I have heard that it isn't a good idea to send out a manuscript "cold", that you should always send it to an editor. Is this actually so and how would I go about finding the name(s) of who to send the manuscript to? Just call the publisher and ask? Would be taking up valuable time and simply annoying them, thus decreasing the chances they would actually be interested in my book?
Never send your entire manuscript as your initial submission, unless the publisher/website specifically asks for it. This is a waste of money, time and our natural resources (ie: trees).
Send a query letter first. If you send a query addressed to just "XYZ Publishing" with no other indication of who it should go to, it may bounce around from desk to desk for awhile. Depending upon the size of the company, it may never reach the person who would be most likely to read it with a positive response.
First thing you do is check the publisher's website. Read their submission instructions very carefully. Follow them exactly.
If the website does not contain the name of the editor who accepts submissions for your genre, make a quick call to the company. A receptionist will answer the phone. Be prepared. Say this: "I would like to send a query letter for a [insert genre here]. Who should I address it to?"
The receptionist may ask you a few questions to further narrow down the type of book you are querying, then she/he will say either:
a. Send it to Ms. LDS Publisher; or
b. Send it to the Submissions Dept (or something like that); or
c. Just address it to XYZ Publishing and that will be good enough; or
d. We don't publish in that genre
You might also ask if you should send a summary and/or the first 10 pages of the manuscript with your query.
This conversation will take all of 2 minutes or less. It is not an incovenience or annoying. Answering questions like this is one of the reasons we hired the receptionist to begin with. The only time a call like this is detrimental is if you keep them on the phone for 20 minutes or longer asking questions about things that are already on their website, or are "common knowledge" (like, 'what exactly is a query letter'), or are argumentative ('what do you mean you don't publish fiction? I prayed about this and the spirit told me I should submit to you, so you should not only take my submission, but I know that if you are in tune with the spirit yourself, you will publish it, and if it doesn't sell well, it will be because you are a sinful heathen, and...')
Some companies prefer to get the entire book "cold." This phone call will help you determine that. I personally don't like getting a 500 page MS when I can tell after page 1 that I'm not interested and then it's just a waste of time, paper, money, etc. This is what I like to receive in the initial query:
--a 1 page well-written query letter
--a 1-2 page chapter by chapter summary (2-3 sentences per chapter of what happens)
--the first 10 pages of the novel, starting with chapter 1 (no title page, no acknowledgments or dedication info, no introduction or prologue)