbitness, or general lack of desire to read an MS that hasn't come from an agent, means that your query must be spectacularly brilliant. Your book must be patently the right book, aimed at the right publisher at the right time. It must be clear from the covering letter that it is exactly what he or she wants, even though you don't know what it is that he or she wants. You have to express it so beautifully and compellingly that the publisher simply cannot pass on it.
Your query must, in short, be perfect, even though no one, not even I, can tell you what that perfect query is. Why can't we tell you? Because we don't know your book and we don't know the mind of the agent / publisher you are sending it to. Every book is different; every author is different; every agent or publisher is different. Therefore, each ideal query letter is different.
Having said that, you expect me to advise you and so I shall. Your query to publisher who has stated No Unsolicited Submissions must, in no particular order:
- Show [not tell] that you are a wonderful wordsmith, with a perfect command of our language and an ability to engage.
- Include nothing that reveals that you are not fully aware of how publishing works and knowledgeable about the market for your book. There are many, many common glaring errors in query and covering letters - see some of my posts about covering letters. I know covering letters are not the same as queries, but they follow the same principles of needing grab your expert readers.
- Describe the book in a paragraph or two and in a way that really does make it sound like a book that lots of people would want to read and therefore a book which the publisher can sell in quantities - but Do Not Tell Them This. One good way to think about this is to think how you'd write the blurb on the back of your book, though it should be somewhat longer than most blurbs.
- Offer a book of the exact sort that publisher usually handles - that way, how could they turn you down?? [Easily, actually - it could be the right sort of book but not written in the right way.]
- Show [not tell] that you are professional, non-delusional, stable, hard-working, talented and very wonderful to work with.
You might want to know which of the three options I would choose if I didn't have an agent. Frankly, it would depend on the book and the publisher. If I genuinely thought I'd written a book which was a perfect match for publisher X, I'd use Option 2 or 3. Yes, but which one, you annoying woman?
Option 2. Ooh, scary.
Or Option 3.
No, seriously. It would depend. I'd do everything possible to find out about the person I was planning to approach, see if I could contact one of their existing authors for advice, case them out [in a non-stalkery kind of way...] on their blog or website or Twitter and then I'd make a judgement as to which to do. If they don't have any of those on-line presences and I couldn't find out anything about them, I'd have to have a stab in the dark.
Option 3 is the more professional and more difficult. Therefore, if you want me to give a definitive rule:
But you've got to do it brilliantly and have written a brilliant book. On the other hand, you're going to need to have done that anyway.