At the beginning of a new year, writers have often been working hard on a manuscript and are trying to summon up the courage it takes to submit it to an agent or publisher. Here are 10 tips for those who are new to this stage of the journey to publication.
1. Don’t send your manuscript to a publisher who doesn’t publish in your genre. It sounds obvious, but publishers report that it happens all the time. Do your homework first. Take note of who publishes the books in your genre that you read, and research those publishers. Look for information in the newsletter or on the website of your state writers centre or other writers centres you belong to. Read the websites of publishers; if you’re still not sure, email a polite enquiry. Commercial marketplace guides, online or print, are also available (e.g. Australian Writers Marketplace).
2. Adhere to submission guidelines (e.g. what publishers or agents want to see, how much, what other information they want, whether to submit in hard copy or email, whether they use online submission processes).
3. Use double spacing, with wide margins left and right. Don’t use fancy typefaces and elaborate formatting. If you’re sending a hard-copy submission, don’t bind your manuscript in folders or files.
4. Don’t arrive at a publisher’s or agent’s office in person, expecting to discuss your manuscript.
5. Don’t follow up with phone calls and emails; if you haven’t heard back after two months, enquire but don’t make weekly contact.
6. Do avail yourself of the new submission processes that several publishers have put in place for unsolicited manuscripts (e.g. Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch, Penguin’s Monthly Catch, Hachette Australia). Follow the guidelines carefully. Receipt of your submission will be acknowledged. If they are interested in you and the preliminary sample you supply, they will ask for more. Take note of what they say about response times (e.g. some advise that if you haven’t heard back from them within a specified period, you should assume they are not interested).
7. Don’t submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent that states that it doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions—unless you’re prepared for it to go into the black hole of the slush pile.
8. Make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before submitting it. Revise and redraft it yourself, many times. Seek help from writing buddies/writing groups. Consider getting a manuscript assessment. If you can afford professional editing or proofreading help, consider that.
9. Be professional in your communications with publishers. And be brief. Don’t hold back on telling them anything that might make you stand out in a crowd—awards you’ve won, or that you have a blog with 900,000 followers, or any ‘marketable’ facts about you or your work (e.g. you recently won Master Chef; your novel is based on your experiences as a retired ASIO spy; your manuscript has been endorsed by Greenpeace and the National Heart Foundation). But don’t exaggerate, don’t make outrageous assertions (this novel is the best thing you’ll ever read in your life!), don’t send them a six-page letter about your aspirations as a writer, and don’t send false or dubious endorsements from others.
10. Proofread your covering letter and proposal several times. This is your first chance to make an impression. Don’t compromise that opportunity by sending out a document littered with typos or grammatical errors.
Happy New Year, and good luck with your submissions in 2016!